Prairie gridders pull out thrilling victory

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Prairie's Dylan Coleman scampers for a first down on a short pass Saturday afternoon. (Photos by Ted Pennekamp)

Tyler Smock gathers in a bomb from Gavin Gillitzer for a TD Saturday afternoon.

Ben Riter grabs a pass and gains a first down.


By Zach Mara


The Prairie du Chien Blackhawks hosted the Westby Norsemen on Saturday afternoon, with each team looking to improve on an impressive start to its season. The Norsemen (2-1) would turn to their running game early and often as 59 of their 73 offensive plays were on the ground. The Hawks’ defense, after falling behind 19-0 early due to the relentless run-game of Westby, took advantage of crucial mistakes and made key halftime adjustments to slow down the Norsemen RBs as the Hawks (3-0) outscored Westby 43-21 down the stretch en route to a 43-40 victory.

After turning the ball over on downs on the opening possession, the Hawks’ defense stepped up as Ryan McGrath forced a fumble deep in PdC territory to regain the possession. Westby rebounded quickly, however, as Gillitzer was intercepted deep down the middle on third down. From there, the Norsemen drove 60 yards on 9 plays for the first score of the game. The PAT was good, giving Westby a 7-0 lead with 2:23 remaining in the first quarter.

After forcing a 3-and-out, Westby found the endzone again on their next possession, marching 42 yards on 7 plays to go up 13-0 after RB Ryan Daines punched in his first touchdown of the game. With the Hawks’ offense still struggling to open up and move the ball consistently, the Norseman defense forced another 3-and-out on the ensuing possession. Eleven plays later, Westby was punching in yet another score to take a 19-0 lead with only 4:22 remaining before halftime. After another PdC punt, it appeared the Norsemen were well on their way to adding a fourth unanswered score when Aaron Neisius stripped the ball out of Daines’s arms and ran it back 60 yards for a TD. The extra-point was good, but the Hawks still trailed 19-7 with just 1:25 left in the second quarter. The PdC defense then took advantage of bad snap by Westby as Sam Fernberg fell on the ball to give the Hawks one last possession before the break. Four plays and 55 yards later, QB Gavin Gillitzer was dropping a perfect pass into the waiting arms of Reid Koenig in the endzone. Clayton DuCharme’s kick was good, and the Hawks had trimmed the deficit to 19-14 heading into halftime.

The halftime break seemed to rejuvenate the Westby offense, as the opening possession featured 3 different running backs totalling 63 yards before QB Alex Gulch found a receiver open in the endzone to extend the lead to 27-14 after the 2-point conversion. Unwilling to be outdone, the Blackhawks went 51 yards on 4 plays and scored on a 35-yard TD pass from Gillitzer to Tyler Smock. DuCharme’s extra-point was true, and the Hawks were back within a score. The Hawks’ defense joined back in on the action on the ensuing possession, forcing a 3-and-out to give the Hawks the ball back at the PdC 47-yard line. One play later, Gillitzer was handing the entire Westby defense flashbacks, as he once again found Tyler Smock open before Smock outraced the defense for his second score of the game. The extra point was good, and the Hawks had a 28-27 lead, their first of the game.

The ensuing Westby possession carried over into the fourth quarter as the Norsemen drove 75 yards on 17 plays as Daines punched in another score. The Hawks stuffed the 2-point try but now trailed 33-28 with just over 7 minutes remaining in the game. The Hawks would continue to place their trust in Gillitzer’s arm for the remainder of the game, as 9 of the 12 plays on the ensuing possession were through the air. The Hawks faced fourth down three times during the drive, but each time the Hawks were able to overcome the necessary yardage, including a 16-yard TD pass to Dylan Coleman on fourth down. Tyler Smock ran in the 2-point try, and the Blackhawks now led 36-33 with 3:11 remaining. The ensuing kickoff was bobbled at the Westby 25-yard line before being recovered and run back 80 yards through a slew of Hawks’ defenders for a touchdown. The extra point was good, and the Norsemen had taken a 40-36 lead with under 3 minutes remaining. The Hawks started the drive on a successful note as Gillitzer ran a third-and-1 QB keeper 38 yards for the first down. A late-hit penalty tacked on an extra 5 yards, and the Hawks had first-and-10 from the Westby 25-yard line. The Hawks then succumbed to a penalty of their own, as a holding penalty pushed the Hawks back to second-and-23 from the Westby 38. After a 15-yard completion to Smock, the Hawks threw up a fade to Carter Pederson in the endzone that was knocked away to force a fourth-and-8. Gillitzer dropped back and found Mason Kramer open in the middle of the field for a first down. The Hawks added 10 more yards on a pass to Coleman with just 25 seconds to go. The Hawks were in the huddle and Gillitzer called the play. They jogged to the line and got set. Grant Martin snapped the ball and Gillitzer handed the ball to Smock who bounced it to the right and pushed into the endzone with 20 seconds remaining. DuCharme converted the PAT to give the Hawks a 43-40 lead, and the Hawks defense forced two incompletions before Dylan Coleman intercepted a pass as time expired to hand the Hawks a victory.

Gavin Gillitzer was 17-30 in the air for 247 yards and 4 more TD passes this week. Gillitzer also led rushers with 71 yards on 7 carries, and Tyler Smock added on a rushing touchdown. Smock led the receivers with 5 receptions for 124 yards and 2 TDs. Dylan Coleman hauled in 4 passes for 47 yards and a touchdown, and Mason Kramer and Ben Riter caught 2 passes apiece. Keenan Holley led the defense with 17 tackles. Aaron Neisus added 11 tackles and 1 defensive touchdown, and Grant Martin tacked on 11 tackles of his own.

The Blackhawks travel to G-E-T High School on Friday to take on the Red Hawks (1-2) as the Hawks look to go undefeated in non-conference play. Game time is 7 p.m.

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