APPLETON — It was a wet, windy night that called for old-school football.
Appleton North unleashed a ground game that was tougher to stop than the game-long showers.
The Lightning plowed through the Appleton West defense for 292 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns Friday night to open the WIAA playoffs with a 48-7 rout at Paul Engen Field.
Appleton North (8-2) will host Eau Claire Memorial in a Division 1 Level 2 game next week. The Lightning downed Eau Claire Memorial 44-14 in a first-round playoff game last season.
North coasted to a 44-17 victory over West during the regular season, and the Terrors (5-5) had the same type of trouble trying to defend the Lightning.
“Offensively, we seem to be hitting on all cylinders,” said North coach Rob Salm. “I know it’s a cliché to say that it all starts up front, but it’s where it really does start. They made some big holes for the boys to run through and we have weapons who can turn a five or 10-yard gain into six points real fast.”
With offensive linemen like Jon Propson, Aaron Herrling, Hayden Kreul, Connor Dahlke and Andrew Mayer leading the way, North received a whopping 296 rushing yards and five touchdowns from its top two backs. Senior Bo Babich ran for 153 yards and scored four touchdowns — all in the first quarter — while sophomore Will Stewart delivered 143 rushing yards and a TD.
“Our linemen are excellent guys, I love them to death,” said Babich, who has rushed for 1,393 yards and scored 27 touchdowns this season. “I can’t do anything without them and even the receivers and the fullbacks. Everyone has to be on the same page and I’m extremely grateful for them. It was a terrible night to play football, but we got it done and that’s what it’s all about — winning.”
North also got a strong game from a defense that forced three turnovers and limited Ethan Herbst, West’s stellar quarterback, to just 109 passing yards. Mitch Mologne and Alex Thiel had interceptions, while Bennett Zuck pounced on a fumble.
“Defensively, we may not have a bunch of D-I players, but I don’t feel like we have any weaknesses,” said Salm. “We just play good team defense. If you can do that, no matter how many weapons the other team has, you have a good chance to shut them down and we were able to do that.”
The Lightning defense quickly solidified after being stunned on the first play from scrimmage when Terrors running back Patrick Ourada bounced outside and raced 80 yards for a touchdown.
“The way our season has been, we seem to play better when the other team is ahead of us, so maybe we should have spotted them some points,” joked West coach Brent Engen. “It was a great start, but Appleton North came chugging right back and that’s the sign of a veteran team.”
North retaliated in a huge way with touchdown drives on five consecutive possessions to build a commanding 35-7 lead at the end of the first quarter. Babich scored four of the touchdowns, highlighted by scoring dashes of 38 and 46 yards, while quarterback Bruce Schroeder ran for another.
“We give up a big play to start the game and our offense comes right back and answers,” said Salm. “That’s what a good team does. They don’t flinch.”
A 30-yard touchdown reception by Jacob Hiltunen on a third-and-20 play and a 25-yard scoring run by Stewart in the second quarter finished out North’s 48-point explosion. Salm played backups for the entire second half.
“They have a lot of team speed, both offensively and defensively,” said Engen. “You had better be in position or they’re going to make you pay for it. Rob (Salm) told me they’re getting better and I believe that.”
Ourada, a speedy sophomore, rushed for 161 yards to lead a West team playing its first postseason game since 2004.
“I’m very happy for our seniors who were able to go out as a winner this season,” said Engen. “They laid a foundation for us. We have a lot of kids coming back who got a lot of playing time this year, so the future looks exciting.”
AW: Patrick Ourada 80 run (Charlie Mead kick)
AN: Bo Babich 38 run (Josh Koleske kick)
AN: Babich 8 run (Koleske kick)
AN: Babich 46 run (run failed)
AN: Babich 3 run (Babich run)
AN: Bruce Schroeder 2 run (Koleske kick)
AN: Jacob Hiltunen 30 pass from Schroeder (kick failed)
AN: Will Stewart 25 run (Koleske kick)
Rushing — Appleton West: Patrick Ourada 20-161. Appleton North: Bo Babich 12-153; Will Stewart 10-143.
Passing — Appleton West: Ethan Herbst 7-24-109-2. Appleton North: Bruce Schroeder 1-1-30-0.
Receiving — Appleton West: Bryce Gehl 3-57. Appleton North: Jacob Hiltunen 1-30.
Tim Froberg: 920-993-1000, ext. 423, or email@example.com; on Twitter @twfroberg
Level 2 games
Stevens Point at Kimberly
Eau Claire Memorial at Appleton North
Neenah at Fond du Lac
Chippewa Falls at Menasha
Luxemburg-Casco at Xavier
Kiel at Freedom
Fox Valley Lutheran at Wrightstown
Winneconne at Berlin
Hilbert/Stockbridge at Coleman