PRAIRIE DU CHIEN – If you know anything about the offensive philosophy of the Lancaster Flying Arrow football team, it’s that they are very good at taking what the opposing defense is giving them.
And, for whatever reason, what the Prairie du Chien defense was giving them last Friday night was an invitation for senior fullback Evan Gates, to put together the single-best rushing performance in Lancaster school history.
Gates set two new single-game rushing records at Lancaster High School with 387 yards on a whopping 50 carries. He also scored six touchdowns in Lancaster’s 62-27 drubbing of the Blackhawks.
With the win, Lancaster improved to 3-0 in the Southwest Wisconsin Conference, and remains the only unbeaten team in league play.
Prairie, who entered the game with an unbeaten mark of 6-0 overall, fell to 2-1 in league play, joining Platteville and River Valley in a three-way tie for second place.
With a win this Friday night against visiting Dodgeville, the Flying Arrows can clinch at least a share of this year’s SWC title, regardless of what happens next week at Platteville. Still, I highly doubt Lancaster will be in any mood to share.
Last Friday night’s win over the Blackhawks also assured the Flying Arrows of a WIAA playoff berth, which is also the program’s 25th straight.
Though the margin of victory Friday night wound up being 35 points in Lancaster’s favor, the game was much closer than it appeared in the first half.
For every touchdown Lancaster scored, Prairie du Chien had an answer in the first half, but the tide was blown in Lancaster’s favor right from the start when senior safety Jordan Reuter picked off a third-and-seven pass attempt at the Blackhawk’s 33-yard line.
Three straight hand offs to Gates resulted in a 7-0 lead for the Arrows, as junior kicker Tanner Oyen added the extra-point with just two and a half minutes taken off the first-quarter clock.
For the remainder of the first quarter and the early part of the second, the two teams traded touchdowns, and were tied at 13-13 midway through the second.
A seven-play drive that covered 80 yards was capped off with a 17-yard touchdown run by Gates, giving Lancaster a 19-13 lead with 6:07 to play in the half.
The Lancaster defense then came up with a critical fumble recovery by junior Troy Klein at Lancaster’s 43-yard line with 5:18 showing on the clock.
It took just six plays to cover the 57 yards, as senior quarterback Evan Straka scored on a seven-yard run to give Lancaster a two-score lead of 25-13 with 3:09 to play in the half.
The Blackhawks though, wasted little time answering with a 70-yard TD run by Tyler Smock, and the extra-point kick by Cory Check pulled Prairie do within 25-20.
With the Prairie du Chien defense having no luck stopping the Lancaster offense, the Flying Arrows marched 65 yards in a little more than two minutes, getting a three-yard touchdown run from Gates with just 23 seconds showing on the clock. The two-point conversion pass from sophomore Dawson Bowen to freshman Hayden Knapp extended Lancaster’s lead to 33-20 at the half.
With the Flying Arrows getting the ball to start the third quarter, they wasted little time extending their lead, as they covered 77 yards in just five plays.
Gates rushed four times in that drive for 49 yards, while Straka took it in from 28 yards out to give his team a 39-20 advantage. Oyen’s extra-point kick made it 40-20 with just over 10 minutes to play in the third quarter.
Prairie du Chien put together one last scoring drive to pull within 40-27, but from that point on the Lancaster defense kept them out of the end zone, while the Lancaster offense added three more scores before coach Hoch emptied the bench with seven minutes to play.
The Arrows concluded the contest with 562 yards of total offense to Prairie du Chien’s 403.
Lancaster had 488 yards rushing on 62 attempts for a 7.9-yard average, while the Blackhawks rushed for 149 yards on 28 attempts for an average of 5.3 yards.
Straka concluded the game with 88 yards rushing and three touchdowns on just seven carries, while completing 4-of-9 passing attempts for 74 yards.
The plan going into Friday night’s game was not simply to hand the ball off to Gates 50 times though, as I’ve said before, that’s just what Prairie’s defense was giving them.
