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CLEAR LAKE — You know it’s an important victory when the head coach – who has been involved in several big contests including a pair of state championship games, having won one of them – declares a regular season game to be one of the best wins he’s ever been a part of in his 22 years of coaching.
Going into last Friday’s season-opening football contest in Clear Lake, the Glenwood City football squad had already faced a mountain of adversity.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which has changed so much of everyone’s lives in 2020, threw yet another “monkey wrench” into a Hilltoppers’ gridiron season that had yet to begin as several players were in quarantine due to contract tracing, which had also wiped out last week’s home opener against Spring Valley just a few hours before the opening kick-off.
That caused several players, who had never played a lick of a varsity game, to be thrust into action on the offensive and defensive lines. Add to that, a new offensive scheme and a Clear Lake squad that held an advantage of several inches and pounds on a young and inexperienced Glenwood City squad and it appeared to be a recipe for disaster.
It, however, was anything but that as the youthful Hilltoppers stepped up to the challenge and passed over the Clear Lake Warriors en route to a 27-14 victory in the October 2 Dunn-St. Croix contest.
“Last night was one of the top 5 wins I’ve been a part of in coaching since 1998,” wrote a delighted Hilltoppers’ head coach Shane Strong on the Glenwood City High School Football Facebook page. “A regular season game that most will forget in the coming years will become a lesson I will use for future teams.”
“The emotions of losing several players to contact tracing, a young team, a new offense and a very physical opponent made this a big-time challenge for our kids,” continued Strong. “Five starting linemen who have never played a varsity game in the line, two of which were receivers on Monday.”
And how did Glenwood City defeat its much larger Clear Lake opponent on its home turf of Grimes Field?
With a team-first attitude, according to the coach and a newly-installed passing offense.
Against Clear Lake, Glenwood City threw the football 35 times, completing 21 of those tosses for 212 yards and three for touchdowns. For those that are scratching their heads saying, “that’s usually a season’s worth of attempts and completions”, welcome to the 2020 Hilltoppers.
GC’s victorious junior slinger, Bryce Wickman, used his feet to scramble away from trouble and an accurate arm to find six different receivers over the course of the game and accounted for all of the Toppers’ passing attempts (35), completions (21) and touchdowns – three via the air and the other rushing. Wickman also topped the Toppers’ rushing stats with eight hauls for 29 yards, with Max Janson adding 20 yards on four attempts.
Senior Will Eggert hauled in just two of Wickman’s whips but finished with a game-leading 59 yards receiving and a touchdown. Sophomore Max Janson and junior Brady McCarthy caught the other two touchdowns tosses with Janson finishing with five catches for 39 yards and McCarthy two for ten. Seniors Gavin Janson netted seven receptions for 43 yards and Brandyn Hallquist had four for 55 yards, including a leaping grab for 25.
“We made a commitment to each other after last season to set aside individual achievement to put the team first,” wrote Strong. “Brotherhood and togetherness were more important than a me-first attitude. We emphasized that regardless of your talent level, if you didn’t demonstrate great effort on and off the field to take a back seat for the next guy in line. These kids have embraced that and I’m so proud of them.”
Although Glenwood City finished with 17 fewer offensive plays than their host, it outgained Clear Lake by 50 yards – 261 to 211, holding the vaunted Warriors ground game to just 169 yards.
The Toppers also took advantage of a Warrior fumble and interception. The first lead to the game’s opening score by Glenwood City while the latter allowed the Hilltoppers to end a Warrior scoring threat late in the final stanza.
That first break came early for the Hilltoppers when Will Eggert pounced a Clear Lake fumble during the Warriors’ opening drive of the game.
Taking possession at the Clear Lake 41 following the recovery, GC came out with a pass on first play. Wickman hit Gavin Janson for a gain of 16 yards. Two plays later Brady McCarthy caught a pass for six yards and Max Janson lassoed a third-down throw for 12 yards for a first and goal at the Clear Lake seven. Following an incompletion, Wickman and Max Janson connected again, this time for the seven-yard touchdown. Marcis DeSmith’s kick after the six-point score had the Toppers in front 7-0 at 7:25 of the first quarter.
Clear Lake responded on its next possession with an eight-play drive – all running – to score its first touchdown of the contest on a Jackson Fuller 2-yard run at 3:37. Fuller was stopped short of the goal line on the conversion run, leaving the Toppers with a one-point advantage at 7-6.
That’s as close as the Warriors would get.
Glenwood City would score touchdowns on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter to take a 21-6 lead into the intermission.
The Hilltoppers embarked on a 10-play, 73-yard drive to open the second quarter of action. Starting on its own 27, Glenwood City saw senior Brandyn Hallquist make nice back-to-back catches for 25 and 15 yards to move the ball inside the Clear Lake 30. Then, a short 2-yard pass from Wickman to Max Janson resulted in a horse-collar tackle by the Warriors that netted 15 more yards to the 14. Wickman called his own number and gained ten yards on the keeper for a first and goal at the Warriors four. After back-to-back incompletions, Wickman found Gavin Janson for a three-yard gain. Faced with a fourth and one, Wickman took the ball himself and plunged over the goal line from a yard away with 9:19 left in the first half. DeSmith again added the kick to make it 14-6.
Glenwood City tacked on seven more points on its next offensive possession.
A 19-yard pass to Max Janson helped the Toppers overcome a holding penalty before Wickman rambled 13 yards to the Clear Lake 26 for set of fresh downs. A pass attempt on the ensuing play fell incomplete but drew a pass interference call on Clear Lake which moved the ball the 13. On first down, Wickman connected with Hallquist for a nine-yard completion and then hit a wide-open Brady McCarthy on the goal line for the four-yard touchdown toss at the 4:13 mark of the second. DeSmith booted his third PAT of the half for a 21-6 Glenwood City advantage.
The teams exchanged punts to open the second half of play.
A negative-yard pass, an incompletion and a sack led to second straight punt for the Toppers.
Clear Lake would parlay the opportunity into a score.
Beginning on its 25, the Warriors embarked on a ground march that took them to the Toppers one-yard line as the third quarter expired. Faced with a fourth and goal at the one and trailing by 15 points, Clear Lake went for the six and got it when Angel Guillen ran it in with just four ticks off the final stanza clock. Guillen also ran in the two-point conversion to narrow the hosts’ gap to 21-14.
It took the Hilltoppers all of 1:37 and five plays to find their way back to the endzone which was capped by an explosive 55-yard touchdown pass from Wickman to Will Eggert. The Warriors blocked DeSmith’s kick, but the Toppers led 27-14 with 10:15 to play.
Midway through that final period, Clear Lake mounted a solid drive, making it all the way to the GC six before a 15-yard blocking-below-the-waist penalty moved them back and a Brandyn Hallquist interception ended the threat.
Clear Lake made one more foray into Toppers’ territory before a fourth-down sack by the Toppers as time expired ended the game.
“I’ve been tough on them, demanding great effort day in and day out, they have accepted the challenge,” wrote Strong. “We have a great deal of work to do, but we took a step forward for our future. In a current state of negative everywhere in our nation, this group is a shining light during dark times. We have far more difficult challenges ahead, but I’m confident these kids will stay in the fight! WE ARE GC!”
Glenwood City’s next step is this Friday, October 9 when they host the 1-1 Cadott Hornets who are coming off a 49-16 beat down of Elmwood/Plum City.