It was 30 years ago this month when the Park High School football team was coming off the WIAA Division 1 state championship. Among the players returning to the Panthers’ 1989 team were Brent Moss and J.C. Dawkins, both of whom would start on a Wisconsin team that won its first Rose Bowl in January 1994.
Fifteen miles to the west in Racine County, Union Grove was coming off an 0-9 season in 1988 and was destined for a stretch so futile that the Broncos would become state news. From 1988 through ‘93, they would go just 4-50.
What might have happened had Park and Union Grove met in 1989?
“Well, Elkhorn beat us 80-0 back then (on Aug. 31, 1990),” Union Grove athletic director Dave Pettit said. “I’m guessing it would have been a score something like that.”
As unfathomable as it would have been to imagine in 1989, these two programs are about to meet for the first time. Park will host Union Grove in a nonconference game at 7 p.m. Thursday at Hammes Field.
It’s a two-year contract between the two schools, but Pettit said there’s a good chance it will become a four-year arrangement. What’s more, Pettit said a game between Park and Union Grove may become the first played at the new football stadium scheduled to open at Pritchard Park in Racine next year.
No one would have believed this in 1989.
But of course, things are so much more different than they were 30 years ago. Park is trying to pull out of a slump similar to what Union Grove suffered back then. And the Broncos long ago returned to respectability and even produced a Big Ten player (2007 graduate Ricky Weina was a defensive back for Northwestern) and a top-tier quarterback (Union Grove coach Craig McClelland broke several records with the Racine Raiders from 2012-15).
What’s more, Park’s enrollment is listed at 1,360 this season — just 374 more than what’s listed for Union Grove. In 1989, Park’s enrollment approached 2,500.
What this amounts to is an intriguing matchup Thursday. Park, under second-year coach Danny Hernandez, is coming off a 42-0 victory over South Milwaukee. Senior quarterback Ricky Canady ran and passed for a combined 258 yards and four touchdowns. And defensive end Raishein Thomas dominated on the other side of the ball.
“I think it’s a great challenge for us,” Hernandez said. “McClelland and (defensive coordinator Darryl) Bones do a great job of getting their team prepared on both sides of the ball. It’s also a county game so we can showcase where we are within that setting.”
Union Grove, meanwhile, showed considerable character by rallying in a 41-27 loss to Racine Lutheran. Lineman Mickey Rewolinski, who has three NCAA Division I offers, was lost for the season after the first play of the game, but the Broncos overcame that setback to give Lutheran a strong challenge.
Also, Union Grove quarterback Nash Wolf will be back behind center after being held out of the opener with an injury.
“It’s nice because they’re just 20 minutes from us,” McClelland said. “It’s always nice to play other county teams. That’s why we scheduled the Racine Lutheran game. You don’t get to see some of these teams, so it’s nice to actually go up against them and see what they have.
“It’s something that could definitely be lasting thing. They’re building back over there again. Watching film of them, they have some great athletes and they’re definitely doing the right things over there.”
Stay tuned. This could be a good one.
Another county rivalry
While Park and Union Grove are battling it out, a second county rivalry that didn’t exist 30 years ago will be extended in Racine. This one involves Horlick and Burlington, which will be meeting for the ninth consecutive season, and it’s been about as good as it gets.
The average margin of victory in the eight previous games has been just 9.5 points. Burlington leads the series 5-3 and it appears this rivalry could continue indefinitely.
“We like the fact it’s a Racine County team, we like the proximity and we know year in and year out it’s going to be a good football game,” Burlington coach Steve Tenhagen said. “When we talk about scheduling nonconference games in preparation for our tough Southern Lakes schedule, Horlick has definitely been a great matchup for us over the years.”
Thursday’s 7 p.m. game at Horlick Field looks particularly intriguing since both teams are in rebuilding modes.
Horlick persevered for a 20-14 victory over Milwaukee Morse-Marshall. Burlington held on for a 42-35 victory over Whitnall, but Tenhagen has come concerns after a young defense allowed 470 yards.
