Every team at any level that enjoys a special season has at least one big test that pushes them to their limit and demands everything they had. The Lake Country Chiefs 6th Grade White team is having just such a season and faced just such a test against Brookfield Central on Saturday. The Chiefs’ prevailed 22-14 in hard-fought and well-played football game that was a credit to everyone on both sides who played and coached in it.
The Chiefs took the game’s first possession and immediately began moving the ball. A quick swing pass to Joshua Nielsen produced 25 yards up on the left side and a personal foul on Brookfield Central. Quarterback Max Berres then dropped back, found Nielsen running up in the inside seam and hit him on a beautiful route that produced the game’s first touchdown. Berres then boomed the extra point, the kick which counts for two at the youth level, and it was 8-0 Chiefs.
Brookfield Central came right back with a drive of their own. While Lake Country had struck quickly, scoring in less than two minutes, the Central drive took up most of the remaining first quarter time. The Lancers are a strong team up front and their runners are well-trained, and know how to fall forward after contact, usually getting an extra yard or two out of it. It paid off for them on this grinding drive, which saw a couple third-down conversions, a fourth-and-one conversion and ultimately a short touchdown run to make it 8-6. The Lake Country defense would draw a round of applause, as this was the first touchdown all year they’d given up…in their sixth game of the season.
Lake Country countered with a second quarter drive built on some great work in the passing game. Berres found Darren Boyce for a big play over the middle. Jacob Nielsen, the twin brother of Joshua, made a nice sliding catch on a post pattern that got the ball just inside the 20. Then Jake Dunn made a highlight reel play. Running down the right sideline he was bracketed by two defenders. Dunn split the two defenders, reached out and made the catch. Just as impressive, the angle he was at made bringing the ball into his chest impossible, and Dunn held on with his hands, a much tougher task than it looks. The catch set up a short TD run and another kick conversion from Berres to make the score 16-6.
Brookfield Central drove to the Lake Country 25-yard line with the clock ticking down before halftime. With 31 seconds left, the Lancers picked up a first down at the 15, and still had two timeouts. One of the significant defensive plays of the game was made by Coleton Borkowicz, who made a key open field tackle on a swing pass, and then he finished the job with an interception on the ensuing play. Lake Country took its 10-point lead into the locker room.
The Lancers got the ball to start the second half and promptly put together another drive. With the ball inside the ten-yard line, Jacob Nielsen made a big play on a blitz up the middle, producing a three-yard loss and setting the stage for the defense to hold when a 4th-and-6 swing pass was met by a phalanx of Chiefs at the 3-yard line. Even though Brookfield Central’s defense produced a safety to cut the lead to 16-8, the defensive stand still meant anywhere from 4-6 points on the scoreboard.
In the initial part of the fourth quarter, Central scored, executing a nice bootleg play to get close, and then two hard runs up the middle to put it in the end zone. Even though a mishandled snap cost them the potential tying PAT, it was now 16-14 and there was still 5:34 on the clock.
Teams having big years, as the Chiefs’ sixth-graders are, often have another psychological challenge to meet and it’s been able to execute with the same smoothness with the pressure on, as when they’re leading by large margin. The offense faced just such a test on the next possession and passed with flying colors.
With the ball near midfield on 3rd-and-5, Joshua Nielsen rumbled off tackle for a big first down. Borkowicz then picked and darted his way through the middle and made it to the 15-yard line. It looked like the drive might stall on 4th-and-12 on the 19, and give Brookfield Central a few cracks at a big play to win it. But the Nielsen twins executed a halfback option pass to perfect, Josh throwing to Jacob, who caught the ball just before the first down marker, and reached out as he was hit to get the first down.
The Chiefs were able to get a touchdown, force Central to use all their remaining timeouts and bleed the clock to 33 seconds with a 22-14 lead. The last-gasp Central shot ended when Dunn made an interception and the undefeated season was kept alive.
In watching the 6th Grade White team play several times since the beginning of the season, what’s most impressive is how they’ve continued to work and improve, when the early success on the scoreboard might have tempted them to think such wasn’t necessary. That work ethic paid off for them against an opponent who required all the Chiefs had in reserve.
