RICHLAND CENTER — Two weeks ago Platteville trotted out a new strategy for tailbacks Jason Withrow and Luke Fugate.
Instead of alternating them at tailback in the Hillmen’s pro-I offense, Platteville put them in the game together, with Withrow at fullback.
In Richland Center on Friday, the Hillmen alternated Withrow at both running back positions, playing at fullback in front of Fugate and at tailback behind sophomore Cameron Brant.
The switch seems to have added a charge to the Hillmen offense. Fugate had 144 yards and Platteville outgained Prairie du Chien in its Homecoming loss to the Hillmen. In the past two weeks Withrow has had a tailback-option touchdown pass, and, in the 56–13 win over the Hornets Friday, 107 rushing yards and three touchdowns, a 30-yard touchdown catch, and, on special teams, an 85-yard kickoff return touchdown.
“Jason is one our team leaders and playmakers,” said coach Kyle Craig. “It’s no surprise that he had the big night that he did. His dedication to the weight room and overall physical training allows him to be ready to break the big gainer.
“We talked all week about making plays when your number is called, whether it’s by our coaching staff or theirs. Jason really took it to heart, scoring on almost half of his touches on offense and special teams. Our entire team feeds off of playmakers like him, Fugate, Blevins, Traxler, and all of our perimeter guys. When those guys get their mojo going it becomes infectious and they spread it amongst each other because they enjoy their teammates’ successes as much as their own.”
Platteville’s first two scores were set up by short fields. Withrow’s 24-yard return of a 22-yard punt set up Fugate’s one-yard touchdown run to end a three-play 13-yard drive 2:18 into the game. A 24-yard punt set up Withrow’s 13-yard touchdown run to end a four-play 30-yard drive five minutes into the game.
Drives that started near midfield didn’t faze the Hillmen either. Fugate’s two-yard run on fourth-and-1 set up Withrow’s 31-yard touchdown run with 2:43 left in the first. Caleb Coleman’s three-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal to trim the Hillmen lead to 21–7 was instantly negated by Withrow’s 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown 15 seconds later. A 32-yard pass from Cody Schambow to Alexler set up Fugate’s three-yard touchdown run with 3:23 left in the first half, ending a five-play 53-yard scoring drive. Withrow’s 24-yard run and a 17-yard pass from Schambow to Mitch Knockel set up Withrow’s third touchdown run of the game, from 1 yard out, with 1 minute left in the first half to give Platteville a 42–7 halftime lead.
After a 53-yard kickoff return by Zach White, Withrow opened the second half with a 30-yard touchdown catch. Schambow completed 6 to 7 passes for 102 yards.
One series later, Brant got into the act with a 16-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 56–7.
“Our defense, as a whole, especially the defensive line, played very well,” said Craig. “Forcing eight three-and-out drives by Richland Center in the first nine series, and solid special teams play, put our offense in positions to capitalize on short fields. Having the ball at the 50-yard line, or closer, makes it very easy to put up big numbers. Then it’s up to our playmakers to find the end zone.”
Platteville scored its most points since its same-score win over Richland Center Sept. 20, 2013.
“It was exactly what we needed,” said Criag. “It’s no secret that we’ve played a tough schedule and have taken some lumps, but the fight that it has taken to persevere through those tough times was able to shine through in our execution Friday.
“Cody put the ball where our receivers could make plays, and our ball carriers finished opportunities. Most importantly, our offensive line picked up a lot of funky stuff that Center threw our way. They jumped into some odd fronts and the line was able to figure it out. Without them working as one unit, the ball carriers wouldn’t be able to find the end zone, nor would Cody have the time to get the ball to our tight ends and receivers.”
The win sets up a battle of third-place teams in the Southwest Wisconsin Conference at UW–Platteville Friday, with Platteville (2–4, 1–1) hosting River Valley (6–1, 1–1) after the Blackhawks’ first loss of the season, to Lancaster 20–19 Friday. The Blackhawks and the Hillmen need two wins in the final three weeks to clinch playoff berths.
“River Valley is very good,” said Craig. “They have a very strong defensive line and good skill kids around their offensive line. We’re going to need to continue to be disciplined in every facet of the game and embrace the grind that it will take to play a complete 60 minutes. Our kids had great focus last week in preparation for Center and I expect the same this week.”
Platteville 56, Richland Center 13
(from Friday, Sept. 25 @ Rich. Center)
Platteville 21 21 14 0 — 56
Richland Center 0 7 6 0 — 13
P: Luke Fugate 1 run (Zach White)
P: Jason Withrow 14 run (White kick)
P: Withrow 32 run (White kick)
RC: Coleman 4 run (kick good)
P: Withrow 85 kick return (White kick)
P: Fugate 3 run (White kick)
P: Withrow 2 run (White kick)
P: Withrow 30 pass from Cody Schambow (White kick)
P: Cameron Brant 16 run (White kick)
RC: Hart 1 run (kick failed)
First downs — P 11, RC 7. Rushing — P 36-200, RC 35-117. Passing — P 6-7-0, 102, RC 4-13-2, 40. Fumbles–lost — P 2-1, RC 1-0. Penalties-yards — P 4-40, RC 1-15
Rushing — P: Jason Withrow 8-107; RC: Coleman 7-56. Passing — P: Cody Schambow 5-6-0, 96; RC: Johnson 4-13-2, 40. Receiving — P: Cameron Brant 2-12; RC: Coleman 1-34.