Ryan Bargender’s halftime talk to the Athens offensive linemen was short, but direct.
“I just said we have to play harder,” the Bluejays football coach said. “We were missing some blocks in the first half, not only from our offensive line but our lead blockers and tight end. We were taking it a little instead of dishing it out.”
The message had an impact and the line led the way as the Bluejays scored on their first two possessions of the second half — both more than 60 yards — on the way to a 30-20 win over previously undefeated Owen-Withee on Friday.
The win gave the Bluejays (8-1) a share of the Cloverwood Conference title with the Blackhawks. It’s the third straight conference title for the Bluejays, who shared the championship with Owen-Withee and Loyal last year.
“Our line was amazing, they all did their jobs,” Athens quarterback Collin Ellenbecker said. “They blocked and our running backs ran hard. We all did our jobs. It was gut check time like coach said.”
Lane Tessmer had touchdown runs of 29 and 2 yards to lead the Bluejays, who are riding a seven-game winning streak.
The Blackhawks’ Bryce Niemi took the opening kickoff 88 yards for a score and also had a 70-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
The Bluejays, who led 16-12 at the break, went 66 yards in 13 plays to open the second half. The Blackhawks ran just two plays in the third quarter, but Austin Milliren’s 44-yard run capped the 67-yard drive and the Blackhawks closed to within three points.
Athens responded with a 20-play, 64-yard drive, including Ellenbecker running for 12 yards on a fourth-and-8 play from the Blackhawks 29.
The Bluejays attempted just one pass in the two drives and it went for a first down.
“They put some nice drives together, and more importantly for them is that they scored on those drives,” Blackhawks coach Terry Laube said. “They really came out in the second half and were able to control the line of scrimmage and they just pounded the ball.”
The Bluejays turned the game around with nine points in less than a minute midway through the second quarter.
Owen-Withee quarterback Albert Goerlitz recovered his own fumble in the end zone for a safety, and Ellenbecker returned the free kick 69 yards to the Blackhawks 2.
Tessmer scored on the next play to give Athens a 16-12 lead.