WESTBY – For years the Lancaster varsity football team has started their season off with four non-conference games before getting into the rigors of the six-team Southwest Wisconsin Conference.
For coach John Hoch, his main focus during the non-conference portion of the schedule has always been to avoid significant injuries and to find out his team’s identity.
This year’s Flying Arrow football team closed out the non-conference portion of their schedule with a 21-0 victory over host Westby, and more importantly came through it healthy and with a pretty good idea of what their identity is.
“It’s frustrating playing that many non-conference games,” said coach Hoch. “Every year we try to get through it healthy. Last year we didn’t, but we got through it healthy this year and now we go into the conference schedule, which does count more.”
“With the way football is set up, for us to have a postseason, we have to do well in our conference,” Hoch added.
And what about the team’s identity?
“I think our identity right now is running between the tackles and to use our speed on defense, because we’re not real huge defensively,” Hoch said.
The Flying Arrows certainly played to their strengths again last Saturday afternoon at Westby.
The Lancaster defense played exceptionally well, pitching a shutout and limiting the Norsemen to 188 yards of total offense and just seven first downs.
Junior safety Jordan Reuter recorded a team-high 10 tackles to go along with one interception, while senior linebacker Justin Allen had seven stops and junior cornerback Garrett Birkett five.
“It was the best game that our defense has played so far,” said coach Hoch. “We wanted to make them throw the ball, and our defensive backs really responded well.”
Offensively, the Arrows again attacked between the tackles, as junior fullback Evan Gates rushed for 202 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries.
Gates is currently the third leading rusher in the state with 836 rushing yards in the team’s first four games. He averages 209 yards per game, and 8.2 yards per carry.
None of Lancaster’s rushing success would be possible possible without an experienced and hard-nosed offensive line that again dominated the line of scrimmage, even against larger players from Westby.
“Our strength is our offensive line, and so we try to take advantage of that as much as we can,” Hoch said.
Also on the ground, junior quarterback Evan Straka rushed for 56 yards on 13 attempts, and through the air completed 6-of-11 passes for 40 yards.
Senior Tanner Reuter hauled in a team-high five receptions for 21 yards and is the team’s leading receiver this season with 13 receptions for 126 yards.
This Friday night marks the first of five conference games for the Flying Arrows (4-0), as they host River Valley (2-1). The Blackhawks are coming off a 20-19 loss to G.E.T. (3-1) after beating Nekoosa (1-3) and Arcadia (2-2).
Coaches throughout the SWC have tabbed River Valley and Lancaster as the two favorites to win this year’s conference title, so the winner of Friday night’s game should certainly gain the upper hand.
“I figure this game is critical to win the conference, and I’ve told the kids that if we take care of this, then we don’t have to depend on someone else to beat someone,” Hoch said.
The Blackhawks come into Friday night’s game averaging 28.3 points per game, while giving up an average of 15.3.
They average just 63.3 yards rushing per contest and 102.9 yards passing.
Lancaster, who averages 38.7 points per game and gives up an average of just 11.5 points to their opponents, has been averaging 338.8 yards rushing per contest and 69.0 yards passing.
Lancaster 21, Westby 0
(from Friday, Sept. 9)
Lancaster 0 14 7 0 - 21
Westby 0 0 0 0 - 0
L - Evan Gates, 32-yard run (Tanner Oyen kick)
L - Evan Gates, 1-yard run (Tanner Oyen kick)
L - Evan Gates, 3-yard run (Tanner Oyen kick)
First downs - L 15, W 7. Rushing - L 48-282, W 25-82. Passing yards - L 40, W 106. Passes - L 6-11-0, W 11-35-2. Fumbles-lost - L 4-3, W 0-0. Penalties-yards - L 5-30, W 4-23.
Rushing leaders: L: Evan Gates 24-202; Evan Straka 13-56; W: n/a.
Passing leaders: L: Evan Straka 6-11-0, 40; W: n/a.
Receiving leaders: L: Tanner Reuter 5-21; W: n/a.