FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Unaccustomed to second place, WISCO looks to knock OHS out of first place Friday night

2015-09-17_8521Malcolm McIntyre | Oconomowoc Today

Cooney wide receiver Zach Clayton (#6), shown in action against Hartford last Friday, will be challenged this Friday but the WISCO defense.

New coach, new players struggled early, but look for WISCO to provide the toughest test of the season so far

What a difference a year makes.

Last season, while OHS stumbled to a 1-6 Wisconsin Little Ten conference record, Wisconsin Lutheran was cruising through the conference on its way to a 14-0 season and a WIAA D3 championship.

This season, OHS is 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the WLT, while WISCO is 3-2 overall and only 2-1 in the conference. OHS shares the first place with Slinger and WISCO is in second place, after losing to Watertown, 34-16, on Sept.4 in a shocker.

But hold on. This is Wisconsin Lutheran, the team that has dominated the conference for most of the past decade. It’s a team that year after year just retools and rolls on. Yes, there have been some changes this season, including a new head coach, Joel Radue, but don’t let the won-loss record fool you. WISCO is still a power and Friday night, at OHS, it will give Cooney its greatest test of the season. Guaranteed.

It will do so by doing what it does best: run the football. So far this season, in five games, the Vikings have rushed 220 times for 1,474 yards, a more than respectful 6.7 yards per carry average.

WISCO has done this without its top rusher, Terrance Ward, in its last two games. In the three games he played in this season Ward has 366 yards on 56 carries. Last season, the all-conference selection had 1,079 yards and 23 touchdowns in 13 games when he averaged just over 10 yards a carry. The season before, in the memorable 84-82, Oconomowoc win over the Vikings, Ward exploded for 271 yards rushing.

Ward missed the East and Beaver Dam games this season, both wins for WISCO. His status for Friday night at Oconomowoc isn’t known, but WISCO is not hanging its head.

In his absence, Josh Krens has been spectacular.  Against East Krens ran for 236 yards (19 carries) and against Beaver Dam, Krens had 172 yards on 32 carries as WISCO repeatedly handed him the ball. In all, WISCO rushed 43 times for 398 yards as it rallied in the second half to defeat East, 36-20, in a game that was as close as 21-20 minutes into the final quarter.

WISCO lost its season opener to Marquette, 40-13, but Marquette (4-1) is the fifth ranked team in the area according to the Journal Sentinel. The Vikings then rebounded, whipping JJ Watt’s old school, Pewaukee, 35-14, before stumbling against Watertown, 34-16, in the conference opener on Sept. 4.  In its last two conference games, the Vikings slipped past Beaver Dam, 28-18, before rallying from a 10-7 halftime deficit against East to win its second WLT contest of the season.

Clearly, the matchup Friday night is critical for both teams. OHS has passed all its tests so far this season, but starting with WISCO on Friday night, it meets the meat of its schedule. If Cooney wants to win the WLT title this season, it will have to beat WISCO, co-conference leader Slinger, and archrival Watertown in the coming weeks. West Bend West (0-3) also stands in the way of the Cooney title aspirations, but, on paper at least, Cooney’s biggest challenges are WISCO, Slinger (there on Oc. 2), and Watertown (there on Oct. 16). All three teams also expect to challenge for the WLT crown and a Cooney loss Friday night, will buoy their hopes.

A Cooney win Friday night gives OHS four WLT wins for the season. It also qualifies the team for consideration for the WIAA playoffs at the end of conference play because it will have won more than half of its conference schedule. It doesn’t guarantee the team a spot in the playoffs, but it guarantees consideration.

Last season, WISCO hammered OHS at WISCO, 49-7, in a game that wasn’t as close as the score. WISCO scored on its first five possessions of the game and led 35-7 at the half. Its defense clamped down hard on the Raccoons, limiting the team to only 129 yards in total offense, including a paltry 37 yards passing.  Read article on that game.

Things should be markedly different Friday night. First, WISCO no longer has its all-conference quarterback, Logan McShane, nor its all-conference tight end, Anthony Carver. Both graduated in the spring. McShane rushed for 135 yards against OHS last season and passed for another 160, giving him 295 yards of total offense.

OHS, on the other hand, has the conference’s top passer, Ben Nienhuis, and its leading receiver, Zach Clayton. The duo has combined for 476 yards so far this season. Nienhuis is 104 of 168 for 1,256 yards, while Clayton has 31 catches for 475 yards. Nienhuis has thrown for 19 touchdowns. Those stats make him the top passer in the area, according to the Journal Sentinel.

Unlike last season, the 2015 Cooney offense is in high gear, averaging 389 yards in total offense through five games. So expect the WISCO defense to once again be aggressive against OHS. If WISCO throttles Air Nienhuis, it could be a long night for Oconomowoc. So far, however, no team has been successful doing that. This won’t be another 84-82 game, but its importance to both teams will be equal and the result will help determine which team ends up with the championship next month.

 

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