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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Feisty Jays deliver on homecoming night

Sunday, September 29, 2013

(Sentinel Photo by Andy Lenz) Gehlen's Colton Kneip (left) shoves a North Union defender aside on his way to a first down.
LE MARS -- Prior to Friday night's homecoming game against North Union, Gehlen Catholic football coach Tony Gunter had demanded three consecutive wins from his team in order to earn a spot in the district playoffs.

The Jays understood their skipper's message and delivered a convincing 46-26 victory.

"We got the first step done," Gunter said. "Offensively, we found some things we could hang our hat on. We didn't tackle well defensively though. Overall, I was happy with the win, but it's always nice to have something to work on in practice the next week."

(Sentinel Photo by Andy Lenz) Jay senior Aaron Jentz gains yardage after a big reception.
Eight minutes into the first quarter, Gehlen landed the first punch of the night on a 10-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Blake Wiltgen to Aaron Jentz. Colton Kneip caught the two-point conversion, and the boys in green and gold were up 8-0.

But the Warriors replied quickly, scoring short-yardage rushing touchdowns in the closing seconds of the first quarter and less than two minutes into the second stanza to take a 12-8 lead.

Just when it seemed like the visitors might be able to build some momentum, Jay junior Lucas Hunt righted the ship by taking the ensuing kickoff 95 yards to the house. Wiltgen punched the two-point attempt across the goal line, and Gehlen was up 16-12.

(Sentinel Photo by Andy Lenz) A host of Gehlen defenders brings down a NU player.
"We blocked [the kick return] up really nice, just about as good as you can," Gunter said. "Lucas had enough speed to outrun the kicker. That was a little change of momentum, but still we were struggling to stop them on the defensive side of the ball."

True to the back-and-forth character of the game, North Union had an answer up its sleeve and scored on a 52-yard rush to pull ahead 20-16.

The pressure was back on the Jays, and they replied by putting a beautiful drive together. With a little over two minutes until halftime, that drive culminated in a nine-yard rushing score by Payton Bouma.

After another two-point conversion by Wiltgen, Gehlen was ahead 24-20 at intermission.

"It was important," Gunter said. "We needed to make sure we were in the lead. But I wasn't happy, I wasn't comfortable."

Right after the break, the Jays got another big spark by Hunt, who returned the kickoff all the way to the Warriors' 31-yard line.

On the very first play from scrimmage, Wiltgen took to the air and connected with Solomon Freking for a textbook touchdown pass. Wiltgen then found Kneip for a successful two-point conversion to extend Gehlen's lead to 32-20.

Yet one and a half minutes later, that advantage shrunk to 32-26 as North Union scored on a 64-yard touchdown pass.

After a Jay three-and-out, the Warriors knocked on the door again, but Jentz plucked down a crucial interception at the Gehlen 12-yard line to end the threat.

Neither team was able to score until the opening stages of the fourth quarter, when a huge reception by Jentz set up first-and-goal at North Union's seven-yard line.

Wiltgen then used his quick feet to cap off the drive with a seven-yard touchdown rush, putting his team up 38-26 with 11:37 left in the game.

Following a Warrior turnover on downs, the Jays marched down the field again and scored on an eight-yard pass from Wiltgen to his big target Kneip with 4:20 to go. The two playmakers also connected on the two-point attempt, resulting in the final score of 46-26.

North Union threatened once more in the game's final minutes, but an interception by Wiltgen sealed Gehlen's victory.

While the win in itself gave Gunter reason to be pleased with his team, playing a clean game without any turnovers further added to the night's success.

"If we can do that every week the rest of the season, we're going to be in every game and win a good share," Gunter said. "You couldn't ask for a better effort execution-wise."

Wiltgen had an outstanding night under center, passing 16-of-19 for 253 yards and three touchdowns. He also called his own number 23 times and rushed for 129 yards and a score.

"The kid can swing it, can't he?" Gunter said. "He's got the arm, there's no doubt about it. We just have to give him throws where we can get guys open. He's got a strong enough arm that the defense can't react quick enough."

On the receiving end, Jentz grabbed 10 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown.

Freking had two catches for 37 yards and a score, Kneip hauled in two passes for 35 yards and a touchdown and Mitchell Flack was targeted three times for 27 yards.

Running back Bouma racked up 58 yards and a score on 18 carries.

Hunt had two kick returns for 122 yard and a score.

Defensively, Flack totaled a team-high 10 tackles on the night. Wiltgen followed with nine, Corey Sitzmann had eight, Austin Herbst had seven and Jentz collected five.

Kelly Full came up with the Jays' only sack.

Wiltgen and Jentz each grabbed an interception.

The victory improved Gehlen's record to 2-3 overall. Next up for Gunter's boys will be an away game against Okoboji (0-5) on Friday.

"[The Pioneers are] struggling and we want to keep them struggling," Gunter said. "We can't afford to look past them. We can't afford to drop the ball in Okoboji. It'll set us up for what will be a key contest when we host Western Christian (Oct. 11). I just want these kids to get fired up, start believing in themselves."

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