Amherst football falls to top-ranked Iola-Scandinavia
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
With the Central Wisconsin Conference (CWC)-Large Title on the line, the Amherst High School football team was unable to come up with enough big plays and fell at home to Iola-Scandinavia Friday, Oct. 12.
Division 6 top-ranked Iola (9-0, 7-0) took advantage of a pair of blocked punts to lead to scores, and went on to win 31-15 over the Division 5 third-ranked Falcons (7-2, 6-1) to claim the Conference Title.
“The two words of the day are ‘missed opportunities,’” said Amherst football head coach Mark Lusic. “And I’m not taking anything away from them, they’re a helluva team.
“We had some opportunities, offensive, defensive and special teams, and we didn’t do it,” he said. “To be honest with you, I thought we actually got a little better today, we did some things we haven’t done all year, and we showed that we can do some things.”
Three-time defending WIAA Division 5 State Champion Amherst came into the game Friday night with seven consecutive wins over Iola, which returned 16 starters from last year’s team that finished as the Division 6 State Runner-up.
Iola struck on the opening series of the game Friday night, as it used a 54-yard pass from junior quarterback Connor Kurki to junior wide receiver Will Cady on the first play from scrimmage to set up a one-yard touchdown run from senior All-State running back Bryce Huettner on fourth-and-goal to take a 7-0 lead with 9:36 left in the first quarter.
Amherst answered with a 23-yard field goal from junior Chris Andersen with 3:46 to go in the first quarter to make it 7-3, and Iola later blocked a punt from the Falcons and recovered it at the Amherst 41-yard line to set up a one-yard touchdown run from Kurki to extend its lead to 13-3 with 8:57 remaining in the second quarter after the extra-point kick was no good.
The Falcons had a couple of other opportunities to score in the first half but were unable to complete deep passes when a receiver got past the Iola secondary, while Iola blocked an Amherst punt and junior Ed Bonikowske returned it 25 yards for a touchdown with 2:25 to go in the second quarter to take a 19-3 lead after the two-point attempt was no good, and went into halftime with a 19-3 advantage.
“The blocked punt killed us; we spot them a touchdown there,” said Lusic. “And we actually played pretty well.
“We were moving the ball,” he said. “Just not clicking on all cylinders.”
Iola maintained its 19-3 lead until Amherst senior running back Josh Rieck scored on a one-yard touchdown run with 1:14 left in the third quarter to make it 19-9 after the two-point run was no good, and Iola came back with a 51-yard touchdown pass from Kurki to Cady with 7:53 to go in the fourth quarter to take a 25-9 lead after the extra-point kick was no good.
Andersen had a three-yard touchdown run on the ensuing drive to pull the Falcons within 25-15 with 5:25 remaining after the two-point conversion pass was no good, while Amherst got the ball back at its own 19-yard line with 2:56 to play.
However, the Falcons turned the ball over on downs at their own five-yard line with 2:31 left, and Huettner scored on a five-yard touchdown run on the next play to cap the scoring on Iola’s 31-15 win that snapped Amherst’s run of four consecutive Conference Titles.
“It was a tough game,” said Amherst junior linebacker/running back Aidan Elwood. “We just gave up big plays, and big plays killed the drives.
“And it’s hard to bounce back from that,” he said.
Rieck had 42 yards rushing on 12 carries, Andersen rushed for 20 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries to go along with two catches for 38 yards, and junior quarterback Lincoln Cullen completed 9-of-21 passes for 110 yards, with zero touchdowns and one interception, and rushed for 36 yards on 15 carries for the Falcons.
Huettner rushed for 131 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries, and Cady caught two passes for 105 yards and one touchdown to lead Iola, while Elwood finished with nine tackles, junior linebacker Nicholas Dombrowski made seven tackles, and senior linebacker Zach Toelle had four tackles and a sack to lead the Amherst defense.
“Bryce Huettner’s a very special runner, and actually I thought we kept him ‘in check,’” said Lusic. “He ran for probably 170 yards, but we figured that’s what he was going to run for; we were hoping he wouldn’t run for 400.
“They made plays and we just didn’t make enough,” he said. “And I told the guys right after, ‘we’ve got the playoffs and now we have to finish it, so here we go.’”
WIAA Playoff brackets were released the next day, as Amherst received the third seed in its eight-team group behind top-ranked and top-seeded Fond du Lac Saint Mary’s Springs (9-0) and sixth-ranked and second-seeded Cedar Grove-Belgium (8-1), with the Falcons set to play at home against sixth-seeded New Holstein in the Level 1 Playoffs at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19.
“We’ve got some stuff to work on,” said Toelle. “We can get better from this, we can learn from it, and just go after them next week.”
“We’ve lost to the two best teams (at this level), Springs and Iola are two fantastic teams,” said Lusic. “We did some things that we’re going to have to continue to do to get better and continue to grow on, and we’ve got a week to fix it.
“And if we don’t fix it in a week, we’re going to be home early,” he said.