Wolves convert homecoming game into a conference win
Elmwood/Plum City's homecoming game against conference rival Flambeau came down to which team was more effective when faced with fourth downs. The Wolves' offense was 4-4 on fourth down conversions in the game, compared to their opponents who went 0-3 on Friday, Oct. 6's matchup.
EPC (3-5, 3-2) converted on third and fourth downs in their first drive of the night with a keeper from quarterback Dalton Binkowski and a 10-yard Nic Forster carry, but Flambeau's Payton Wiemer was able to intercept a Binkowski pass that was intended for Tyler Maxwell.
The Falcons (2-6, 1-4) would take over at EPC's 24-yard line for their first drive of the game, but the Wolves' defense was able to stop Flambeau from converting a fourth-and-two play into a first down by stuffing their opponent's running backs. This was the Falcons' first of three turnovers on downs in the first half of the game.
Another scoreless drive for each team kept the score at 0-0 at the end of the first quarter.
Flambeau started at their own 35-yard line to begin the second quarter, and was able to bring some energy into their offense with a 13-yard keeper from quarterback Ethan Martin. Martin's run gave his team a first down at EPC's 35-yard line, but Flambeau would be set back with a holding call and another turnover on downs.
EPC's first drive of the second quarter was one of their worst of the night. A holding call put the Wolves at first-and-twenty, and a loss of three yards on an incomplete pass made it third-and-twenty-three. Flambeau ran EPC's kick all the way back to the 1-yard line, but a huge Jordan Brunner tackle caused a Flambeau fumble and kept the Falcons from scoring their first touchdown of the night.
"It was awesome," Brunner said about preventing Flambeau from turning a kick return into a touchdown. "As I was running down I was just freaking out, and I had so much adrenaline."
Head coach Mike Birtzer said he can always rely on Brunner to work hard.
"He's one of those kids who keeps going and pushing," Birtzer said. "It's all about his hustle, and you can't coach that."
Brunner's team would go on to score their first touchdown of the game off of a 71-yard pass from Binkowski to Noah Ganslucker. Another Binkowski to Ganslucker completion created a successful two-point conversion, bringing the score to 8-0 with 3:28 left in the first half.
The Falcons would have one more shot at putting some points on the board before the end of the half, but the Wolves defense forced another turnover on downs on a Flambeau fourth-and-three to end the second quarter.
The beginning of the third half featured a failed attempt at an onside kick by EPC, which gave the Falcons good field position on their first drive of the half, but a Maxwell interception gave the ball right back to the Wolves.
EPC's first drive of the third quarter was rather ugly at first with a fumble near the Flambeau 5-yard line, but the Wolves recovered their own fumble, kept their composure and were able to make their way all the way down to the other end of the field with carries from Forster and Luke Baier.
Binkowski's offense wasn't afraid to be patient with their play, and it proved to be a beneficial offensive strategy for EPC.
"We trust the kids that we have back there," Birtzer said in reference to his team's leaders on offense. "We have some pretty experienced guys in the backfield; they know how to find holes, and they always know what we need for yardage. Our line took care of the job on offense, also."
The lengthy Wolves possession resulted in a 19-yard running touchdown for Forster, followed by another Forster carry for a two-point conversion, which brought the score to 16-0 at the end of the third quarter.
Martin threw to Alex Brost for a big catch to start the Falcons' fourth-quarter offense, but EPC took over once again when Paul Schwebach scored the Wolves' third touchdown on an 84-yard fumble return. An incomplete two-point conversion kept the Wolves' advantage at 22-0 with 7:22 left in the game.
Despite EPC's comfortable lead, their defense refused to let up during the next Falcons drive. Sacks from Schwebach and David Rasmussen resulted in Flambeau's fourth turnover on downs on a fourth-and-twenty play with less than four-and-a-half minutes on the clock.
Forster scored his second touchdown against Flambeau with a 32-yard run, which would finish off EPC's scoring for the night. The junior running back recorded 126 yards on 18 attempts. Luke Baier finished with 72 rushing yards on 17 attempts.
Binkowski threw for 90 yards, completed four of seven passes, rushed for nine yards on six attempts, and led his team in tackles (14). David Rasmussen finished behind his quarterback with six-and-a-half tackles on the night.
Gansluckner led the Wolves in receiving yards, and caught two passes for a total of 69 yards. Maxwell also caught two Binkowski passes for a total of 21 yards.
Birtzer decided to put in his junior varsity team once the deficit reached 22-0. The JV squad was unable to keep Flambeau from scoring their only touchdown of the night off of a 37-yard pass from Zach Kopacz to Brost, but they were successful in stopping the Falcons on their two-point conversion attempt.
With 16 seconds left in the game, EPC took a knee and claimed their third win of the 2017 season.
Birtzer described the conference win as a "nice team win."
"Our guys worked hard early on, and kept hustling," Birtzer said. "We don't have a lot of subs. So, for these guys to play as hard as they did, that's credit to these kids."
Birtzer's team will face Turtle Lake (6-2, 4-1) on Friday, Oct. 13 to wrap up their regular season. Birtzer expects that the Turtles will throw 40 to 50 times, so the Wolves can expect a different ball game than what they saw against Flambeau who only made eight pass attempts in the homecoming game.