Cooney defense limits Beavers to 155 total yards, including just 43 in the air; Nienhuis adds four more TD passes, bringing his total to 14 after just three games
The objective is to win and Friday night the Oconomowoc High School football team won convincingly, 28-6, over Beaver Dam to open the 2015 Wisconsin Little Ten season, but it was a strange game.
Something was lacking.
Both teams played hard (OHS always does), but there was a noticeable lack of excitement or electricity on the field.. Yes, there were some big plays, including an amazing 92-yard punt return by Zach Clayton that was negated by a penalty, and Air Nienhuis was effective, again, but it was an odd game.
Why? Perhaps because OHS was favored to win, a not-so-common position for the team, given that last season, Beaver Dam shocked OHS, at Beaver Dam, 35-0, and in 2014 OHS finished in last place in the WLT (tied with Beaver Dam).
But that was 12 months ago, and this season, after two impressive nonconference wins over teams from the Classic Eight conference, Kettle Moraine, 31-20, and Waukesha South, 52-31, OHS found itself in unfamiliar territory
It was a nice and welcome position to be in for OHS, but Beaver Dam Friday night was not the Beaver Dam of old, nor was it even the Beaver Dam of 2014. This Beaver Dam team more closely resembled the OHS of last season. True, the Beavers eked out a one-point win in its season opener against Milwaukee Lutheran, 19-18, but it was hammered last week at Brookfield East, 47-0.
In game three Friday night at OHS, Beaver Dam completed only four passes for a paltry 43 yards and some of those yards came on a 37-yard touchdown pass where the Beaver Dame player clearly pushed off to gain room to make the catch. Take away that play and the Golden Beavers had only 6 yards in the air.
That might work if you have a great ground game, but here too Beaver Dam struggled against OHS, rushing for only 112 yards. That gave the visitors a grand total offense figure of 155 yards. Ineptitude? Perhaps. Probably. Great defense by OHS? Perhaps. Probably.
OHS on the other hand was efficient. Junior quarterback Ben Nienhuis, who threw three picks last season at Beaver Dam, completed an impressive 67% of his passes against the Beavers for 206 yards and four touchdowns, giving him 14 TD tosses in just three games.
Under most circumstances, those figures would scream “outstanding,” but after his performances against Kettle Moraine and Waukesha South (a combined 592 yards and 10 touchdowns), Nienhuis’ stats Friday night were just “nice.”
Frankly, that’s a tribute to where Nienhuis and and the Cooney air game is at this point in the season: we expect spectacular.
The Cooney ground game also contributed to “nice” Friday night when its two top rushers, junior Jacob Rams and senior Aaron Kruschke, both used sparingly, combined to rush for 92 yards on only 16 carries. That’s more than five yards per carry and any coach will take that. It is also an average that will win you football games.
Combined, the Cooney offense cranked out 353 yards in total offense, compared to just 155 for the hapless visitors.
For OHS fans, held on the annual tailgate party night sponsored by the sports booster club, the game also demonstrated again that while Clayton is the go-to target for Nienhuis, there is more to the Cooney passing attack than the junior star.
Clayton did lead OHSD in receiving–6 catches for 76 yards and a touchdown–but senior Ethan Wegner, as he has done in previous games, showed he can be an effective alternative to Clayton. Wegner, who almost had a TD catch in the end zone last week against South, caught two touchdowns Friday night against the Beavers. One was good for 13 yards and the other for 39 yards. He now has three TDs in three games.
Wegner’s first TD catch, off a perfectly placed Nienhuis pass into the corner of the Beaver end zone just under six minutes left in the first quarter, gave the home team its first score and lead.
Later, in the second quarter, with :54 seconds left in the half, Niehuis found Wegner open down the middle and behind the Beaver defense on a gutsy fourth-down call. Wegner made a difficult grab of the ball, stumbled a bit to regain his balance and then ran into the south end zone for the score. Carson Roseliep’s PAT kick made the score 21-0 at the half.
Clayton, who had a relatively quiet night for him Oconomowoc’s second score at the 4:34 mark in the second quarter. On the play, which took place in the northwest corner of the North end zone, Clayton and the Beaver Dam defender both had a shot at the Nienhuis pass, but as he has done numerous times, Clayton just wanted it more and his catch and Roseliep’s PAT gave OHS a 14-0 lead. For Clayton, the TD catch was his fifth of the season.
Clayton also produced the game’s more memorable and perhaps exciting play. In the fourth quarter, with just over six minutes left in the game, a short Beaver punt bounced in front of the Cooney star and rather than risk having the ball downed inside the 10-yard line, Clayton picked it up on the 8 and with a convoy of Cooney blockers clearing the path down the east sideline, in front of the Cooney bench and stands, Clayton sped 92 yards for an apparent score.
It was a gutsy play by the Cooney star, and frankly one that not a lot of players could make, but Clayton used first his speed and then his patience as he weaved his way to the goal line.
But unfortunately, the officials ruled that his blocking was a bit too good and a block in the back penalty on OHS negated the score.
Not to worry. OHS was up 28-6 at the time, so the score, which would have probably allowed OHS to ring up 35 points, the same total Beaver Dam piled on OHS last season, was not needed. In three games so far this season Air Niehuis has produced 798 yards passing for 14 touchdowns
With the Another Cooney penalty, this time for unsportsmanlike conduct–a block on a defenseless player away from the action–cost Nienhuis another 60 yards passing. On the play, Nienhuis hit senior Casdey Zwart with a pass in the right flat on the Cooney 32-yard line in the third quarter. Zwart was able to turn the corner and tiptoe down the sideline all the way to the Beaver Dam 8-yard line before being tackled. Great play by Zwart and Nienhuis but the penalty wiped it off the books.
The Cooney win leaves it at 1-0 in the WLT, It also matches the team’s win total in conference last season. Overall, OHS remains unbeaten at 3-0.
Up next for OHS is West Bend East at West Bend on Friday night, Sept.11. East lost to a good Hartford team, 38-15 Friday night. Hartford is one of the teams favored to win the WLT this season. Its win leaves it tied with Oconomowoc, Slinger, and Watertown for the conference lead after just one game with all four teams at 1-0 so far,
Note that defending WLT champ Wisconsin Lutheran is not in that group. Watertown upset the Vikings, 34-16, Friday night at Watertown and in the process stamped itself as the team to beat in the WLT this season.