FORTY MILES BUT A LIFETIME FROM MEMORIAL STADIUM — History is an interesting thing when you don’t have much of it. That’s the story at Wilber-Clatonia High School and state championships.
Football coach Lynn Jurgens and his top-ranked Wolverines are trying to change that Tuesday. Trying to give their towns some new hardware to put in a trophy case.
Tuesday morning’s Class C-2 football title game will be the first such game in school history in a boys sport when W-C takes on Crofton at 10:15 at Memorial Stadium. The last came when the Wolverines won a girls state basketball championship in 1983.
“It’s been pretty crazy around here,” said Jurgens, who came to W-C in 2002 after a two-year stint at Benedict out of college. “The communities have just been amazing. But, it’s been that way for a long time, they really support what we do.”
The town is painted green for sure. A team dinner was planned for Sunday night, a pep rally will be held at school this afternoon before the Wolverines have their final walk through. When the bus leaves Tuesday morning at 7:15, both towns will be there to send them to Lincoln.
“Anytime anyone talks to us around town, it’s always about the game,” senior Brice Broz said. “Everyone is super excited to come and watch us. And, it gives us confidence that they’ll be there for us.”
That’s what happens when you shut out seven opponents in 12 games, when no one has scored more than 15 points against you the whole season, when you are outscoring your opponents 501-55. That’s not a typo.
A competitive, confident bunch
In sixth grade, Broz said, his classmates lost a youth football league championship game to Aurora.
“Kind of made us mad,” he said. “We were pretty dominant in junior high. We started in that league in fourth grade, but we’ve basically been playing together since recess in first grade.”
Jurgens, who doubles as the elementary physical education teacher at W-C, has had a unique inside seat to watch this class of 14 seniors. They were in first grade, and he was new to the school, when he started giving them games to play.
“They were all pretty small in first grade,” Jurgens said. “But, they aren’t very small anymore. I think at a small school like we have, you try to get kids to compete a little bit as soon as you can. We like to build some competition into what we do.”
The Wolverines were 6-4 during this group’s freshman season, won a playoff game and had their season ended by eventual runner-up Ashland-Greenwood. They haven’t lost a regular season game — and just two overall — since then. Last year, they ended just short of the Class C-1 finals when they lost to champion Columbus Scotus.
Dropping down a class was an unknown, Broz said. But, when they defeated preseason No. 1 Hastings St. Cecilia early in the season it sparked new confidence.
“We knew we’d have some new teams this year and we expected the season to be a dogfight,” Broz said. “I think when we beat St. Cecilia, that gave us a bunch of confidence for the rest of the year. And, we have played some great teams in the playoffs.”
Focused, but excited
So, how do you prepare a team — heck a community, a school — for a dream come true? Jurgens has been tasked with the moment. And, he said the players have helped the most.
“We’ve kind of told the kids to embrace this, to embrace playing in the championship game,” Jurgens said. “But, at the same time to be focused on playing a football game. Our seniors have led some great practices, we’ve been very focused in practice.”
For Broz, a sort of do-everything offensive player who has 492 yards receiving, 488 rushing and 19 touchdowns on the season, the job for him and his buddies is not quite finished.
“We think the playoffs have prepared us well,” he said. “We think playing teams similar to Crofton will really help us. We’ll be ready to go. How could you not be hyped up for a championship game?”
Winning up front
The Wolverines have won behind one of the most dominant lines the state has seen in recent seasons. Unprompted, Yutan coach Dan Krajicek described them as a “college line coming off the bus” before their semifinal game.
Nathan Thompson is the left tackle. Dustin Jelinek the left guard. All-stater Riley Homolka the center. Zach Keller the right guard. Gavin Oliver the right tackle. All quick and athletic, who have been playing together since, well, recess.
“They are so football smart,” Jurgens said. “We’ll be discussing changes on the sideline on how we want to block something and they’ll tell us by the time they get to the sideline. All of them are great leaders in their own way. A really tight knit bunch.”
Quarterback Tanner Sand has thrown for 790 yards and ran for 709 and accounted for 28 touchdowns in a diverse Wolverine offense that is part old-school, part spread option.
Broz said the cool hand at quarterback and those buddies on the line have made this season as fun as possible.
“Those guys (in the line) just make everybody’s job so easy,” Broz said. “Whether it’s on offense or defense, they have kind of set the tone for us all season.”
A final chance
Now, those buddies have one last chance together. One more time to realize the dream that started on the playground. A last time together to show their coach what he’s really been teaching them since first grade.
“He’s taught each one of us how to be a leader,” Broz said. “We probably all do it a little different, we have some leaders and some followers. But he’s always told us to have fun, be focused and keep a level head.”
Lessons that will surely last past that final bus ride and in that final game that they have all been waiting for. For his part, the coach is pretty excited, too.
“I’m just so dang proud of them,” Jurgens said.