GLENWOOD CITY — A team needs to accentuate its talents and play to its strengths if it is to achieve success.
And that is exactly what the Glenwood City coaching staff is trying to accomplish with this year’s Hilltoppers’ football squad.
The physical, run-first philosophy and game plan that carried Glenwood City to consecutive appearances in the WIAA Division 7 State Football Championships the past two seasons and a 2012 state title has been replaced by a run and shoot offensive attack.
A change Toppers’ head coach Shane Strong said was necessitated by the personnel on this year’s squad.
“I’ve always been a believer in adjusting to your strengths and when you have horses use them,” said Strong. “We had the backs and lineman the past two years to attack downhill, so that is what we did to win games.”
But that style just would not suit the abilities or the experience (or lack thereof) of this year’s charges especially when trying to replace 18 of the squad’s 22 starters from a year ago.
“We only returned one starting offensive lineman,” Strong noted. “And the other four starters have never played a varsity snap against first team varsity players.”
“I felt that in order for us to move the ball this year we needed to open up the attack, to take pressure off of our offensive line. We are not very big and are extremely young!”
“To have young athletes pounding in the trenches all season, we would not last long in this league physically,” Strong said.
The change in offensive tactics, despite some first-game hiccups paid dividends, as Glenwood City rallied from an early deficit thanks to a pair of touchdowns, set-up by interceptions, in the closing minute of each of the first two quarters to take a 12-7 halftime lead.
The Hilltoppers then punched the opening drive of the second half into the end zone to open the 2014 gridiron season with a 18-7 non-conference win over the Necedah Cardinals at home last Friday night, August 22.
Both teams had their share of miscues in the opener that included five turnovers, four of which came in an eight-play span during the second quarter.
Glenwood City had a fumble and an interception while Necedah quarterback Matt Brown was picked three times; the final one setting up the Toppers go ahead score just before halftime.
It’s a lead the Hilltoppers would not relinquish as Glenwood City’s own signal caller, Junior Nick Schone, stepped out of the understudy role he had filled the past two years, and played extremely well in his first varsity start at quarterback.
Schone threw 26 times, completing 15 for 248 yards highlighted by a 53-yard touchdown toss to senior Todd Petersen with 39 seconds left in the first half.
“I was very happy with Nick Schone Friday night,” stated Coach Strong. “He threw the ball very well, went through his read progressions and executed the plan. Our receivers made some great plays to give us a chance to win the game.”
“The o-line only gave up one sack all night on 26 attempts, that is pretty good for a new group of kids.”
Glenwood City added another 85 yards rushing, led by junior fullback Nate Mrdutt’s 56-yard, one touchdown performance, to finish with an offensive tally of 333 yards.
After surrendering 65 yards and a touchdown on the first drive of the game, Glenwood City’s defensive unit buckled down and allowed the Cardinal’s, a level 3, division 6 playoff team in 2013, just 148 yards the rest of the game. Necedah, which also switched from a run-dominated offense to a pass-predicated style this year, had 106 passing yards (on 27 throws) and 107 more on the ground.
“We gave up two pass plays on 3rd down when we did not stick to our zone assignment, but we cleaned that up the rest of the game,” said Strong. “We started four kids in our secondary that have never played a varsity game and one of them played junior high last year. There will be some mistakes with inexperience, but I was pleased with how they responded the rest of the game.”
The Cardinals passing game put the Toppers’ defense on its heels early.
Taking the game’s opening kick-off, Necedah marched down field aided by the arm and legs of quarterback Matt Brown. He threw for a 19-yard gain and then ran for 17 yards to set the Cardinals up with a first-and-goal at the Toppers’ five.
Two plays later Brown found Noah Herried on a 5-yard scoring pass to break the scoreless contest at 7:55 of the first. Brown then made good on the point-after kick to give the Cardinals a 7-0 advantage.
Glenwood City picked up a pair of rushing first downs before its first drive sputtered near midfield.
Schone’s punt pinned the Cardinals at their own 10 yard line.
Brown’s arm helped Necedah out of the shadow of its own goal line but would also give the Toppers its first scoring chance.
GC senior Bill Norenberg picked off a Brown pass and returned it 31 yards to the Cardinals’ 24 yard line.
Six plays later, freshman Jake Nelson scored his first varsity touchdown on a five-yard run with just 32 seconds left in the opening quarter. Nate Mrdutt’s conversion was stopped short and the Toppers still trailed 7-6.
Mitch Hurtgen and Jake Hierlmeier had catches of 12 and eight yards respectively to key the scoring drive.
Necedah was forced to punt on its next two ball possessions while Glenwood City turned the ball over on downs after a five-yard loss on fourth down.
Glenwood City would take its next possession at its own ten. On a third and one, Schone found Jake Hierlmeier wide open for a first down and then some.
Hierlmeier quickly turned up field and gained 25 yards but as he was being tackled, lost control of the football and Necedah’s Augie Pintarro recovered at the GC 44.
But one play later, Brown was picked for a second time, this one by Carson Strong, who fell to the ground at the ten.
The Toppers’ possession was short-lived as a pass attempt just two plays after securing the turnover, deflected off of receiver Todd Petersen and into the waiting arms of Necedah’s Michael Jensen at the Toppers’ 43.
But once again, the locals dodged a bullet when Nick Schone was able to snag a long Matt Brown throw and bring it down at the GC three for the Toppers’ third interception of the contest.
With just 2:10 left on the first-half clock, Glenwood City engineered a beautiful five-play touchdown drive.
Todd Petersen redeemed himself with a dazzling 53-yard, tip, catch, and run pass play from Schone to give GC its first lead of the game with just 39 second left on the clock. Petersen also caught a 35-yard reception on the second play of the drive.
Despite another failed run conversion, the Hilltoppers went into the intermission with a 12-7 lead.
GC would add to that lead after it received the second-half kick and methodically marched in for its third touchdown.
Mrdutt opened the offensive push with runs of 13 and five yards. Schone then found Mitch Hurtgen on a 10-yard pass play.
Success continued to come via the air as Norenberg and then Hierlmeier snared catches on crossing patterns for 26 and 28 yards respectively.
Following an incompletion and a holding call on the Toppers, Schone again found Hierlmeier for a big play. The 33-yard toss and catch moved the Toppers to a first-and-goal at the Cardinals’ five yard line.
Mrdutt ran for three yards on the first down and Schone gained one on the ensuing play. The Toppers returned to their big fullback as Mrdutt ran untouched into the end zone for the one-yard score at 6:35. The conversion would, for a third attempt, yield no points but the Toppers enjoyed an 18-7 lead.
Necedah, thanks to a fine 24-yard return by Matt Brown, started at midfield. But an illegal block below the knees negated a big 23-yard Cardinal gain followed by two motion penalties forcing Necedah to punt.
The teams would exchange punts twice more as the game progressed into the final quarter of play.
Necedah was able to penetrate Toppers territory with about seven minutes to play but Glenwood City stopped the Cardinals at the 36 on a fourth and two play for a one-yard loss.
A few series later, Jake Hierlmeier sacked the Cards’ QB for a ten-yard loss on fourth down which allowed the Toppers to run out the game clock and take the victory.
Petersen and Hierlmeier led the GC receiving corps. Petersen finished with three catches for 97 yards and a TD while Hierlmeier had five catches for 97 yards. Bill Norenberg added 27 yards on three receptions and Mitch Hurgten had a pair for 22 yards.
Mrdutt’s 56 yards was complimented by 25 from Jake Nelson.
Glenwood City will be traveling to Frederic this Friday to face a very physical Vikings squad.