The date was Sept. 15. The location was Room 139 at Case High School.
Two days earlier, the senior-dominated Case football team had slipped to 1-3 after a 27-14 loss to Kenosha Tremper, which will finish at or near the bottom of the Southeast Conference Friday.
This was supposed to be the Eagles’ year with their wealth of experience, but it was shaping up as another lost season for them. There have been plenty of those, considering this program hasn’t had a winning season since 1993 and hasn’t been to the playoffs since ‘97.
Enter 55-year-old Bruce Follo, a Case assistant coach with quite a resume. He started at defensive tackle on UW-La Crosse’s 1985 NCAA Division III championship team and coached Joe Thomas, a future NFL Hall of Famer, as a longtime assistant at Brookfield Central from 1998-2016.
Follo had seen enough after that loss to Tremper. He had been the head coach for Case’s seniors when then were on the freshman team in 2016 and he knew they were capable of so much more.
“I’ve told them since their freshman year that they’re a special group kids,” said Follo, who is a guidance counselor at Case. “One of our close bonds is my sister (Colleen Sutherland) died the first year I started coaching those guys. They stuck with me and they kept me where I needed to be. They kept me grounded and I don’t think I could have gotten through all that without those guys.
“I just let them have it. I said, ‘You know, we went through too much. We’re not going to go down this road. You guys are a special group of kids.’ They just needed to pull together and figure it out.”
A connection was made. The Eagles have gone 3-1 since then, with their only loss being 14-7 in overtime to Oak Creek, one of the best teams in the SEC.
“We all realized we were not playing as good of football as we could be,” senior linebacker Chris Fish said. “We just got our stuff together and started focusing more on our mistakes and how we can get better at those mistakes we were making. And we’ve been improving.”
Added senior wide receiver JayVian Farr: “We all look up to coach Follo like a father figure and we respect him tremendously. He felt we could be better than the old Case and that stuck with us.”
The Eagles have put themselves in position to have their first winning regular season in 26 years and earn a playoff berth, but a huge challenge remains. Case (4-4, 3-3 SEC) must defeat Kenosha Indian Trail (6-2, 5-1 SEC) in a 7 p.m. showdown Friday at Hammes Field to achieve both of those goals.
Indian Trail has improved steadily in Paul Hoffman’s three seasons as coach. The Hawks’ only losses this season have been to top-tier teams – 21-13 to Wilmot Aug. 23 and 23-0 to Franklin Sept. 20.
Junior quarterback Argent Ismaili has developed into a standout, completing nearly 62 percent of his passes for 1,372 yards, with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions. Lineman Nijae King, who had nine sacks, is a defensive leader.
Hoffman, who said he has moved 21 times in his adult life, is expecting a strong test from Case.
“They’re a solid team,” he said. “Bryan Shredl and his staff do a great job with those kids. They’re always going to play physical and they’re always going to play hard. And they have their backs against the door in terms of earning a playoff berth.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us. We know it’s going to be a battle right down to the wire.”
The Tenner Watch
Going into Friday night’s game against Catholic Central at The Topper Bowl, Racine Lutheran senior running back Tyler Tenner has closed in on some historic all-time rushing records in Wisconsin.
Here is what remains for Tenner, who ranks fifth on the all-time state list with 6,213 yards:
- He needs 147 yards to surpass Dylan Henricks (6,359) of Pulaski and move into fourth place.
- He needs 283 yards to surpass Luke Hansel (6,495) of Random Lake and move into third place.
- He is 494 yards from overtaking Mike Firkus (6,707) of Hilbert for second place.
- With 658 more yards, he will overtake Bryce Huettner (6,807) of Iola-Scandinavia and become Wisconsin’s all-time leading rusher.
- With 787 more yards, he will become the first high school running back in the state to reach 7,000 career yards.
Through eight games, Tenner has averaged 211 rushing yards per game. If he maintains that average for three more games, he will be on the brink of breaking Huettner’s record in Lutheran’s second-round playoff game, assuming the Crusaders advance that far.
