Lumberjacks unleash formidable ground attack at Jay Stadium
Jay Stadium became the the proving grounds Friday night for two comparatively evenly matched teams, at least by last season’s standards. Both Merrill and the Wausau-East Lumberjacks finished the 2018 season at a less than favorable 2-7 overall record. Both teams missed a WIAA playoff berth and both were looking for redemption to kickoff the 2019 season.
Perhaps more so for the ‘Jacks.
Heading into the contest the Jays have held the upper hand, since upending the ‘Jacks 26-14 on their home turf at Thom Field last September.
Unfortunately for Merrill, the ‘Jacks would ultimately square up on their debt with the Jays in claiming a 23-6 victory Friday night.
East threatened early in the first, marching the ball down to the Bluejay 12 before being stymied by a staunch Merrill defensive stand. Then on 4th and 12, as East tailback Donovan Leverette attempted a scamper along the sideline he was met by a pack of Bluejay defenders, led by returning all-GNC defensive end Dawson Dengel. Leverette would be smothered at the 15 yard line for a three-yard loss and turnover on downs.
Unfortunately, the ensuing Bluejay offensive drive would stall.
The Lumberjacks eventually landed the first body blow of the bout at the 3:49 mark in the second, when Leverette snapped off a 67-yard touchdown run for the score. A successful extra-point attempt set the ‘Jacks ahead 7-0.
It wouldn’t take long for the Jays to find an answer.
Following a string of runs adding up to 62 yards by fleet footed by junior quarterback Caleb Dejong, Bluejay fullback Eddie Collinsworth would polish off the drive with a touchdown plunge from a yard out. A failed extra point attempt left the Jays trailing 7-6.
That would prove to be their last trip to the end zone of the night. A couple more scores by Leverette and a safety in the fourth quarter would seal the deal for the Lumberjacks.
@ Merrill-Jay Stadium
Friday, August 23, 2019
WAUE: 0 7 0 15-23
MRRL: 0 6 0 0- 6
Merrill finished the night with 80 yards of total offense, all coming on the ground. Dejong led the offense with 14 carries for 48 yards. Collinsworth added 25 yards on 10 carries along with Tim Handlin with 3 runs for 11 yards.
“It definitely wasn’t the outcome we were looking for in our season opener,” said 2nd year head coach Rob Klug.
“But overall it gives us a sense of direction on what we need to work on to get better. We struggled with penalties in the first half. We cleaned it up in the second half, but they cost us some key opportunities. Wausau-East is a very solid football team and we knew that coming into the game. They took advantage of opportunities, where we didn’t. At one point we had a great opportunity to capitalize off a key fumble, but we couldn’t pull it off.”
Defensively, Caleb Timm led the Jays with four tackles and two assists. Collinsworth (3 tackles, 5 assists) and Dengel (3 tackles, 1 assist, TFL) turned in solid defensive performances as well.
“We really struggled defensively, we weren’t fundamentally sound.” Klug adds.
“We struggled with pursuing the football and allowed too many cutback lanes for Leverette to run through. When we did get hands on him, we didn’t wrap up which led to a lot of missed tackles.”
Tomorrow evening, the guys will have their chance to balance out their early season record when they hit the road northbound to square off with Superior.
The Spartans enjoyed a huge season opener last week. They not only took Somerset to the shed to the tune of 42-6 – putting up 28 points in the first quarter alone- but in doing so, rolled up 672 yards of total offense, 420 of which was through the air.
“Superior is a good football team,” Klug said. “They run a spread option offense very well out of the Pistol formation. They are a very athletic team with an offense capable of striking very quickly. Their quarterback will run the ball a lot but he’s very capable of going to the air and hitting some guys downfield. To be successful against Superior we are going to have to be fundamentally sound and play smart football, manage our time time of possession and limit their offensive strikes. The goal of every game is to take a step forward and improve where the game ended the week before.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday. at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior.