Turnovers loom large in Shawano’s loss to Little Chute

Dustin Riese

The start of the high school football season is an exciting time for everyone, but also one that comes with a ton of mystery and optimism. Many people will tell you that the first game of the season is the most challenging as you never know what to expect.

What makes it even tougher is facing an unfamiliar opponent that not only won their conference last season but advanced to Level 3 in the playoffs last year. Shawano found out first hand how tough that can be as they took on the defending NEC conference champion Little Chute Mustangs only to come away with a 35-0 loss.

No one is going to argue that the Mustangs are a great team and will win their fare share of games, but you can’t turn the ball over six times and expect to win. That is just what the Hawks did as four interceptions from Jerzy Brocker and a pair of turnovers on downs did them in as the Hawks couldn’t get much of anything going offensively.

“We have a very young team with this being the first varsity game for most of our players,” coach Alan Tomow said on the loss. “That is a great program, and they will win a lot of games this season. I was proud of the effort from the kids especially in the first half. However, we made too many mental mistakes, and that can’t happen against a quality team like that.”

Throughout the first quarter, you could see the first game jitters as a lack of consistent ball movement and some penalties halted both opening drives. Once the Hawks got the ball back for a second time, it was the passing game that started to lead the way as Brocker was hooking up with Logan Sipple and Dylan Hodkiewicz to move the chains. Looking to deliver a massive gain, Tyler Fisher had other plans and came away with a diving interception to kill a drive. It was the first of two first half picks from Fisher.

Despite the Hawks defense doing what they could to keep things close, it was the ground game of the Mustangs that started to take over as the combo of Brock Gardner and Ethan Melendrez started to pick up large chunks of yardage. That helped set things up for the passing game, and Charlie Vanden Burgt made them pay with several first half first down completions.

However, it was the legs of Vanden Burgt that made the biggest difference as he rushed for not one, not two, but four touchdowns in the game. Two of those came in the second quarter as the Mustangs took a 14-0 lead late in the half. Give the Shawano offense some credit. Despite the deficit, the Hawks refused to go down without a fight as Aurelio Weso started to get some bigger chunk plays on the ground, opening things up for Brocker in the passing game.

As expected, Sipple continued to be his favorite target although Hodkiewicz was also making things happen. With the ball inside the Mustangs 20 and under a minute to go, Brocker took a shot for the end zone only to have his pass intercepted to end the half. It was a painful way to end what was otherwise a very well played game for the Hawks up to that point.

“I thought we did a great job moving the ball at times,” Sipple said on the offense. “Our biggest issue today was the turnovers. Every time we seemed to have the momentum, it was a costly mistake that prevented us from scoring. We need to clean that up in order to reach our goals.”

Hoping to start the second half off with a bang, Shawano was once again put in a tough spot as they managed to pick up a few yards before being forced with a fourth and long. Instead of punting it to pin the Mustangs deep, they elected to go for it, and the plan backfired as they turned the ball over on downs to give it back to Little Chute. The Mustangs would then go right down the field where Vanden Burgt added his third score of the game to extend the lead to 21-0.

Vanden Burgt would score one more time in the third to push the lead to 28-0 with Gardner adding a final touchdown midway through the fourth for the final points of the game. Shawano did have a chance to put some points on the board late as a massive completion to Sipple moved the ball inside the Mustangs 30.

Like most of the drives throughout the night, that drive stalled and the Hawks came away with no points. Little Chute knelt the ball two plays later to end the game. Although the score isn’t what the Hawks wanted to see, this is a building block that Tomow and his staff will build upon going forward.

“We have a lot of work to do as a team, but this is a long season,” he said. “One game isn’t going to make or break this group, but we wanted a better start than this. I thought at times, we did play well and if you ask me, we played better than them throughout the first quarter. The difference was capitalizing in key situations which is something they did better than us with.”