Early deficit no big problem in first-round win that sends CG-B football team to Bonduel
Nothing comes easily at playoff time, even for heavy favorites.
It took the Cedar Grove-Belgium football team a quarter to answer a wake-up call against an upstart foe last Friday, but once the Rockets got started, they wasted little time ending the suspense.
Blending two touchdown passes with a relentless rushing attack, host Cedar Grove-Belgium rolled past Oconto, 36-15, in the opening round of the WIAA Division 5 playoffs.
The win advances the top-seeded Rockets to a level-two game this Friday, when they face host Bonduel at 7 p.m.
“We knew Oconto would be tough. They come from a very, very good football conference (Olympian-Packerland-Small) that has hard-hitting, hard-nosed teams,” Cedar Grove-Belgium coach Chris Zablocki said.
“They caught us early with a touchdown, but our kids responded. Every game is four quarters long, and we were able to take control after the first quarter.”
A 12-yard touchdown run by Brandon Tousey allowed the eighth-seeded Blue Devils to take a 7-0 lead into the second period.
However, the next two quarters belonged to Cedar Grove-Belgium. Despite a brisk wind that typically plays havoc with passes, the Rockets didn’t hesitate to go airborne.
Facing a stacked Oconto defense designed to stymie a ground attack, Cedar Grove-Belgium quarterback Drew Emperley tossed a pair of touchdown passes.
After the Rockets pulled even with Aaron Chier’s 69-yard scoring reception, Emperley hooked up with Logan Peterson on an 18-yard touchdown connection that allowed their team to take a 14-7 lead into halftime.
It didn’t take long for Oconto’s comeback hopes to receive a jolt in the third period.
On the opening play, Josh Winkleff fielded a short kickoff, cut behind a block from Chier and raced 73 yards to a touchdown. Chier added a two-point conversion, and the Rockets held a 22-7 advantage.
“That was a huge special-teams play for us. Aaron was deep for the kickoff and had to run 10 yards to get in front of Josh and throw that block,” Zablocki said.
“It really sprung him for the big return.”
Before the third quarter ended, Cedar Grove-Belgium struck again. Emperley’s 1-yard touchdown keeper and a two-point conversion run by Chier made it 30-7.
Oconto got one touchdown back in the final period on a 1-yard run by quarterback Corey Herbert, who led his team with 73 yards on 22 carries.
However, Chier restored the three-score cushion with a 39-yard touchdown burst. He finished with a game-high 177 yards on 17 rushes.
“We got the touchdown passes early, but we were also able to establish our running game,” Zablocki said.
“Aaron has been a big offensive threat for us all season, and we’ve gotten contributions from a lot of other players, too. Having that kind of balance makes us that much better.”
Cedar Grove-Belgium finished with 367 yards in total offense, including 263 on the ground. Emperley was only 3-for-8 passing for 104 yards but had two scoring strikes.
Linebacker Greg Wenzel led the Rockets’ defense with 14 tackles, and linemen Adam Chier and Brett Michaels had 12 and 11, respectively.
The win was the Rockets’ seventh straight and improved their season record to 9-1. Their only blemish is a 34-32 loss to Kingsford (Mich.) in a nonconference game Sept. 6.
Oconto finished 4-6.
Challenge awaits in Bonduel
Although the Rockets are poised to play their best ball of the season in the postseason, Zablocki said they know each week brings a tougher challenge.
The next step begins this Friday with a trip to Bonduel to face a Shawano County team that defeated Oostburg, 13-7, in the first round.
The Bears (7-3), who finished fourth in the Central Wisconsin-Eight Conference, have an athletic, fast-strike offense.
Their run-heavy attack is led by junior Hunter Vanderlinden, who has rushed for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“Bonduel is real fast on offense. They get to the next level very quickly,” Zablocki said.
“They’re a big, physical team that likes to pound the ball. The play of our linebackers will be a real key for us.”
Bonduel’s 3-5 defense, with an active linebacking corps, will also present a challenge. “You never know when their linebackers will blitz. We’ll have to be ready,” Zablocki said.
Friday’s winner will advance to level-three play next week against the winner of a Saturday game between Winnebago Lutheran and Kewaunee.
Image Information: CEDAR GROVE-BELGIUM’S Aaron Chier broke free from a pair of Oconto defenders after catching a pass during Friday’s Division 5 playoff game. Chier scored two touchdowns and rushed for a game-high 177 yards in the Rockets’ win. Photo by Sam Arendt