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Tenner rushed for a remarkable 1,086 yards in five postseason games last year. If he approaches that performance again, he could put the state rushing record virtually out of reach.
But there’s a cautionary tale here: Lutheran was almost upset in a first-round WIAA Division 6 playoff game last year, having to rally to defeat Pecatonica-Argyle 20-19. After Friday’s regular-season finale, one upset loss in the playoffs means Tenner’s run will abruptly end.
Catholic Central coach Tom Aldrich, an outstanding running back at the school from 1975-77, was asked what impresses him the most about Tenner.
“I think he has outstanding balance,” Aldrich said. “He’ll take a hit, he bounces off and he can keep going.
“As well as being a load to try and bring down, he’s fast, he’s strong, he’s got the thick legs and you really have got to wrap up on him to stop him. But what’s most impressive is his balance once he gets hit. He’s got that balance where, unless you can take him to the ground, he’s going to give you a second and third effort and get positive yards out of it.”
OK, it’s a given that Waterford doesn’t exactly come out passing every Friday night. During the last two seasons, the Wolverines have attempted 178 passes in 19 games, which is an average of 9.3 per game.
Nevertheless, it’s still impressive that they have been intercepted just once during that span. The graduated Joe Schauer was not intercepted in 113 pass attempts last year and successor Logan Martinson has just one in 65 attempts this season.
That game was Sept. 6 in a 42-22 victory over Union Grove, when strong safety Tommy Hempel picked him off.
“I threw too short,” Martinson said. “Our post was wide open and I made a wrong read. That’s what happened. (Hempel) jumped up and caught it and made a good play.”
Considering Waterford’s offense has been built around the running of Tanner Keller and Dominic Miller the last two seasons — they have combined to rush for 4,852 yards in the last 19 games — Waterford coach Adam Bakken isn’t overly impressed by only being intercepted once.
“The reason why we don’t throw a whole lot of interceptions is we don’t pass the ball that often,” Bakken said. “If we’re getting up to double-digit passes or the mid teens, it feels like we threw the ball 30 or 40 times in the game.
“We try to take advantage pass-wise of when it’s open. Coach (Dave) Fisher is doing a real good job of recognizing down-and-distances and situations where, if they have the box stacked, to get the ball outside to our receivers.
“Our receivers are actually very good athletes, too, but nobody knows about them because everybody concentrates on the backfield. So between Ty (Johnson), Jack (McCormick) and Erik (Rowe), all three of those guys have really good hands, run really good routes and are extremely athletic.
“If we had to throw the ball 20 or 25 times in a game, I’d feel confident in the guys we have out there.”
Fisher, Waterford’s offensive coordinator, adds that tight end Trevor Hancock, “could arguably be our best overall athlete and football player. He’s a great blocker and a good receiver and defensive end.”
This week’s honors
TEAM: Catholic Central continued its impressive comeback season with a 21-14 Metro Classic Conference victory over St. Joseph in Kenosha. That guaranteed the Hilltoppers their first winning regular season and playoff berth since 2015, when they advanced to the WIAA Division 7 semifinals. Between that season and this one, Catholic Central had gone 4-23.
Running back Neal McCourt rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns and quarterback Brandon Pum added 84 yards and a TD.
OFFENSE: St. Catherine’s prevailed in a key showdown against powerful Greendale Martin Luther and quarterback Keenan Carter was one of the biggest reasons why. The senior rushed for 170 yards and one touchdown on just 14 carries in the Angels’ 34-20 victory.
DEFENSE: Case linebacker Chris Fish has been a sensation his senior season and it was more of the same in the Eagles’ 13-6 victory over Park. He finished with eight tackles, one for loss, one assist and a sack.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Playing on a sloppy field, it was critical to take an early lead when Park hosted Case. Jamill Lacy took care of that, returning the opening kickoff 81 yards to give Case a 6-0 lead.