“Obviously we had a tough battle and found a way to win,” Tenhagen said. “We put some points on the board. We never want to give up 400-plus yards of rushing, but our kids were resilient and found a way to win. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”
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Horlick coach Brian Fletcher offered an interesting perspective on the value of this rivalry.
“Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, people used to think of the Southeast Conference as being a deeper conference than the Southern Lakes,” he said. “But we’re seeing more kids move west and that conference is really, really strong now.
“A lot of us in the Southeast are scheduling those Southern Lakes opponents because they’re realizing what a challenge and what great coaching there is out there. I’ve got a great relationship with Steve and it’s been a really good matchup for us.”
A major challenge for Horlick will be Burlington senior quarterback Dalton Damon, who passed for 194 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 74 yards and another score.
“Our offense runs through our quarterback,” Tenhagen said. “That’s no secret.”
An invaluable presence for Horlick last week was senior running back Allieas Williams, who rushed for 62 yards and a touchdown on only five carries and returned a touchdown 83 yards for another score.
“He played a great game,” Fletcher said.
Plain bad luck
It was last Sept. 21 when Burlington receiver Nick Webley was lost for the season with a broken leg. One year later, another standout in the Southern Lakes Conference suffered a similar fate when Union Grove lineman Mickey Rewolinski suffered a fractured fibula in one spot. He underwent surgery Friday and is lost for the season.
The difference is Webley had played five games and was well on his way to an All-State season. Rewolinski’s senior year was comprised of one play.
“It was a freak accident,” McClelland said. “It’s football and accidents happen. It just sucks that it had to happen on the first play of the game for him.”
Rewolinski, who has three Division I offers, is a team captain and has already returned for his teammates.
“He’s still a big part of what we do,” McClelland said. “The kids look up to him. He was at practice and just his presence built our morale, for sure.”
A different look
Injuries will give Racine Lutheran’s offensive backfield a different look when the Crusaders, ranked No. 1 among small schools in the first AP state poll of the season, hosts Waupun Friday night at Horlick Field.
Coach Scott Smith said junior quarterback Nolan Kraus will be held out of this game as a precaution after suffering a neck injury against Union Grove. And senior running back Tyler Tenner, who has a chance to break the state’s all-time rushing record this season, is questionable after suffering an injury against Union Grove that Smith declined to disclose.
Lutheran is covered at running back with Jaylen Houston, who rushed for 793 yards last season and had 119 against Union Grove. Stepping in at quarterback is sophomore Camdin Jansen, who did not attempt a pass after replacing Kraus in the fourth quarter last week.
“He can throw the ball well,” Smith said. “He doesn’t give us as much mobility, but he’s got a strong arm. He’s growing and he likes having the role of being the quarterback and leading the team.”
This week’s honors
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Four years after it finished 1-8, Racine Lutheran is the top-ranked team in the state among small schools in the first AP poll of the season The Crusaders, who were the WIAA Division 6 runners-up last season, opened this season with a strong performance against Division 2 Union Grove, taking a 28-7 lead before holding on for a 41-27 victory. Especially impressive was a running offense that accounted for 466 yards on 51 attempts. Tyler Tenner rushed for 253, followed by Jaylen Houston with 119 and Nolan Kraus with 96.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK: In one of the tightest season-opening games involving a Racine County team, Tanner Keller meant a great deal to Waterford. Coming off 1,725 yards and 30 touchdowns as a junior, Keller rushed for 219 yards and both of the Wolverines’ touchdowns in a 15-0 victory over Kenosha Bradford.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Park senior defensive end Raishein Thomas, a Northern Illinois recruit, opened his season in spectacular fashion. In Park’s 42-0 victory over South Milwaukee, he had three sacks, three tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He also three solo tackles, of which were for loss, and three assists.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Union Grove senior Konner Goetsch had a spectacular start to his senior season with 243 all-purpose yards in a 41-27 loss to Racine Lutheran. He returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown, a punt 58 yards for a TD and caught nine passes for 95 yards.