It doesn’t take all that much for Tremper football coach Jared McGranahan to imagine an entirely different scenario playing out in front of his eyes than the one that unfolded Friday night in a Southeast Conference opener against powerful Oak Creek at Ameche Field.
If only the wind wouldn’t have howled against his Trojans (1-2 overall) for the first 12 minutes nearly to the degree that it did, the Knights (2-1) wouldn’t have benefited from the All-State-caliber leg of hulking Dragan Kesich, and Tremper could’ve had a much more respectable showing than the 51-7 nightmare that played out instead.
“Second quarter, we actually played ’em even,” the fourth-year coach said of the scoreless second quarter that followed the Knights’ 21-0 domination of the first. “We drove inside the red zone twice. (But then) we stubbed our toe twice. It would have been 21-14. Probably a different world.”
After falling to a three-score deficit on a 6-yard sprint around left end by Oak Creek’s Ryan Hock, his first of two scores, the Trojans went on the march. Taking over at their 20-yard line with 3 minutes, 8 seconds left in the opening quarter after Kesich drilled his fourth straight kickoff through the end zone (he would accomplish the feat five more times irrespective of wind direction), the Trojans advanced the ball to the Knights’ 14 on 14 plays but faltered after gaining a first-and-5 at the opponent’s 16.
After literally never getting off the ground on the first three possessions against a prevailing northerly wind, quarterback Ryan McGonegle rebounded from a sputtering 0-for-1 start to complete 6-of-7 attempts on the drive for 51 yards.
Still, the series ended in frustration when the Knights tackled senior wideout Justin Dierckens short of the sticks on a fourth-and-3 at the 14.
“Having the wind behind us at that point was a big deal, but the biggest thing is we felt we were better than them on the perimeter and they were better than us up front,” said McGranahan, whose record fell to 8-23 early in his fourth season.
“I think everybody in the stadium would agree.”
Certainly, everyone bundled against the unseasonably cold 58-degree chill would agree that the Trojans had something going with the McMonegle-to-Raymone Jones connection. A 6-foot-2, 195-pound junior, Jones (5 catches, 50 yards) began finding open spaces in the middle of the Oak Creek defense.
But McGonegle (17-of-29, 167 yards), a 6-1 junior, missed some opportunities on overthrows and ended the night with four interceptions, including two inside the Tremper 25.
“The problem is we got some of our kids dinged up, and the next thing you know we’re not as good on the outside and you don’t have your advantages anymore,” said McGranahan, whose squad lost Jones late in the first half with what is believed to be an upper-body injury.
After the intermission, Oak Creek resumed the attack on a bad snap that sailed over Tremper punter Brennan Eckert’s outstretched hands and out of the end zone for a safety and quick-strike touchdown runs of 43 yards by Lucas Gallett (his first of two) and 12 yards by Hock. At that point, all that was left to determine was whether or not the visitors could keep Tremper out of the end zone.
Senior running back/linebacker Mitchel Schwartz (4 carries, 8 yards) provided some relief on a challenging night when he scored from 5 yards away on a first-and-goal with 5:28 remaining to give the home crowd something to cheer.
At that point, Tremper had already begun to turn its focus to a more winnable contest Friday at Racine Case.
“For us, it really comes down to getting some guys healthy,” McGranahan said. “I mean, we’re the walking wounded right now. So that’s a big part of it. But I don’t hold anything back. I think we can pretty much play with anybody in this league outside of Franklin and Oak Creek.”