UNION GROVE — Tanner Keller didn’t exactly set the bar high for himself.
When the Union Grove High School football team gathered a couple of months ago for the 2017 season, Keller, a sophomore, had a modest — and understandable — goal.
“I was just hoping to make the varsity,” said Keller, a sophomore running back. “I didn’t expect to be in the position I am in now.”
And what a position the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Keller is in. He has become the featured running back for the playoff-bound Wolverines. He has had several big-time games, his latest coming on Friday night in the Wolverines’ 52-28 victory over Union Grove in a Southern Lakes Conference game.
Keller, using his speed and quickness, was almost a one-man wrecking crew for the Wolverines, who improved their SLC record to 5-1 and overall mark to 6-2.
Keller was called on to carry the ball 25 times in the game, which was played in a light mist and fog and delayed for approximately 15 minutes when the lights went out in the entire stadium just before halftime.
Keller was at his best in the second quarter. That’s when he racked up three touchdowns in Waterford’s 24-point period. Keller scored on a two-yard early in the second period to give Waterford a 14-7 lead, a lead it never relinquished.
Then, after he had a 23-yard scoring run wiped out because of a penalty, Keller scampered for a 28-yard touchdown run on the next play. He capped his brilliant second-quarter showing with a 10-yard run as the Wolverines started taking control of the game with a 28-14 advantage.
Keller, who entered the game with 876 rushing yards, totaled 118 yards in the first half and finished the game with 162 yards and four touchdowns.
Ben Michalowski, Waterford’s leading returner at running back, had 158 yards and a touchdown. And Aaron Chapman caught three passes for 53 yards.
Suffice to say, Keller made marked impressions on both head coaches: Waterford’s Adam Bakken and Union Grove’s Craig McClelland.
Said Bakken: “Tanner has speed, quickness and he can make sharp cuts. He’s a natural.”
Added McClelland, whose team fell to 2-4 in the SLC and 3-5 overall: “He’s a great runner. He’s a tough runner.”
With Keller leading the way, the Wolverines registered their fifth straight victory and continued their scoring surge. In that five-game span, Waterford never scored fewer than 24 points. The Wolverines averaged 37.2 points in that the same stretch.
And who would have thought that would have occurred, especially after their tough start to the season? They lost two of their first three games, albeit one of them was to Division 1 power Franklin.
But instead of panicking, Bakken and Co. stayed the course. They were confident things would gradually improve.
“A lot of teams start 1-2,” Bakken said. “I wasn’t going to cancel the season, I’ll tell you that.
“When we have all our guys on the field, we’ve got a lot of weapons.”
They have done that, thanks in part to Keller, who said he has definitely noticed how the Wolverines are bonding. As such, he envisions he and his teammates faring well in the upcoming WIAA playoffs.
“We’re closer as a team right now,” Keller said. “We’ve come together as a group. I think we can do pretty good in the playoffs.”
Alec Spang had a big game for Union Grove, completing 22 of 39 passes for 257 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. His top target was Jacob Ross, who caught six passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns.