Leopards pick apart Monarchs
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
When John Montgomery has his players look at game film vs. one of the best teams in the state in Class 2-1A, he will have plenty of teaching opportunities.
But Montgomery, head coach at Thomas More Prep-Marian, wants the Monarchs to also remember the first 7 minutes, 45 seconds of the opening quarter against La Crosse on Friday.
TMP matched the undefeated and Leopards, ranked No. 2 in the statewide medial poll, punch for punch early in the game and actually led 7-6 at the 4:15 mark of the first period before La Crosse (5-0) scored 46 unanswered points en route to a 53-7 non-league victory at Lewis Field Stadium.
In typical fashion, La Crosse took the opening kickoff and marched down the field, with one complete pass sandwiched between 10 rushing plays for its first touchdown.
The Leopards failed on a two-point conversion, then weren't able to recover an onside kick, giving the Monarchs a short field to work with.
It took TMP less than two minutes to go 59 yards, helped by two encroachment penalties by La Crosse, to tie the score on a 1-yard run by junior Nick Schmidt at the 4:15 mark.
Schmidt carried the ball four times for 18 yards during that drive, which was highlighted by a 33-yard pass from junior quarterback Max Megaffin to senior receiver Ryan Mayorga that took TMP to the 6-yard line.
Two runs by Schmidt, including the 1-yard TD, made it 6-6. Junior Jack You's extra-point kick was good, and TMP led the No. 2-ranked team in 2-1A.
"We came out strong and made them earn their touchdown," Montgomery said. "Then we had a lot of emotion, a lot of excitement (after TMP's score). We weren't able to keep that momentum."
TMP's excitement was shortlived.
Unfazed, La Crosse flipped the momentum immediately when junior Andrew Jay caught the ensuing kickoff from TMP's You at about the 11-yard line, headed upfield one way, reversed directions when he saw would-be tacklers in front of him and ran all the way to the TMP 48-yard line.
Monarch Grant Romme's touchdown-saving tackle of Jay only prolonged La Crosse fans from celebrating its second touchdown. The Leopards once again kept the ball on the ground and used up a lot of clock, going ahead for good on a 2-yard run by senior Marshall Jay with less than a minute left in the quarter.
TMP, feeling good trailing just 12-7 at the end of the first quarter, faced a third-and-19 at its own 25-yard line heading into a gusty wind at the start of the second quarter.
"Football is a game of emotion," Montgomery said. "When that wind got in our face, it turned our game around a little bit."
The wind -- and La Crosse's defense -- completely turned around the Monarchs' game.
On the first play of the second quarter, Megaffin was sacked for a 7-yard loss, forcing a punt. The Leopards blocked junior Cameron Fouts' punt, and La Crosse senior Jacob Reifschneider recovered it at the 2-yard line.
Senior Lucas Moeder scored on the very next play to start a 26-point scoring barrage in that quarter for the visitors.
TMP had three three-and-outs and had its fourth drive stalled when time ran out in the first half, heading into the locker room trailing 38-7.
"We got back to playing Leopard football," La Crosse coach Jon Webster said of his team's strong second quarter. "And when we're playing Leopard football, we're pretty tough."
La Crosse added two more TDs in the third period, speeding up the rest of the game because of the 45-point running-clock rule.
The Leopards had just 27 players suited up Friday, but 16 of those are upperclassmen. La Crosse was led by junior Jack Garcia and seniors Lucas Moeder and Marshall Jay.
Garcia, the Leopards' quarterback, accounted for four touchdowns, two on the ground and two through the air on long passes of 33 and 28 yards to senior Taylor Yohe. He also was 8-of-14 passing for 155 yards and added 53 yards rushing.
Moeder scored three rushing TDs and had 83 yards rushing. And Jay led his team in rushing with 94 yards on 10 carries, including one touchdown and a two-point conversion.
Jay's yardage was more than TMP's entire team offensive output (91 yards).
"They're explosive, and I've got a lot of respect for them." Montgomery said of the Leopards. "They were hitting us as hard in the fourth quarter as they were in the first. That's where we want to be."
Webster said he thinks the Monarchs are making strides in getting there.
"They're a team that's better than what they show," he said. "They're on the verge of being competitive. ... just takes time."
La Crosse will be on the road again Friday, at Inman in a Class 2-1A, District 5 game, while TMP will play host to another unbeaten team, Phillipsburg, in a non-league, non-district contest at Lewis Field Stadium.