Access denied: Ballmer, Clinton halt Prairie du Chien
CLINTON--Clinton’s defense slammed the door on Prairie du Chien on Friday night.
Then senior defensive lineman Kenny Ballmer locked it and threw away the key.
For the sixth time in the past seven games, the Cougars allowed one touchdown or less, and Ballmer’s fourth-quarter interception return capped a 28-6 victory over visiting Prairie du Chien in a WIAA Division 5 second-round football game.
Top-seeded Clinton will host second-seeded Lake Country Lutheran in a battle of 11-0 teams in a state quarterfinal next Friday night.
“We just don’t let them score,” Ballmer said. “We’ve given up no rushing touchdowns this year, and we take pride in that. We’re just going to shut down their run game. They got some yards, but we really step it up in the red zone.”
It was the first time Clinton—which entered the game as the state’s leading rushing team, regardless of division—was outgained offensively this season. Prairie du Chien piled up 345 yards to the Cougars’ 225.
But Clinton came up with two critical turnovers. And through two rounds of the playoffs, it has allowed just one touchdown and has scored three of them.
“Our defense won us the game tonight,” Clinton coach Jeff Spiwak said. “Our defense is good. Sometimes it gets overshadowed by our offense, and we struggled (offensively) with some things. Prairie du Chien is a very good team. We’ll take a 28-6 win.
“It’s playoff football. It’s not pretty, but you do what you have to do.”
After trading three punts apiece to open the game, Clinton found some traction early in the fourth quarter. It marched 49 yards in seven plays, and quarterback Tyler Halsted put the Cougars on the board with a 1-yard touchdown plunge.
Prairie du Chien answered in a big way, moving 80 yards down the field and scoring on a 15-yard touchdown pass with 4:35 remaining in the first half.
The Blackhawks missed the extra point, and Clinton turned right around and completely grabbed momentum. It scored two touchdowns in a span of 57 seconds.
First, on the fourth play of the ensuing offensive drive, Halsted took a snap, sprinted to his right and hit senior running back Zach Krause with a jump pass in the flat. Krause, the state’s leading rusher coming in, had injured his ankle on the previous touchdown drive but showed no ill effect as he sprinted 55 yards the rest of the way for the touchdown.
“We expanded our play-calling. We had been pretty vanilla the past few weeks,” Spiwak said. “I think we caught them off guard, and that was the plan.”
Prairie du Chien’s next possession lasted two plays, as it fumbled the ball and Clinton senior Grayson Johansen fell on it.
Krause needed one play to score again, bursting 31 yards up the middle, with the extra point making it 21-6 heading into halftime.
Krause finished with 96 yards on 18 carries to go along with his long touchdown reception.
Prairie du Chien had a chance to get back within a possession when it marched from its own 12 to the red zone late in the third quarter. But the Cougars defense stood tall from there.
And Ballmer all but put the game away on the Blackhawks’ next possession when he intercepted a pass at midfield. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound lineman bulldozed his way to the end zone.
“It was pretty surreal,” Ballmer said. “All of the sudden the ball was in my hands, and I just started running.”
“That was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen in my life,” Spiwak said.
Clinton had a fumble recovery and interception return for a touchdown in its first-round playoff victory over Brookfield Academy.
Its defense has now held opponents to seven points or fewer in seven of 11 games this year and is giving up just over 10 points per game.
Lake Country Lutheran, averaging 41 points per game, stands to be the Cougars’ toughest test yet.
CLINTON 28, PRAIRIE DU CHIEN 6
Prairie du Chien 0 6 0 0—6
Clinton 0 21 0 7—28
Scoring: C—Tyler Halsted 1 run (Chandler Yurs kick). P—Drake Coleman 15 pass from Gavin Gillitzer (kick failed). C—Zach Krause 55 pass from Halsted (Yurs kick). C—Krause 31 run (Yurs kick). C—Kenny Ballmer 50 interception return (Yurs kick).
Statistics: First downs—Prairie du Chien 22, Clinton 11. Rushing yards—Prairie du Chien 126, Clinton 164. Passing yards—Prairie du Chien 219, Clinton 61. Passes—Prairie du Chien 37-16-1, Clinton 8-2-1. Fumbles—Prairie du Chien 2-1, Clinton 2-0. Penalties—Prairie du Chien 9-67, Clinton 10-106.
Last updated: 12:35 am Saturday, October 28, 2017