PREVIEW: OHS and Arrowhead clash Friday night; winner advances to WIAA D1 football playoffs in Madison

1Z5A7110_5150_FLMalcolm McIntyre | Oconomowoc Today

Cooney junior Zach Clayton (#6), the team’s top receiver, will need a big game Friday if OHS hopes to beat Arrowhead and advance to the WIAA D1 playoffs in in Madison.

Border battle at the Ed Rux stadium features top seed OHS against No. 2 seed Arrowhead

 

Two football teams with chips on their shoulders meet Friday night at Oconomowoc to decide which team moves on to Madison for the WIAA D1 playoffs.

Both teams feel somewhat disrespected, despite their having won conference championships this year.

But one team–OHS–earned a No. 1 seed while the other, Arrowhead, was “only” a No. 2.

OHS earned its top seed by finishing an undefeated season atop the Wisconsin Little Ten. Arrowhead lost a game this season–on Oct. 16, 27-20, to Muskego–and was forced to share the Classic Eight title with them.

OHS comes into the game Friday night at Ed Rux Stadium 11-0. Arrowhead is 10-1.

But the good folks in Hartland were a little miffed that OHS, from the lowly WLT, gained a No. 1 seed, while Arrowhead, the 2013 and 2012 state D1 state champ, and a consistent power in the Classic Eight was forced to settle for a No. 2 seed. Accordingly, OHS, by virtue of the higher seed, gets to host the game Friday night.

Now, about those weighty chips.

OHS came limping into the 2015 season. After all, in 2014, OHS won only a single football game. It was a bottom feeder in the WLT. No one, except maybe the Cooney coaching staff and the players, dreamed that it could and would go unbeaten this season.

Arrowhead, on the other hand, expects to win all of its games. Over the past five seasons, including this season, it has compiled an impressive 54-8 record. It also plays in what is arguably the most competitive conference in the state, something most coaches, fans, and probably players, will acknowledge.

So it was more than a little dismayed when OHS was seeded higher than Arrowhead and on Friday night the Warhawks will be out to prove that the coaches doing the seeding were wrong.

Accordingly, as it has for most of the season, OHS will be the underdog, despite playing on its home field.

And frankly, that is fine with OHS head coach Ryan McMillen and his team. They’re used to that disrespect and chip to their advantage. Week in and week out the team has felt it needed to demonstrate that 2014 was a fluke and that the OHS football program should be respected, especially since that just two seasons ago, OHS won the WLT title, which means the school has won the conference championship two out of the last three years.

But Arrowhead, fresh off of a 41-0 pasting of Sun Prairie last week in a Level 2 playoff game, represents the biggest challenge OHS will face this season.

With 2,347 students, Arrowhead is one of the largest D1 schools in the state, and its athletic accomplishments, across all sports, dwarf most schools, including OHS and its 1,546 students.

On the football field, it fields very big athletic teams year in and year out.This season is no  different. Yes, it did lose a game this season, but only once did it score less than 20 points in a game–a 10-3 win over Verona in a Level 2 game at the start of the playoffs. And while it is averaging 32 points a game, its defense is what sets it apart,

The Warhawks have given up only 112 points this season (11 games) and 27 of those points came in that loss to Muskego.

OHS also has a prolific offense, led by the state’s top passer, junior Ben Nienhuis (35 touchdown passes and 2,670 yards passing). It too averages just over 30 points a game.

So something has to give Friday night.

Look for the Arrowhead defense to be the deciding factor. If it can ground Air Nienhuis, it will win.

In recent games, opposing defenses have had some success against the Cooney passing attack, mainly by doubling up on Oconomowoc’s top receiver, Zach Clayton.

For the season Clayton, has 69 catches for 1,024 yards and 16 touchdowns, but his production has fallen off in recent games as opponents have figured out how to limit his effectiveness. He had 143 receiving yards in the Cooney win over Slinger, but since then has had games of 74, 93, 84. and 40 yards.

Against Madison Memorial last week, the junior caught only four passes Often, he was triple teamed. Memorial obviously scouted the Cooney attack and on one play, a defender jumped an intended quick pass to Clayton in the flat, forcing Nienhuis to pull back and run.

Cooney coaches will have to develop new schemes to get Clayton open Friday night if OHS hopes to advance to Madison. In the past, McMillen and his staff have done that so it will be interesting to see what they unveil Friday night. One option will be to bring Clayton in motion, The junior may also be the team’s best runner and with the season on the line, there is no reason to hold back.

In the last couple of games, Cooney coaches have countered the emphasis on defending Clayton by having Nienhuis throw to a bunch of other receivers, but Clayton’s speed, ability to track the ball, and then outjump defenders is special. If OHS is to win Friday night, Clayton needs to get his hands on the ball close to 20 times, either as a receiver, kick returner, or rusher.

OHS will also attack Arrowhead with Jake Rams, the junior who has emerged big time in the second half of the season. An explosive and speedy runner, Rams has been a game-changer, both as a rusher and kick returner. For the season he has 978 yards rushing. Rams had 176 yards last week in the Cooney win over Madison Memorial and 205 at Watertown in the last WLT game of the season. Rams may be the wild card, and if he gets untracked–he will need to handle the ball 20 times minimum–he could spell the difference Friday night.

But so far this season, Arrowhead is allowing opponents to rush for less than a 100 yards a game.

Rams, like any runner, will need holes to dart through and while Muskego was able to churn out 319 yards on the ground in its win over the Warhawks, OHS is still a pass-first, run-second team.

On offense the Warhawks, like most high school teams in the state, rely on a ground game to control games. It averages 221 yards a game rushing with three backs each having gained 400 or more years this season. Nick Bastien is the leader with 816 yards in 10 games.

Arrowhead can and does pass the ball behind quarterback Johnny Duranso. In nine games, the 6-1, 195-pound Duranso has completed 63% of his passes (100 of 160) for 1,039 yards. He has thrown for 13 touchdowns while allowing only a single interception.

Duranso, however, is also a running threat and in the past, OHS has had trouble with running quarterbacks, especially those running an option offense. The senior is his team’s second leading rusher with 655 yards.

Arrowhead and OHS played two common opponents this season. In its first two games, OHS defeated Kettle Moraine, 37-20, and Waukesha South, 52-31, both members of the Classic Eight. Arrowhead defeated Kettle Moraine, 31-14, and Waukesha South 46-7 during the season. Kettle Moraine finished 2-5 this season while South was winless at 0-7.

 

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