Air Nienhuis swats down WISCO, 42-18, to remain unbeaten and atop Wisconsin Little Ten

2015-09-25_0339Malcolm McIntyre | Oconomowoc Today

Junior running back Jake Rams, on his way to a 51-yard touchdown. heads to the WISCO end zone in the fourth quarter. Rams had 104 yards on just 11 carries and scored twice as OHS won, 42-18, to remain atop the WLT standings.

 

2015-09-25_0358Malcolm McIntyre | Oconomowoc Today

Jake Rams and Zach Clayton, both juniors, celebrate after Rams raced 51 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter Friday night. OHS won, 42-18, as Rams and Clayton both scored twice.

Message delivered loud and clear; Cooney football team is a WLT title contender, not a pretender

An emphatic message was delivered Friday night at Rux Stadium.

This OHS football team is for real.

Until Friday night, when it whipped defending Wisconsin Little Ten champion Wisconsin Lutheran, 42-18, OHS was considered by some as a pretender.

Yes, it was unbeaten going into the game against WISCO, but it wasn’t clear how good OHS was after just five games.

The doubt was resolved big time when OHS and Air Nienhuis dismantled WISCO, a team that last season went 13-0 and won the D3 WIAA state championship.

Cooney took the opening kickoff and promptly marched down the field to score the game’s first touchdown. It then scored on three of its next four possessions to take a commanding  28-6 lead at the half.

OHS won with offense–449 total yards–and defense–two of WISCO’s touchdowns came in the final quarter when the game was had already been decided and some fans were heading home.

The decisive win leaves OHS 6-0 on the season and more importantly, 4-0 in the WLT. The Vikings drop to 3-3 overall and 2-2 in conference action. Cooney also stays atop the conference standings heading into next Friday night’s big showdown with co-leader Slinger.

Finally, the win assures OHS a winning conference record, which all but makes them a shoe-in for the WIAA D1 playoffs at the end of the conference season. Remember, this is a team that last season went 1-6 in the WLT and did not make the playoffs.

So what is the difference?

Start with the Cooney air attack. Friday night junior quarterback Ben Nienhuis connected on 67% of his passes (21 for 33) for 296 yards and three touchdowns. Behind an offensive line and a game plan that gives Nienhuis time to throw short and long, the Cooney signal caller has amassed 1533 yards in the air so far this season, good for what appears to be a state-leading 22 touchdowns. Last season, when OHS looked and played woefully at WISCO, Nienhuis was 1 for 3 for 26 yards as OHS threw for just 37 yards. Big, big difference.

Then there is the Cooney ground game. It started slow this season, but in four of its last games, OHS has topped 100 yards rushing, which is enough to make opposing defenses play honest. They can’t concentrate on stopping Air Nienhuis.

Friday night, that ground game produced two touchdowns and 153 yards, a season high. Junior Jake Rams and senior Aaron Kruschke combined for 144 of those yards. Just as impressive is they tallied that amount on just 17 carries. Rams, who ripped off an impressive 51-yard touchdown sprint in the fourth quarter for Cooney’s final score, averaged 9.45 yards per carry. Kruschke, still playing with basically one hand, carried six times for 40 yards and a score. One of his runs was for 18 yards as he averaged 6.67 yards per carry.

But it was the passing game–again–that sparkled. Against a WISCO defensive that was bigger and a group of defensive backs that would match it from a speed perspective, Air Nienhuis did not blink.

Top receiver Zach Clayton, another junior, caught seven passes (out of the eight thrown his way) for a game-high 116 yards and two touchdowns. His numbers for the season: 37 catches for 580 yards and 10 touchdowns in five games Last season, in nine games, Clayton had 48 catches for 726 yards and four scores. Big difference, already.

Nienhuis and Clayton combined for Oconomowoc’s first score on its first possession of the game when on a first and 10 from the WISCO 31 Clayton took a short slant pass pass on the 26-yard line to the house. On the play, he lined up left, broke in the middle, caught the pass, and then using his speed and moves, went to the right, over the middle and down the sideline in front of the Cooney stands for the score.

His second score came on a somewhat similar play. In the second quarter, with OHS facing a third and 10 on the Vikings 36, Clayton lined up right, took a swing pass in the flat and left a couple of WISCO defenders grasping for air as he went back across the field into the middle scoring untouched. The second score, at the 7:23 mark in the second quarter, made the score 21-0 Oconomowoc.

As usual, however, Clayton was not the only Nienhuis target. Big Brett Samson, a senior, was targeted three times and three times the former all-conference lineman delivered, racking up an additional 102 yards receiving. One of his catches was good for 62 yards in the fourth quarter. Samson, like Clayton, caught a short pass in the left flat and immediately accelerated up field, leaving behind a host of WISCO defenders who underestimated Samson’s speed. He was tackled on the WISCO 30, but three plays later Nienhuis found Ethan Wegner in the corner of the end zone for Cooney’s fourth score of the night.

Samson also caught 31-yarder from Nienhuis in the second quarter, which set up Jake Rams 12-yard run for Cooney’s third score.

In addition, Nienhuis connected with Christian Gurule (four catches for 25 yards), Wegner (one catch for a 6-yard touchdown), Nick Lambert (two catches for 9 yards), Rams (two for 13 yards), and Casey Zwart (two for 25 yards).

Defensively, Cooney’s bend-but-not break defense, again facing a much bigger offensive line, surrendered a comparatively modest 288 yards–130 came in the air and 158 on the ground–but it held  the Vikings to only six points through four quarters.

Hurting the WISCO cause was the absence of star running back Terrance Ward. An all-conference pick last season, Ward was injured in the Watertown game and it is doubtful he will return this season. Last season Ward gained over a 1,000 yards and averaged 10 yards a carry.

In his place, WISCO plays Josh Kren. A two-way performer, like Ward, Kren has filled in well for Ward, but he is not the same threat. Friday night the Cooney defense limited him to just 65 yards on the ground. In two previous games, against Beaver Dam and West Bend East, Kren rolled up 172 and 236  yards.

WISCO was also hurt by two calls that did not go its way. In the first half a long pass to a Viking receiver in the end zone was called incomplete after he  ruled he was ruled out of bounds. Most observers on that side of the field and at that end thought he had both feet in bounds, but strangely, WISCO coaches and players did not protest vigorously. Later, at the end of the first half, WISCO appeared to have received a Cooney fumble deep in the Cooney half of the field, but the officials called it an incomplete pass. For OHS, a team that in past seasons has suffered from blown calls, this was a welcome change.

In addition to Slinger, at Slinger, next Friday, OSH has West Bend West (at OHS on Oct. 9) and Watertown (at Watertown on Oct. 16) on its remaining schedule.

Slinger defeated West Bend East Friday night to join OHS atop the WLT standings, also at 4-0. The Journal Sentinel’s ranking of the area’s top teams has Slinger at No. 8. OHS was not ranked last week. Look for that to change this week, heading into the showdown at Slinger. The Owls are also 6-0 on the season.

 

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