Newman Catholic head coach Rich McCardle expected Friday night's game against Lake Mills to be close. He was pleasantly surprised to walk away with a dominant win.
Going into the contest, a lot of the focus was on how the Knights' offense would perform against linebacker Caleb Bacon, the state's leading tackler.
But before the game, word came down that, for undisclosed reasons, Bacon would not playing for the Bulldogs.
In response, the Knights’ offense exploded for six touchdowns, in a 42-24 win.
“The focus was good tonight,” McCardle said. “We were impressed with how focused they were. They were really in tune with what was going on. They were actually telling us the adjustments, and we were putting them into play.”
The Knights got the scoring started on their first drive of the game. After sophomore Noah Hamilton ran a Bulldogs’ punt back to the 40, the Knights took nine plays to punch it in, as quarterback Max Burt ran the ball in from the five yard line for a touchdown.
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Lake Mills quarterback Bennett Berger then completed a pair of 30-plus yard passes, one to senior Carson Eaton, and the other to junior Kadin Abele. Berger finished the drive with a one-yard touchdown run. Lake Mills converted the two-point attempt, and took an 8-7 lead with 2:28 left in the first quarter.
After the Bulldogs next drive ended in a punt, the Knights drove the ball 92 yards on 11 plays for a score. On the drive, Burt completed four passes of 11 yards or more, with sophomore Doug Taylor catching passes of 11 and 14 yards. With 8:42 left in the half, junior Jack Maznio took the ball at the 13, and ran it in for a touchdown, to give the Knights a 14-8 lead.
But again, Lake Mills responded with a touchdown of its own. Berger’s 36-yard touchdown pass to Abele tied up the score at 14, and the successful two-point conversion put the Bulldogs up by two.
This was the final lead that Lake Mills would have in the game. On the Knights’ next drive, Burt completed five passes for 70 yards, the final one a 31-yard touchdown to junior tight end Nash Holmgaard, which gave the Knights a 21-16 lead. On the first play of Lake Mills ensuing drive, the Bulldogs fumbled the ball away, to give Newman Catholic the ball at the 34.
Three plays later, Schilling took the ball 24 yards for a touchdown to put the Knights up by 12.
Schilling was one of three Knights’ running backs, the others being Maznio and junior James Jennings, to see significant snaps in Friday's game.
“If you notice throughout the year, each guy has had a big game in different situations,” McCardle said. “That just goes to what coach (Jim) Kruckenberg is doing on offense. He’s getting them all involved. We can call their number at any time.”
The Knights blew the game open by scoring touchdowns on their first two second half drives. The first touchdown came on a 31-yard rushing score from Burt, while a 20-yard touchdown run from Maznio put the Knights on top, 42-16.
Maznio finished the game with nine carries and 107 yards on the ground. Burt ran the ball 13 times for 91 yards, and also completed 14 passes for 215 yards. Schilling gained 78 yards on 24 carries.
Jennings, who played quarterback at Mason City last year, ran the ball 10 times for 38 yards, hauled in four passes for 75, and also finished with two interceptions on the night.
“He’s a difference maker,” McCardle said. “He’s a little shifty, and he’s a little bit different of a runner than our other runners. He gives us a nice dimension.”
The Bulldogs managed to score one more touchdown before the game was over, as senior Carson Eaton capped off his eight carry, 142-yard performance with a four-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
The win improved Newman Catholic’s record to 4-1 on the season, while Lake Mills dropped to 3-2. The Knights will play at home next week against St. Ansgar, while Lake Mills will host West Fork.
"It gives us a lot of momentum for next week," Maznio said. "St. Ansgar, its a big game. We've got to come out with the same energy that we had tonight."
Shane Lantz covers sports for the Globe Gazette. You can reach him at Shane.Lantz@GlobeGazette.com, or by phone at 641-421-0526. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneMLantz.