Stingy Slinger defense challenges Air Nienhuis, featuring conference’s top passer and receiver
Something’s got to give Friday night at Slinger.
When the only two unbeaten teams in the Wisconsin Little Ten–Oconomowoc and Slinger– clash, the end result is obvious.
One team, the winner, will remain atop the standings and become the clear favorite to win the 2015 WLT title. The other team, the loser, will drop into a second-place tie and hope that with two games remaining on the schedule, the winner will stumble and create an opportunity to the loser to get back into the title picture.
On paper there is no clear choice between the two teams, both undefeated in the conference and overall this season.
If there is a difference, it is in how each team gets things done. Oconomowoc relies heavily on Air Nienhuis, the conference’s leading air attack. Slinger rarely passes and instead grinds it out on the ground. It also relies on its defense.
Defensively, on paper, Slinger may have the edge as only one team, West Bend West, on Sept. 11, scored more than 14 points against the Owls and all of those points came after Slinger had jumped out to a 55-0 lead after three quarters. No other team has scored more than 14 points against the Owls (West Bend East lost to Slinger, 37-14, last week.)
In all, the Slinger defense has surrendered only 67 points in 6 games, a 10.1 per game average.
Perhaps its most impressive stat is it has allowed only 7 points to be scored against it in the first half and no team has scored any points in the first quarter of those games.
By comparison, OHS has allowed 114 points in 6 games, an average of almost 19 a game. Five of its opponents have scored 17 or more points and three have scored 20 or more points.
But OHSD can and does score points. In fact, with Air Neinhuis accounting for a conference- leading 22 TD passes, OHS has scored 218 points in its six games, an average of 36 points a game. Slinger, by comparison, has 183 points, a 30 points per game average.
On offense, Slinger averages 240 rushing yards per game. So far this season, it has run for 1,439 yards using a quartet of rushers. Wallid Sabba is the top rusher for the Owls. In five games he has 422 yards. In just three games, Tyler Reinhardt has 346 yards. Three other owls have each rushed for more than 100 yards.
OHS, while a decidedly passing oriented team, has relied more and more on its ground game over the past couple of weeks. OHS averages 143 yards rushing a game. Its yards per rush, 6.8, has also improved recently, suggesting that opponents can’t ignore the Cooney ground game. Junior Jake Rams, who last week sprinted 51 yards for a score against WiSCO, is the team’s leading rusher with 391 yards, good for fifth place in the conference. Rams averages a healthy 9.1 yards per carry.
But in the end, if OHS is to continue its unbeaten streak, Air Nienhuis will again be the key. So far this season, no team has put the clamps on the Cooney passing attack. In its six games, OHS has thrown for 1,533 yards. It averages 256 yards a game in the air. Both figures lead the WLT.Three things factor into this success. First, junior quarterback Ben Nienhuis, in his first full season as a starter, has blossomed into one of the area’s top passers. His 22 TD passes may be the top figure in the state. Second, the Cooney receiving corps, led by junior Zach Clayton, the conference’s top wide out, and senior Brett Samson, has been spectacular. Most defenses simply can’t match their combination of size, speed, and athleticism. Add in senior Ethan Wegner, senior Casey Zwart, junior Christian Gurule and OHS has multiple skilled targets for Nienhuis.
Clayton has 37 catches in five games for 590 yards and 10 TDs. Samson (six games) has 21 catches for 307 yards and 2 TDs, while Wegner (5 games) has 13 catches for a remarkable 7 TDs and 131 yards.
Third, the Cooney offensive line has allowed only two sacks of Nienhuis all season, another remarkable figure.
So far this season, Slinger’s opponents have not tried passing the ball. They have completed only 40% of their pass attempts, going 50 for 124 for 646 yards, just over 104 yards a game. They have rushed for 761 yards, or 127 yards a game.
So, it appears that the game, and first place, will depend on whether the Cooney passing attack can continue its march through the conference, or whether the Slinger defense, which has shut down almost every opponent, can ground Air Nienhuis.
We’ll know about 9:30 on Friday night, which scenario wins out.
After Friday night, both teams have two remaining WLT games. OHS hosts West Bend West on Oct. 9 and then finishes the season at Watertown on Oct. 16. Slinger travels to WISCO next week and then it hosts Hartford on the 16th.
Last season, Slinger defeated OHS, 31-7 with only a late Cooney score keeping the game from being a shutout for Slinger. Slinger surprised OHS in the game by passing for 156 yards. It also ran for 186 yards, giving it a total offense of 342 yards. OHS rushed for only 90 yards. Nienhuis was 12 of 27 for 180 yards. Its total offense was 270 yards. Clayton was the lone bright spot for OHS as he hauled in seven passes for 119 yards and an Oconomowoc’s only TD. Read Oconomowoc Today article on the game.