“There defensive scheme allowed us to run up the middle,” explained coach Hoch. “Everything is a read thing. We ran probably four traps and two pitches where Gates was going to get the ball automatically, otherwise everything else just came off our read. Where the defensive tackle was lined up kind of dictated where we were going,” Hoch added.
In seven games this season, Gates has now rushed for 1,433 yards and 23 touchdowns on 196 carries for an average of 7.3 yards per carry. He goes into this Friday night’s contest with 4,112 career rushing yards, and needs 166 yards to pass Trevor Landon and become the all-time leading rusher in school history.
“He’s starting to run a little bit wiser and smarter,” said coach Hoch of Gates. “Where he ended up last year is what he’s finally running like this year in my opinion. He’s making those skinny little cuts and running with a little more authority and physicality. For the last couple of years he’s played harder down the stretch, I think.”
Of course no running back can be at all successful without the hard work of his offensive line, which again paved the way for Gates’ record-breaking performance.
Senior center John Wagner played a vital roll in Friday night’s win, as he was able to take on Prairie’s nose guard one-on-one, which allowed teammates Ty Mayne, Joseph Recker, Cole Zenz and Theron Schindler, to block other defenders and open up the running lanes.
On an injury note though, the front line lost Schindler to a broken leg Friday night, and will most likely be replaced by senior Alex Schildgen at the guard position for the remainder of the season.
While the rushing attack of the Flying Arrows gets most of the headlines, there were a couple critical catches made Friday night by Lancaster receivers Hayden Knapp and Morgan Seippel that force the Prairie du Chien defense to respect the pass.
Defensively for the Flying Arrows, senior defensive end Ethan Klar led the team with 6.5 total tackles, while junior Damian Kauffman was in on six stops. In on four stops each were seniors Jordan Reuter and Garrett Birkett, as well as sophomore Corey Hahn.
Prairie du Chien 27
(from Friday, Sept. 29)
Lancaster........... 13 20 15 14 - 62
PdC..................... 7 13 7 0 - 27
L - Evan Gates, 26-yard run (Tanner Oyen kick)
PdC - Gavin Gillitzer, 49-yard run (Cory Check kick)
L - Evan Gates, 3-yard run (kick failed)
PdC - Carter Pederson, 37-yard pass from Gillitzer (kick failed)
L - Evan Gates, 17-yard run (pass failed)
L - Evan Straka, 7-yard run (pass failed)
PdC - Tyler Smock, 70-yard run (Check kick)
L - Evan Gates, 3-yard run (Hayden Knapp pass from Dawson Bowen)
L - Evan Straka, 28-yard run (Tanner Oyen kick)
PdC - Smock, 80-yard pass from Gillitzer (Check kick)
L - Evan Gates, 1-yard run (Evan Gates run)
L - Evan Gates, 15-yard run (Tanner Oyen kick)
L - Evan Straka, 38-yard run (Tanner Oyen kick)
First downs - L 30, PdC 14. Rushing - L 62-488, PdC 28-149. Passing yards - L 74, PdC 254. Passes - L 4-9-0, PdC 10-19-1. Fumbles-lost - L 1-1, PdC 3-3. Penalties-yards - L 3-15, PdC 8-40.
L: Evan Gates 50-387; Evan Straka 7-88; Dawson Bowen 1-12; Cole Kreul 1-4.
PdC: Tyler Smock 13-95; Gavin Gillitzer 8-59; Cory Check 2-13.
L: Evan Straka 4-9-0, 74.
PdC: Gavin Gillitzer 9-18-1, 223.
L: Hayden Knapp 1-29; Morgan Seippel 1-18; Evan Gates 1-16; Dawson Bowen 1-11.
PdC: Tyler Smock 2-83; Cory Check 2-66; Carter Pederson 1-37; Drake Coleman 3-33; Mason Kramer 1-31; Ben Riter 1-4.