“It’s the kids,” head coach Roger Porter said. “I’d like to tell you it’s something we do, but the kids are the ones who have bought into what we’re doing from Day One.” The coach went on to credit their base of support he gets from the parents who have all helped affirm a team culture of continuous improvement.
The team concept the sixth-graders live by is evident by how many players are involved in the offense. “We’re hard to defend,” said assistant Rob Nielsen, father of two of the boys who are the hardest to defend. “If they key on one person, we’ll go to someone else. It’s up to us (the coaches) to figure out who that is.”
Making a team concept work requires selflessness, and a small, but telling anecdote could be observed after the game. As the sixth-graders gathered beyond the end zone to hear their coaches talk and celebrate their victory, the fifth-grade game had begun. A Lake Country fifth-grader broke into the clear, and completely on instinct, every single sixth grader began cheering them on, without any prompting from anyone.
There’s still work to do though, and with positional scheduling in place for the final two games, the Chiefs’ coaching staff anticipates more opponents of the quality they faced on Saturday afternoon. “We’re not done,” Porter stressed. “We’ve got to come back to practice, focus and keep moving forward.”
Moving forward is the operative word. The kids have the weekend to enjoy this hard-fought win and then come back and prepare for the next one.”We don’t like the rearview mirror,” Porter said.
ELSEWHERE AT ARROWHEAD
Four other games took place in the morning and afternoon time slots at Arrowhead on Saturday. Some notable developments were…
*The 8th Grade White team showed they had plenty of bounceback ability. After losing their first game of the season last Saturday, the White kids, led by Chandler Pulvermacher came barreling back with a vengeance, with a 40-0 win over Brookfield Central.
“They’re like little professionals,” head coach Matt McQuestion said afterward, regarding how the eighth-graders had responded in practice this week after their first defeat. “They get it. They understand we have a window of time that’s about playing football and they come to do it. We had tough practices on Monday and Tuesday and by Thursday we were ready.”
*It was a tough day for the 7th Grade White team, falling behind early against a 7th-grade Central team that was as good and well-coached as the sixth-grade team was. It was easy to understand why those strongly involved with the Chiefs’ organization speak very well of their Brookfield Central counterparts.
The Lake Country defensive front, keyed by Jack Hazod, made some key stops to keep the game close, and Tyler Gouin made some nice shifting runs. Against this opponent, and in a game with a strange rhythm, due to a lengthy weather delay, it just wouldn’t be enough to produce a win.
*When the afternoon arrived, the opponent changed from Brookfield Central to Brookfield East and both the 5th and 6th Grade Red teams played good games that ultimately came up a bit short.
The 5th graders lost a heartbreaker. Aidan Jensen intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble in the first half. Max Bredeson also recovered a fumble. Both players joined with shifty Joe Perri to keep the offense moving along.
If you judged a game by the flow of play and basic control of play, the fifth-graders did well and had a 6-0 lead. But a game is often swung by a few key plays, and three big ones turned this one East’s way. They converted a fourth-and-goal from the 10 for a tying touchdown pass. And with the game tied 6-6 late in the fourth quarter, two more long downfield passes, not often seen at the fifth-grade level, set up the game-winning touchdown in the closing minute.
*The 6th Grade Red team ended up on the short end of an 8-0 score, but watching this game in person tells you they have as much to be proud of as any team that took the field on Saturday. This East team had tremendous talent, with lineman that looked ready for eighth or ninth grade and an extraordinary talent at quarterback in Sam McGath.
But the 6th Grade Red team hung in and battled the entire way. Will Lauterbach turned in his usual sideline-to-sideline pursuit on the defensive side and made so many tackles in so many places, that it’s hard to believe there’s only one of him out there. Logan Rachwal came up with a very good tackle against McGath on the outside that snuffed out a drive and kept the Chiefs in the game. Cade Hanley did a nice job running the quarterback keeper and helping Lake Country maintain possession and give themselves a chance. Ultimately, it was too big a wall to climb, but the effort deserves a salute.