Turned Back at Turner as NGM Slips to 0-3

In keeping with the WIAA’s (apparent) theme of using distance and travel to discourage attendance at away games, and boundary-limited by only the “Cheddar Curtain”, NGM was compliant as they made the trek to Beloit for a game with the Trojans of Beloit Turner. The Trojans, having won their first two games by a margin of 90-8, are a team with a high octane offense. Apparently someone forgot to tell NGM, as they played their hearts out to a 0-0 draw at the close of the first half.
Hard hitting and good defense by NGM seemed to take the home team by surprise. Were it not for an interception inside the 5-yard line that prevented an early score, NGM might have been up 7-0 at the break. Brent Hoppe, the much-heralded D-1 commit to Central Michigan, was everything (defensively) as advertised as he spent considerable time in the NGM backfield throughout the game. But his intensity was matched, often by NGM’s senior lineman Ja’Kodey Strahm, whom Hoppe praised in the post-game interview as, “<i>the best lineman I have ever played against.</i>”
The game was played in front of a near sellout and infectiously enthusiastic home crowd. The Turner marching band set the tone for the evening when they marched into the stadium in step to an eight drum cadence, bringing the Turner faithful to their feet. With 16 cheerleaders, a 14 member spirit squad, and a most beautiful choral rendition of our national anthem, I had to pinch myself thinking perhaps I had made a wrong turn and was in Waunakee. Turner does it right!
NGM quarterback Max Marty got things going in the 3rd quarter with a touchdown pass to A.C. Strok, as Strok showed his athleticism fighting off two defenders in the front corner of the north end zone to make the catch. The extra point failed, but NGM was up 6-0 at the 9:09 mark. The Trojans came alive, riding their workhorse Jayce Kurth for a score. (Kurth would carry 27 times and tally 122 yards rushing on the evening). At 2:39 in the third it was Turner 7-NGM 6.
It was the fourth quarter where excitement was found in abundance. Quarterback Max Marty used his legs to get to the 10-yard line of Turner. NGM followed with a score on a run by A.C. Strok to make the score 12-7 NGM at the 10:59 mark <i>and folks, we have a game!</i>
Enter that vaunted Trojan offense. They would score at 8:43 as wide receiver Tyler Sutherland slipped undetected behind the NGM defense and took a perfect 28-yard pass from his quarterback, Connor Hughes. The two-point conversion failed. Score 13-12, Trojans. After the NGM offense stalled, it was again Hughes, now on a game-crucial 4th and 12, linking up with a different receiver for another passing touchdown, this one of 31 yards. With the extra point good, it was now Turner up 20-12 with 4:28 left to play, and NGM still very much in this game.
And then came the single play that turned the tide. An untimely interception of a Marty pass gave the ball back to the Turner offense, which promptly scored on a quarterback keeper to conclude the scoring at 27-12 and only 1:42 left in the contest. That score proved to be game, set, and match point. (For those keeping track, that is three unanswered touchdowns in 7 minutes and 1 second in the fourth quarter. Did I mention that Turner has an explosive offense?)
If ever there was a game that was closer than the final score indicated, it was this one. Turner fans and coaches knew it as they exited the grounds. NGM never blinked once the entire contest, playing good hard football all the way to the final whistle. Every coach will be quick to tell you that there is no such thing as a “moral victory”. But in all honesty, this game came close to feeling like one, with really only two or three plays making the difference. Only 54 yards of total offense separated the two clubs, the edge going to Turner (407 yds vs 353 yds).
The numbers: Max Marty again put forth a yeoman’s performance, going 10/24 passing, with 223 yards in the air and 85 yards on the ground with 12 carries. He also had 11 tackles. A.C. Strok collected 174 yards in the air, rushing for one touchdown and catching another. Justin Engen stepped up in his first varsity start at running back, taking over for the injured Emery Johnson, and Lawrence Vasquez, collecting 40 yards on 14 often-brutal carries. Playing both ways all night, Engen had 8 tackles and participated in 12 team tackles. Can you say “busy”?
The schedule does not get any easier as NGM plays host this coming Friday to Madison Edgewood, the private school that recruits the area, who is currently undefeated and ranked in the top 5 in the state. Game time is 7:00. Hope to see you there!
<i>***A personal gripe. Should any Turner fans be reading this column your next game will be at…get this…Lodi! Only three counties away, I hope your team bus holds enough gas to get you there. All this leaves me wondering if the geniuses at the WIAA, their thinking caps clearly askew, have ever looked at a map? Oh, how I miss the days of the venerable State Line League!</i>