Elkhorn’s football players couldn’t help but feel like they were mere inches from remaining undefeated in Southern Lakes Conference play Friday night.
Wilmot’s third-quarter field goal—the Panthers’ lone score of the second half—skipped off the top of the crossbar and through the uprights.
That kick wound up being the deciding margin, as Wilmot won 17-15 in a hard-fought high school football game.
“I’m proud of the way my guys finished,” Elkhorn coach Tom Lee said. “We hung with them blow-for-blow.
“We kept telling them we’d get an opportunity, because we know we’re a very good second-half football team. We proved that again tonight, we came up just a little bit short.”
Elkhorn fell to 3-2 overall and 2-1 in the Southern Lakes. Wilmot has a matching record, and Waterford took over sole possession of first place in the league, at 3-0, by beating Burlington on Friday.
The Elks flashed some perseverance despite falling in a 14-0 hole early in the second quarter.
Wilmot running back Austin Norton—who rushed 30 times for 144 yards, plowed in from 2 yards out to put the Panthers on the board at the end of their second possession.
Zack Watson caught a 32-yard pass from quarterback Zach Lamberson on the second play of the second quarter, and it was 14-0 Wilmot.
Elkhorn cut into its deficit midway through the second quarter.
After Wilmot unsuccessfully attempted a fake punt, the Elks needed six plays to go 30 yards, and they dug into their playbook as Nick Rockweiler through a 4-yard scoring pass to Jake Mogensen. A two-point conversion made it 14-8, and that score held at halftime.
“We really became a team, and we’re sick of losing, so this is a new Elkhorn,” said junior lineman Michael Lois, who recently verbally committed to play for Iowa. “We don’t back down from anything anymore. We’re ready for any team.”
Wilmot padded its lead on its first possession of the second half, but only barely.
The Panthers drove into the red zone but settled for a 23-yard field goal attempt. Blake Weaver’s boot clipped the crossbar but caught enough of the top of it to flip forward and through the uprights.
The teams traded possessions the rest of the half until a snap on a punt attempt got over Wilmot’s punter’s head and gave Elkhorn the ball at the Panthers’ 17-yard line with less than four minutes remaining.
Buelow connected with a diving Mogensen from 15 yards out, and after a PAT, the Elks were within two points with 3:03 remaining.
“We stayed with it the whole game,” said Lois, who lamented that the Elks were playing this week without top running back Sage Rushing. “Practice was hard this week, to make it easier in the game. That’s what I like about Elkhorn.”
The Elks attempted an onside kick but could not recover.
Elkhorn had all three timeouts remaining, but the Panthers picked up two first downs in the final minutes to salt the game away.
Mogensen finished with five catches for 58 yards and two touchdowns. Lois was a disruptive force throughout the game, including picking up a sack on the first play from scrimmage.
Elkhorn has a chance to get right back into first place when it travels to Waterford on Friday.
“There’s a lot of football left to play,” Lee said. “If we continue to play like this, good things will happen.”
WILMOT 17, ELKHORN 15
Wilmot 7 7 3 0—17
Elkhorn 0 8 0 7—15
Scoring: W—Austin Norton 2 run (Blake Weaver kick). W—Zack Watson 32 pass from Zach Lamberson (Weaver kick). E—Jake Mogensen 4 pass from Nick Rockweiler (Mason Stebnitz pass from Mason Buelow) W—Weaver 23 field goal. E—Mogensen 15 pass from Buelow (Q Woyak kick).
Statistics: First downs—W 17, E 10. Rushing—W 44-140, E 22-6. Passing yards—W 116, E 135. Passes—W 24-10-1, E 28-14-3. Fumbles—W 1-0, E 0-0. Penalties—W 9-75, E 3-23.