Pacers rack up 300 rushing yards despite losing QB

Paul Nevin (10) is greeted by teammate David Doerflinger after scoring a touchdown Thursday night. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)


By Mike Ramczyk

BURLINGTON – Tough luck doesn’t begin to describe the misfortunes of the 2017 Catholic Central varsity football team.

Playing with about 20 guys, three of which are seniors, including two seniors that are playing varsity football for the first time, the Toppers are going to need all the help they can get if they want to return to the playoffs – and a break, any break at all, wouldn’t hurt.

After two blowout losses against good football teams, Catholic Central finally kicked off its home opener Thursday night, a Metro Classic Conference showdown with rival Shoreland Lutheran.

Without starting quarterback Chad Zirbel, who was suited up but has yet to see the field this season with a significant knee injury, and starting running back Frank Koehnke, who was in street clothes due to injury, the boys could ill-afford to lose another top performer.

When it rains, it pours.

Koehnke’s replacement, sophomore running back and free safety Paul Nevin, ran for a 23-yard touchdown late in the first half to cut the Shoreland lead to 21-6, but it would be the Toppers’ only score of the game.

Nevin left the game early in the third quarter with an injury after gaining 66 of the Toppers’ 101 total yards, he didn’t return, and the Pacers cruised to a 34-6 victory.

Catholic Central is 0-3 for the first time since 2012.

Catholic Central head coach Tom Aldrich said the team improved from last week’s performance, but he admits it’s been a rough year.

“I’m looking forward to everybody getting healthy,” he said. “Injuries make it challenging, but you have to deal with it. Right now, we’ve seemed a little jinxed by the injury bug.”

“The guys are starting to believe in themselves a little bit. We got better. We weren’t good enough to win, you have to give credit to Shoreland. But it was a step in the right direction.”

Late in the first quarter, after quarterback Noah Ahles ran it in from a yard out to give Shoreland a 7-0 lead, Catholic Central seemed to finally catch a break when Ahles, who already tallied 82 rushing yards, left the game with an injury.

Leland Weingart took over under center, and while most offenses would regress, Shoreland didn’t skip a beat. The hard-nosed running of Jared Landreman produced a 3-yard touchdown run a few minutes after Ahles went down, and the momentum stayed on the Pacers’ side.

On the ensuing Topper possession, quarterback David Doerflinger stumbled after the snap and over-extended his arm in an attempt to hand off to Nevin, but the ball hit the turf and was recovered – at the Catholic Central 20 – by the Pacers.

A few plays later, Landreman muscled his way to pay dirt from two yards out, and Catholic Central was in a 21-0 hole midway through the second quarter.


Defense leads to offense

Weingart did most of his damage with his feet, totaling 82 yards on the ground. Landreman led the way with 112 yards, as Shoreland’s combination of sweeps, quarterback sneaks and quick hitters in the option offense kept the Toppers’ defense off balance.

But Weingart took to the air late in the second quarter and paid the price. A blitzing Tristan Welka hit Weingart as he threw the ball deep, and the wounded duck fell into the hands of Nick Aldrich, who ran down the right sideline for a nice return to set up the Toppers at the Pacers 44.

That’s when Nevin, at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, displayed his quickness and power on two straight first down runs, setting up Catholic Central at the 23.

Nevin capped the drive by shooting up the middle behind solid blocks from Welka and Luke Sassano, busting it outside and sprinting to the end zone for a 23-yard score, cutting the lead to 21-6 with 2:43 before halftime.

“We saw spurts of success,” Aldrich said. “If we can get a little bit more consistent, when they see those positive things and we can build off that, we have more games ahead of us.”

After a solid defensive stand midway through the third quarter, Catholic Central suffered another fumble on the first play of its next drive. This time, the Pacers recovered at the Topper 38.

Shoreland receiver John Marshall, who caught a 19-yard touchdown pass to finish the scoring in the fourth quarter, took a reverse and ran 30 yards and nearly scored. On the next play, Landreman punched in his third touchdown, and the Pacers were in control at 27-6 with 2:31 left in the third.


Coach praises effort, progress

Safety Charles Robinson, the team’s only active senior Thursday night, made six tackles in only his second varsity football game of his life.

“We played a lot better than the previous two weeks,” Robinson said. “We’re going to look at film and try to continue to get better. We’re going to see what we did wrong and learn from that.”

“The goal is to get better each week.”

Robinson said he enjoys the family atmosphere of the squad, and the camaraderie is strong.

“Everyone is tight-knit, and we all love each other, so it’s been great,” said Robinson, who stars on the Topper baseball squad.

For Aldrich, next week’s home game, set for Friday, Sept. 8 at 7 p.m. against Whitefish Bay Dominican, is another chance for the team to improve. Despite the winless start, he said it’s been fun since his players are giving maximum effort.

“As long as they keep getting better, we’re going to get better as a team,” he said. “Right now, that’s what we have to hang our hat on. Sometimes you need more guys, because of injuries or whatever. It takes a lot of guts and courage when you come up short to keep coming back, and they keep coming back. They’re getting better, and you have to give them credit for that.”