Game of the Week: Scary secondary in La Crosse
By CONOR NICHOLL
La CROSSE -- Last season, the La Crosse High School football team set a state record with 34 interceptions en route to a 12-1 season and Class 2-1A state runner-up appearance.
The Leopards graduated senior Austin Webs, who led the team with 10 interceptions, and senior Tayler Stull, who picked off four passes and started at safety in the Shrine Bowl.
Entering the fall, fourth-year coach Jon Webster expected to have two seniors, William Storie and Clayton Basgall lead the secondary. Instead, Basgall suffered a season-ending knee injury in the summer. Basgall has had to help the secondary from the sideline.
"Losing Basgall was devastating," Webster said.
However, a young secondary, led by Storie, has still played well. That included holding Brookville/Ell-Saline's passing game to 11 of 30 for 204 yards with one touchdown against three interceptions. The Leopards won 35-6 in the first round of the Class 2-1A state playoffs.
"Our DBs, yeah, we gave up some yards, but we made plays when we needed to," Webster said.
Ell-Saline senior quarterback Garrett Walker entered the game with a 165.5 passing efficiency this season and finished with an 84.8 efficiency against La Crosse. On Friday, La Crosse (10-0) will play host to Oakley (7-2) in the second round.
"That was pretty remarkable I thought," junior safety Taylor Yohe said of holding down Ell-Saline.
Yohe picked off two passes and had a pass breakup, while junior cornerback Lucas Moeder collected an interception and a pass breakup. Yohe has played little in his high school career, while Moeder rarely has played football in his life because of health issues and injury.
"Your guys who haven't had that much experience are going to have to start being big players for us, and Taylor Yohe is a prime example," senior linebacker Kip Keeley said.
"The past few years, he has just been kind of one of those backups, and this year, he has kind of came into his role and with these playoffs, and this game, he is going to have to start playing big like he did tonight."
Storie, the starting safety who missed most of the 2011 playoffs because of injury, and Moeder lead the team with four interceptions.
"He is like our mentor out there," Yohe said. "If we have a question, we just ask him and he knows exactly where we need to be and what we are supposed to do on each play."
Yohe has three interceptions and a team-high 11 passes defended. Sophomore Jack Garcia has taken over for Basgall at quarterback and cornerback and has two interceptions and eight passes defended.
"Clayton has done a good job on the sideline and Will Storie has really taken over as the leader of that secondary and getting guys in the right place," Webster said.
La Crosse has 17 interceptions and 29 passes defended. It's tied for the second-most INTs by a La Crosse team in Webster's tenure that has produced a 39-5 record.
The secondary has helped the Leopards allow 10.8 points per game, the best scoring defense in the program's last nine years. Last season, the Leopards permitted 12.3 points per contest en route to the state runner-up finish.
In fifth grade, Moeder tore his anterior cruciate ligament. Moeder couldn't have ACL surgery because of the growth plates in the leg. Surgery too early could cause the leg to grow wrong. He couldn't participate in contact sports for several years.
In eighth grade, Moeder went in for a checkup and had his chest checked again. When Moeder was born, he had an indentation in his chest and had it checked every year.
"One year, they had decided that it had gotten too big and they needed to operate on it," Moeder said.
Moeder had a bar put in his chest, where it stayed for three years until the bones grew harder.
"It was definitely different," he said. "It overall helped my breathing and I felt more capacity in there and all that stuff, but for three years, I couldn't have any contact or have contact sports or anything like that."
Last fall, Moeder returned to the field. Then, in a Week 4 junior varsity contest against Thomas More Prep-Marian, Moeder played tailback and La Crosse ran Pro Left 48 Stretch. He took the handoff on the sweep and was tackled near the sideline. He tore his ACL and medial collateral ligament and missed the rest of the year.
"It was pretty rough, just because I had waited so long," Moeder said.
The doctor said Moeder couldn't play again, and Shawn Landers, the Leopards' longtime trainer, was reluctant to let him return. After Moeder made progress -- and did some convincing -- those opinions changed.
Because it was a second tear, the rehab took longer. Instead of using a hamstring to fix the ligament, doctors have to use a cadaver. Moeder wasn't cleared until shortly before the season opener against Ellis.
"All season, he has done a good job of getting better every week, and I don't know if there has been a kid who has been asked to do more in one season going from not playing for the better part of four to five years to being a starter and getting a lot asked out of him," Webster said. "He has really come on. He is physical. He is aggressive. He is a student of the game. He takes coaching very well."