Stoughton junior linebacker Connor Wheeler had a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery to lead the Vikings to a 26-13 win over Sauk Prairie in the first round of the Division 3 playoffs Friday, Oct. 25, at Collins Field.
The Vikings forced five turnovers (four fumbles and an interception by Owen Chase) and racked up five sacks.
“We knew they (Sauk Prairie) were a big and physical team,” Wheeler said. “We knew we just had to do our individual jobs and not get selfish.”
Stoughton (8-2) has won four straight games and will host a second-round playoff game for the first time in program history Friday against Monroe (6-4). The seventh-seeded Cheesemakers upset second-seeded Onalaska to get a rematch against the Vikings.
Stoughton defeated Monroe 53-18 in Week 8.
“Our first goal was to win conference and get a good playoff spot,” Wheeler said. “Now it’s to win a state championship. We are on the way, and this is just another step towards that.”
After bottling up Sauk Prairie’s running game on first and second down, the Eagles’ wing-T offense was forced into multiple third-and-long and obvious pass situations. It was a recipe for success for the Vikings.
“As a team, we feed off each other,” Stoughton coach Dan Prahl said. “I think now when our defense makes a big play or gets a turnover, the offense is putting up a big play or finishing with a score. It’s a credit to these kids. They are great to coach, they are resilient and pay attention to detail.”
Stoughton senior quarterback Adam Hobson completed 14 of 23 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns. Junior receiver Jack Rilling had six receptions for 78 yards and two touchdowns.
Sauk Prairie (6-4) struck first, as senior Parker Breunig tossed a 24-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Dayton Goette with 45 seconds left in the first quarter.
Stoughton answered with a nine-play, 55-yard drive, capped off by junior running back Brooks Empey’s 1-yard touchdown plunge. The Eagles blocked the extra point and led 7-6 with 9:17 left in the second quarter.
The Vikings cashed in on an 11-play, 86-yard drive, with Hobson finding Rilling for a 14-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-8 to give the Vikings a 12-7 lead at the half.
“When I saw the ball come to me, I was just thinking, ‘Make the play,’” Rilling said. “We needed that play to go up a score.”
The Vikings opened the third quarter with an 11-play, 65-yard drive, punctuated by Hobson’s 22-yard touchdown pass to Rilling on fourth-and-4. Nathan Hutcherson caught a pass from Hobson for the two-point conversion.
Wheeler forced a fumble and the Vikings recovered at their own 49-yard line. On the next play, Hobson tossed a 49-yard touchdown pass to Konner Knauf to give the Vikings a 26-7 lead with 26 seconds left in the third quarter.
Hutcherson had six catches for 83 yards, and Knauf had three receptions for 85 yards. Empey finished with 115 yards on 32 carries.
Penalties remain a problem area for Stoughton, which finished with 11 penalties for 135 yards, including 10 for 105 yards in the first half.
“We kept coming at them,” Rilling said. “We know we got a lot of flags and that’s just a lack of discipline. That’s why we need discipline to win the next game. We kept pushing and they broke down.”
Prahl tells his team to block and hit until the echo of the whistle.
“I think our physicality going to the whistle is great and I don’t think that contributes to it (increase in penalties),” he said. “I think if anything, our guys are not hearing the whistle or some officiating crews are not blowing the whistle.