Thunderbirds Ground Game Too Strong for Wolverines
For the first time since 2007, the WIAA's level two of playoffs featured the Crivitz Wolverines. After avenging a loss to Laona/Wabeno last week, the Wolverines were tasked with traveling to take on the number one seed Iola-Scandinavia Thunderbirds. The Thunderbird ground game had been their bread and butter all year, Friday night was no different.
The opening kickoff was taken by the T-Birds and returned all the way to Crivitz's 32-yard line. It took just four plays and they found the end zone as Bryce Huettner scored from 4 yards out. Iola-Scandinavia went ahead 6-0, and Huettner was just getting started.
Crivitz's opening drive was quickly shut down as the Thunderbirds defense forced a 3-and-out, and the Wolverines punted the ball. The Thunderbirds then methodically moved the ball 89 yards on a 10-play drive. That drive featured just three second down plays, as the power running of Huettner and counter runs from Carter Kurki gave the T-Birds all the fuel they would need. Huettner's 2-yard touchdown plunge doubled the lead at 12-0.
The Wolverines would answer back on their ensuing drive. After a three-yard loss on first down, Kody Richlen took the option pitch and raced 62 yards for the touchdown. Crivitz cut the lead in half, 12-6.
Another big Thunderbird return on the kickoff set them up with great field position. Huettner raced 14 yards on first down, getting the ball down to Crivitz's 31-yard line. Connor Kurki completed a pass to his brother Carter Kurki on third and nine to keep the drive alive. Just two plays later, Ben Cady found his way to pay dirt on a 7-yard touchdown run. A failed two-point conversion put the score at 18-6, T-Birds.
The following drive for Crivitz was quickly halted as they fumbled and Iola-Scandinavia recovered. Thunderbird starting quarterback Connor Kurki was knocked out of the game late in the first quarter, but Cady stepped in and followed the successful formula of handing the ball off to Huettner. Huettner registered his third touchdown with just 28 seconds left in the first quarter. A successful extra point extended the T-Bird lead to 25-8 at the end of the first quarter.
It was more of the same in the second quarter as Crivitz's Travis Kudick raced 11 yards on a second and ten to pick up a first down. But on the very next play, a fumble recovered by the T-Birds ended the drive. Just four plays later, Huettner found a seam and sprinted 15 yards to the end zone. With the extra point, the score was 32-6.
A one-yard gain followed by two incomplete passes for the Wolverines forced them into a punting situation. Just as quickly as Crivitz's drive ended in a punt, Iola-Scandinavia's ended in a touchdown. Jalen Block found a hole for a 35-yard gain on the first play, and on the second Carter Kurki picked up 21 yards. Then, who else but Huettner punched in the touchdown from 5 yards out, extending the lead to 38-6.
The Wolverines struggled to gain momentum on offense. Kudick scrambled for a three-yard gain, but a run for no gain and an incomplete pass brought Charlie Johnsen out for another Crivitz punt.
The Thunderbird offense was in full attack mode as Huettner gained nine yards on first down and Cady followed with four more for a first down. Then Huettner extended his touchdown tally to six with a 34-yard scoring scamper and a 46-6 lead.
On the ensuing drive, Crivitz got on the board thanks to a big play from senior back Jake Voss. Kudick found Voss on a skinny post route and Voss did the rest, making defenders miss and racing 69 yards for the score. This would put the score at 46-12 T-Birds.
It took just three plays for the T-Birds and Huettner to respond. Huettner broke loose on a 21-yard run and his seventh touchdown of the first half, pushing the lead to 53-12.
The Thunderbirds tried to score one more time before halftime, but Crivitz's Jaden Werner picked off Cady in the end zone to end their drive. At halftime, Iola-Scandinavia held a 53-12 lead.
"We knew our challenge going into this game was that they had over 3600 yards of rushing this year. We were just going to slow them down, but they earned it, they ran hard and they did control the trenches," said Crivitz coach Matt Bernier.
In the second half, the Thunderbirds kept their starters in for nearly all of the third quarter. They put together a 12-play, 67-yard drive that lasted nearly nine minutes. On fourth and 11, Cady found Carter Kurki for a 26-yard gain. This would set up Kyle Heise for a 6-yard touchdown run, extending the lead to 59-12 just before the fourth quarter.
Crivitz found the end zone early in the fourth quarter as Kudick dropped back and found Voss once again, this time for 65 yards and a touchdown. The Wolverines finished the night's scoring as Kudick tossed to Johnsen, who hauled in the pass near the 5-yard line, made two men miss and scored. The final tally of the game was 59-26, in favor of the Thunderbirds.
"We got a little out of rhythm because we got down so quickly so we kind of had to play from behind and couldn't get into our running game. Our offense was a little out of sync there, but productive in some aspects," said coach Bernier.
Kudick finished 7 of 18 for 219 yards and three touchdowns for the Wolverines. Voss caught three passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns and Richlen led the ground game with 59 yards and a TD. Huettner finished with 244 yards and seven touchdowns for the Thunderbirds.
When asked about his seniors, coach Bernier said, "I'm just proud of those guys. We haven't won a playoff game since 2007, haven't had a seven-win season since 2007, so those guys worked hard to get to this point. I just told them I was proud of them. They established a nice foundation for the underclassmen as far as how to work hard and achieve goals. Now those underclassmen can't be satisfied in the offseason and focus on getting better."
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