RACINE — In the chill of a mid-October night, two high school football teams huddled at the opposite ends of Horlick Field on Thursday night for words from their respective coaches.
On the north end, Racine Lutheran coach Scott Smith was congratulating his players for their 49-21 Metro Classic Conference victory over Catholic Central in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Tyler Tenner rushed for 218 yards and two touchdowns as the Crusaders improved to 7-2 overall and 5-2 in the MCC. They will await word this weekend about which team they will open against next week in the WIAA Division 6 playoffs, where they advanced to the quarterfinals last season.
“The way we’re playing as a team and as a whole, we can go further than we did last year,” senior receiver-defensive back James Wilson said. “We had a lot of players lifting in the offseason and getting stronger and we just have good team chemistry.”
On the south end, Catholic Central coach Tom Aldrich was thanking his seniors for a job well done. The once-dominant Hilltoppers finished off a 3-6 season after going 1-17 the previous two years, which included three forfeits at the end of last season because of a low number of players.
As Aldrich addressed his players, senior running back Payton Meinholz was clearly emotional. There were plenty of mixed emotions for him after this one.
“I’m sad to see it’s over,” Meinholz said. “We all had our expectations for the playoffs and, do you know what? We didn’t accomplish that goal, but we accomplished what we wanted — to get better.
“As everyone knows, we cancelled half of last season and we had one single win the season before that. We got three wins this year — one nonconference and two conference — and that’s a huge improvement from what we’ve had.
“I can’t thank my team enough. I love playing with these guys. They’re my brothers.”
The bottom line is Lutheran was superior across the board in terms of size, speed and numbers. The Crusaders piled up 521 yards — 458 on the ground — and averaged 13.1 yards per rushing attempt.
“The line just played well,” said Smith, referring to tackles Alex Schulz and Sully Stanke, guards David Voss and Seth Hultman, and center Tim Nelson. “We scored every time we had the ball but once.”
Tenner increased his season rushing total to 1,211 yards with his performance. Colton Kraus threw touchdown passes of eight and 19 yards to Elijah Solis and also ran 18 yards for a score.
Also for Lutheran, Josh Hess scored from 40 yards and Terrence Suggs scored on a 49-yard run.
But the score would have been closer without four lost fumbles by Catholic Central. The first two, which came within the first two minutes of the game, set up Lutheran touchdowns. On two other occasions, Catholic Central fumbled deep in Lutheran’s territory.
“That’s been a problem this season,” said Meinholz, who rushed for 47 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. “It’s something that was downfall in our two games against Dominican and St. Joe’s. Those were both winnable games. We lost them both by one touchdown each.
“We should have done a better job, but do you know what? It’s all in the past.”
Catholic Central’s touchdowns came on a two-yard run by Tristan Welka, a one-yard run by Meinholz and a 23-yard run by Todd Suchomel.
Suchomel rushed for 75 yards on nine carries. Cade Dirksmeyer added 54 yards on 12 attempts.
For the game, Catholic Central rushed for 251 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per rushing attempt.