Central football team wins homecoming game

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Central running back Sean Wilwert drags a West Central tackler during the Warriors’ 56-48 victory Friday night. Wilwert and teammate Evan Schroeder combined for 274 of the team’s 367 rushing yards and had five touchdowns. (Photos by Bev Hamann)

Elliot Kelly took over as quarterback against West Central. He threw for 26 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 37 yards and a touchdown.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register

In a week that took on extra significance for the Central Warriors football team because of homecoming, they did not disappoint, delivering a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback victory to defeat the West Central Blue Devils 56-48. It was the team’s first win of the season and first win since Sept. 14, 2018. 

“It feels really good to get that first win. The kids were really excited and I know that my coaching staff and myself were very excited as well. I think homecoming added a little bit more to it, but I try to treat every game the same,” coach Joe Koehn said after the game.

In the aftermath of cancelling the previous week’s game against Don Bosco due to the accumulation of team injuries, Koehn noted how the extra week off allowed for recovery and increased preparation for the homecoming game, in a match-up he felt confident about. 

“I think that we have a good match up…and it should be a good game. We need to keep everybody positive and believe in one another. Once we have the confidence in that, then we will be successful,” he said.

When the game finally arrived, Elliot Kelly was in charge of the offense, taking over for Evan Schroeder. The defense, after minor position adjustments, brushing up on covering routes and switching from man coverage to zone, was ready to meet the challenge. 

“They were very excited. We did some moving around with positions and I think it was exactly what we needed to do,” Koehn said. 

The moves immediately paid dividends, as the Warriors built up a 10-point lead heading into halftime. But momentum is a fickle thing, and the Blue Devils took advantage in the third quarter, out-scoring the Warriors 22-6 and taking a six-point lead into the fourth quarter. 

Koehn has remarked about maintaining a positive attitude, not getting down and not letting the game get away. 

“We just gotta keep positive and keep a fire lit to keep things moving,” he said in an interview prior to the game. 

What looked like it could turn into a repeat of weeks past turned into a “not today” moment for the Warriors, who stiffened on defense and rode the rushing game to victory. The Warriors were led by Schroeder and Sean Wilwert, who ran for a combined 274 of the team’s 367 total rushing yards and five touchdowns. 

Before the drama of the comeback, Koehn took the team aside to offer calm and resolve. 

“After the third quarter was over, I brought everybody in and told them to take a deep breath and then, a few seconds later, told them to exhale. Yelling wasn’t going to get the job done there, so I calmly told them that we are only down by six. I just need every single one of you to do your jobs and we will finish this game out with a win,” he told them. 

It’s been a long two years since the program has felt victory, so the overwhelming feelings of joy, excitement and the “hyped atmosphere,” as one student put it, were warranted. It is also Koehn’s first victory since taking over a program that was 3-24 the previous three seasons. Add in the extra pressure of homecoming and graduating seniors, and the win is a seminal moment in Warrior football history. 

As for the team, the win points to progress, after a season of weather distractions, injuries, coaching changes and cancellations. The Warriors pulled together as a collective unit, and everyone pitched in. That included James Eberhart, who rushed for 56 yards and a touchdown, and Kelly, who threw for 26 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 37 yards and a touchdown. 

Even the passing game got in on the action, something Koehn has been working toward. But he openly acknowledged the passing game requires an efficient running game, something the team excelled at Friday night. As a result, Hazen Loan came away with four catches, 59 yards and a touchdown. Evan Pensel added one catch, but made his biggest mark on defense with an interception. 

The rest of the defense, led by CJ Polkinghorn who had 11.5 tackles and Kelly who finished with 11, finished with six tackles for a loss. 

The constant pressure fueled the fourth-quarter comeback, providing a boost in confidence and igniting the offense. 

Even the special teams unit got in on the action, as Loan, Wilwert and Schroeder combined for 155 kick return yards, averaging 25.8 yards a return, setting up decent field position throughout the game. 

“We came out extremely loose and energetic on Friday and I think that really helped gear us up for a win,” Koehn said.

The Warriors have a few days to celebrate, but will have to quickly refocus and prepare for the Dunkerton Raiders on Friday, Oct. 2, at 7 p.m., at the Dittmer Sports Complex.

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