Cooney, last season’s last-place team, goes from rags to riches, as Nienhuis throws for season-high 381 yards and five touchdowns
The transformation is complete. The amazing riches to rags to riches story of the OHS varsity football team continues. With its resounding, 48-14, win over West Bend West Friday night, OHS has assured itself of a second Wisconsin Little Ten title in three seasons.
By itself, that is a remarkable accomplishment, but when you factor in that last season OHS was the last place team in the WLT, the reversal of fortune is even more amazing.
Yes, OHS still has another conference game on its schedule, but even if it loses at Watertown next Friday night, it will still win the title, although it may have to share it with Watertown and possibly Slinger.
The Cooney win leaves it 6-0 in the WLT and 8-0 overall. Watertown and Slinger are both 5-1 in the conference. A Cooney win next week leaves OHS alone at the top of the conference.
Friday night, West, winless so far this season in the WLT, played OHS tough for a quarter, trailing only 14-7 at the beginning of the second quarter.
But Air Nienhuis, relatively quiet over the preceding 12 minutes, erupted for 28 points in the second quarter to take a commanding 42-14 lead. In essence, the game was over at that point as in the second half, with the clock running, both teams played reserves extensively as both teams realized the outcome had been determined by that point.
For the game, junior quarterback Cooney Ben Nienhuis threw for a season-high 381 yards and five touchdowns. Those totals give him 2,158 yards and 29 touchdowns in eight games. Not bad for a kid who is in his first full year as the Cooney signal caller.
Perhaps even more impressive was the way Nienhuis and the Cooney coaching staff attacked the West defense. West has two very good receivers in 6-3 Jack Thelen and Anthony Schloss.
To defend against Cooney receivers Zach Clayton and Brett Samson, West played Schloss played Clayton short and Thelen lined up as a free safety. Both had the size and athletic ability to at least make sure Clayton and Samson earned everything they got.
Clayton (four catches for 74 yards and a touchdown) and Samson three catches for 42 yards) were not shut out, but West did force Air Nienhuis to make an adjust, and it did, to the tune of 265 yards and four touchdowns.
Nienhuis, who did not play for most of the second half, threw touchdown passes to Ethan Wegner, Casey Zwart, and Aaron Kruschke, all seniors. For good measure, Nienhuis, who doesn’t carry the ball often, ran 27 yards for in that decisive second quarter.
Those plays must have driven the West coaching staff bananas as their defense against Clayton and Samson pretty much worked, but OHS demonstrated once again that Air Nienhuis is more than its two stars.
Wegner, Nienhuis’ top target Friday night (six catches for 119 yards) caught two touchdown passes against West. His first TD reception came in the first quarter, at the 7:21 mark, when Nienhuis found the senior, who lined up on the field opposite Clayton and Samson, for a 4-yard TD. Carson Roseliep’s successful PAT kick made the score 7-0 OHS.
His second TD catch came late in the quarter when Nienhuis found Wegner deep for a 56-yard score. Those two touchdowns raised Wegner’s total of TD catches to nine, leaving him with the second highest Cooney total this season. Clayton leads OHS with 13 TDs.
OHS upped its lead to 14-0 at the 4:03 mark in the quarter Nienhuis hit Clayton for a 22-yard score. Despite what was a slightly off night for Clayton, the Cooney star still leads the WLT in catches (49) and yards (807).
West managed to add a touchdown of its own to close the gap to 14-7 at the end of the first quarter. But Nienhuis responded by tossing his third TD pass of the first half, this time to Casey Zwart, for a 5-yard score. Another good PAT kick pushed the Cooney lead to 21-7.
West, however, refused to go away, and it added a score when Hunter Johnson connected with Thelen for a 26-yard touchdown to bring West back to 21-13 with 2:57 to go in the half.
But Nienhuis, not known for his running, showed everyone he can lug the pigskin when needed when he scrambled 27 yards for the fourth OHS score of the game. His scoring scamper gave OHS some breathing room, at 28-13.
West attempted to get back in the game, but on a somewhat curious call, West turned the ball back over to OHS when it failed on a fourth-and 4 from its own 38-yard line with 1:44 to go in the half.
Not a wise decision as OHS was in the end zone again two plays later to make the score 35-13. The first play after West turned the ball over on downs was a 43-yard pass from Nienhuis to Zwart that took the ball down to the West 19-yard line. On the next play, Nienhuis found Kruschke for a 19-yard completion and another Cooney score. That left OHS with a 42-13 lead with just over a minute to go in the half.
Then came the dagger as Nienhuis closed out the half with the perfect 56-yard bomb to Wegner, who had beaten his defender by a good 10 yards. Nienhuis’ pass was right on target and Wegner did not have to break stride to haul it in for the sixth Cooney score of the half.
Could things get worse for West. Yes. Christian Gurule opened the third quarter by racing 83 yards down the sideline in front of the Cooney bench for his team’s final score. His touchdown was the second kickoff return for a touchdown by OHS in the last two games. Last week, Jake Rams roared 95 yards with a kickoff against Slinger. Maybe opponents should stop kicking off to OHS–just a thought.
While It was a big night–again–for the Cooney offense, it was also another big night for the Cooney defense. West ran off 54 plays and had a slight edge in time of possession–24 to 23 minutes–but its total offense figure of 285 wasn’t enough to offset Oconomowovc’s season-high 481 yards of total offense.
Oconomowoc’s aggressive, swarming, bend-but-not-break defense limited West to only 14 points and stymied West on the ground, limiting it to a net rushing yardage total of 47 yards. West did manage to rack up 238 yards passing, but it completed only 16 of its 37 passing attempts, a weak 43%.Johnson came into the game as the conference’s No. 2 passer, but it was abundantly clear Friday night that the gap between him and Nienhuis was huge. West really struggled on third and fourth down, successfully converting only five of its nine third down attempts, and failing all four times when it went for it on fourth down.
Both Rams and Gurule have given OHS an added dimension with their kick returns as Gurule, in addition to his return for a score Friday night had two other returns for an additional 42 yards, giving him a total of 135 return yards. Neither Rams or Gurule is big, but the two have moves and speed to burn and they’ve given the OHS attack an additional weapon.
Their success, however, is even more amazing given that Clayton is probably the team’s best returner, in part because of his size and strength, but Cooney head coach Ryan McMillen has not needed him in that role. Rams and Gurule have been outstanding/ And don’t forget that OHS is playing the entire season without injured senior Jared Berg. The all-conference defensive back was a key player for OHS last season when he contributed not only on defense, but also on offense where he showed his versatility by lining up as a receiver and running back, depending on the circumstances. He also returned kicks.
With its redemption and mission completed–it is the 2015 WLT champ–the team now looks to win the title outright at Watertown Friday night. Despite the ease at which OHS dispatched West, the game was a good tuneup for Watertown because West, like Watertown, is a pass-first, run-second team. After facing a series of opponents that did the opposite, that relied on their run game to generate offense, having to defend the pass Friday night was good preparation for Watertown. How good? We’ll know about 9:30 on Friday night.