“It was a good start.”
That might be the understatement of the year from Amherst football coach Mark Lusic.
The Falcons scored touchdowns on all seven of their first-half possessions Oct. 20 in a 64-7 win over Northern Elite in a Division 5 Level 1 playoff game at Amherst High School.
Amherst will put its 9-0 record on the line at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, as the top-seeded Falcons host 7-2 Marathon, a No. 4 seed, in Level 2.
Although the Falcons took a 50-7 halftime led, the Amherst starting defense also gave up its first touchdown of the season.
Amherst opened the game with a three-play, 47-yard drive, as Connor Zblewski scored from 5 yards out.
The Predators also found the end zone on their first drive, as Joey Swanson threw a 10-yard TD pass to Jordan Zawada to knot the score at 7-7.
“That kind of punched us in the mouth a little,” Lusic said. “It was bound to happen. You’re not going to go a whole season shutting teams out. We made a few adjustments and the kids responded.”
Boy, did they ever.
Chris Zblewski gave the Falcons the lead for good with a 30-yard quarterback keeper. Connor Zblewski added a 6-yard score to cap a nine-play, 80-yard drive, but Amherst still wasn’t finish in the first quarter. Garth Groshek recovered a fumbled kickoff return and Chris Zblewski found Ryan Makuski for a 20-yard TD pass to make it 28-7.
Amherst added to its lead with three more touchdowns in the second quarter. Chris Zblewski found Joel Biadasz for 9- and 8-yard scores and threw a 16-yarder to Max Strand.
Backup quarterback Garret Groshek scored on 16- and 73-yard runs in the second half to complete the scoring.
The Falcons outgained the Predators 318-120 on the ground and 200-42 through the air. Almost half of Northern Elite’s offense – 79 yards – came on the Predators’ first two drives, Swanson’s 41-yard run that set up the touchdown and his 38-yard completion to Zawada on the second drive.
The Falcons’ quarterback tandem of Chris Zblewski and Garret Groshek led the team’s rushing attack with 103 and 94 yards, respectively.
Lusic knows his team will face a stiff challenge Saturday from the Red Raiders, a 36-0 Level 1 winner over Crandon. Marathon also held Hayden Krueger, who came into the game as the state’s leading rusher with more than 2,000 yards on the season, to 78 yards on 18 carries.
“We’re playing Marathon, who is a tremendous team,” Lusic said. “Their quarterback’s very good and they can run the ball. If we start like we did today defensively, we’re going to be in a hole.”
He was asked of this year’s version of the Falcons are a better team that made it to the third round of the 2011 playoffs.
“We’re more experienced,” he said. “A lot of these seniors played as sophomores. They took their lumps as sophomores and this year, they’re playing very well.
“I’ll say this, we were happy to be where we were last year,” he said. “This year, we expected to contend for a conference title and be in the playoffs. Last year, we weren’t quite sure. The expectations have risen in the program.”
Amherst’s eight wins during the regular season included a 20-0 shutout over Shiocton. It was the Chiefs’ only loss of the season and helped the Falcons win a Central Wisconsin 8 Conference championship.
“That’s a very good team that could go far in the playoffs,” Lusic said. “There’s no doubt that kind of validated a lot of the work that the kids put in during the offseason. It’s paying off. These kids are stronger than ever.”
The Amherst community has also supported the team this season, according to Lusic.
“It’s been great and the community’s been very supportive,” he said. “I think they’ve been hungry for a winning team.”