Game of the Week -- Leopards earn fourth win, possibly lose player
By CONOR NICHOLL
La CROSSE -- La Crosse High School football coach Jon Webster talks often about adversity and being able to overcome obstacles. Through the first three games this season, the Leopards didn't have any injuries and earned relatively easy victories.
"Everybody was healthy and things were going well," Webster said.
On Friday, the Leopards collected a 40-8 victory against rival Plainville, but now face their first significant test. With 4 minutes, 15 seconds left in the first quarter, junior defensive end Sheldon Schmidt went out for a pass in the corner of the end zone against two Plainville defenders. The ball was slightly overthrown and went out the back.
When Schmidt came down, he appeared to injure his knee and needed help off the field. Schmidt, with a team-high 11 sacks in the last two years, is likely out for significant time.
He was expected to have an MRI Saturday.
"I wouldn't expect to see him on the field in the next couple weeks for sure," Webster said. "Other than that, it's hard to say. I think, when he came down, his toe caught, the kid came up underneath him. I think -- I don't know for sure. There was a lot of contact."
Last season, La Crosse lost Clayton Basgall, expected to start at quarterback and defensive back, before the season with a knee injury. The Leopards still finished 11-1 and advanced to the Class 2-1A sub-state championship game.
"Losing a guy like Sheldon, it's more than just statistics," Webster said. "You lose leadership and heart and a bunch of other stuff. It hurts. It hurt me as a coach. I could see our kids were hurting, and I just told them, 'We can't let this be an excuse for getting off from our goals and what we want to do. Somebody is going to get an opportunity to play for however long it is.' "
Senior defensive lineman Cody Lee continued his great season with five tackles for loss, while senior linebacker Marshall Jay had three tackles for loss and senior Kody Burns picked up one. The Leopards, 4-0 and ranked No. 2 in the Class 2-1A statewide media poll, also collected four sacks, eight hurries and limited Plainville (1-3) to three first downs.
"We've just got to fill a spot," said Lee, who leads the team with 11 tackles for loss. "Our guys are experienced enough just to come up and play. They were pretty sad, and Sheldon is one of our key players, but we've just got to go out and play. People got to step up."
Junior Andrew Jay continued his strong season with another huge game. He recorded 224 all-purpose yards, including an 89-yard kickoff return for a score and a five-yard receiving TD. La Crosse won its fifth straight against the Cardinals in the last four years and bumped its regular season winning streak to 31 games.
"We called a right return, and we set a wall up to right," Jay said of his kick return. "...The hole opened up and I took advantage of it."
After the Cardinals went three-and-out on the game's first possession, La Crosse went 65 yards in seven plays. Junior quarterback Jack Garcia found Jay in the flat on the right side, who broke out his usual arsenal of moves and cuts to score from 5 yards.
Plainville had another three-and-out before La Crosse moved to the Cardinal 19. Garcia went deep to Schmidt, who suffered his injury. Schmidt was helped off the field and spent most of the game with an ice pack on a sideline training table.
"I was praying for him, never want to see your own player go down, it always hurts you, just wants to make you fight that much harder," Burns said.
La Crosse came up short on fourth down from the Plainville 3, one of three red zone drives that ended with no points. Still, La Crosse moved its lead to 22-0 in the second quarter on a 23-yard run from Moeder and a nine-yard score from senior Warren Storie.
Plainville's first first down resulted in its only score. Senior quarterback Hadley Gillum found freshman Hayden Friend for a 53-yard pass. Friend caught the ball in Leopard territory on the right side. He evaded tacklers, went all the way to the left and then cut back to center.
"For the most part, I was pretty pleased with the way our defense played," Plainville coach Joe Simon said. "Our offense didn't move the ball very well, so our offense was on the field a lot."
On the next play, Jay returned his kickoff for a 28-8 lead with 80 seconds left before halftime. In the second half, Burns and Lee, without Schmidt, continued to wreak havoc up front.
"We don't play with one player," Burns said. "We play with the whole team, just all 28 guys."
Several times, Lee broke through and tackled Gillum or Friend one-on-one. Burns is 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, while Lee stands at 5-9, 193 against a much bigger Plainville line.
"Me and Kody Burns, we are probably the quickest linemen out there. It just comes from the heart," Lee said.
"Doesn't matter how big you are, you've just got to go at a high level and keep going, don't stop," Burns added.
La Crosse tacked on two late scores on a 13-yard pass from Garcia to Marshall Jay and Moeder had a six-yard run. Postgame, the Leopards' thought about playing most, if not all, of the season without Schmidt.
"We have got to be able to rally around each other, pick each other up and come to play," Webster said. "Be a little more focused, be a little more passionate, be a little more energetic every time we take the field."