By Greg Bates
Times-Press sports correspondent
With a 3-3 record with three games to go in the regular season, the Shiocton football team had a shot to get back to the postseason.
Winning two of the final three games of the season would have secured a playoff berth. However, playing against two of the top teams in the Central Wisconsin Conference-Large, Shiocton dropped its final three games. It missed the playoffs for the second straight year after 14 consecutive trips.
First-year coach Brock Pahlow wants to get the program back to its winning ways.
“I thought the team did well handling change and enjoying the time they had on the field,” Pahlow said. “Obviously, winning is something you strive for; however, you always want the players to enjoy themselves. It was asking for them to learn a new offense and the new terminology that comes with a new coaching staff, and I think they did well putting the time and effort in to learn it and execute to the best of their ability.”
Pahlow had high expectations for his team in his first season. He thought with the talented players on his team, it would be more successful and finish better than 3-6 overall and 2-5 in conference action.
“I can say that the players did exceed my expectations when it came to team camaraderie and the desire to improve,” Pahlow said. “They had talked about team chemistry being their strength. However, when you see them hanging out together and attending team dinners with excitement you know the cohesion is there. I would also say nearly everyone on that team gave their full attention and took what the coaching staff said to heart, trying to make sure they improve for themselves and the team.”
The Shiocton players had plenty of optimism after a come-from-behind 27-26 at home against Wittenberg-Birnamwood to even the team’s record at 3-3. But the next two games at Bonduel and home against Iola-Scandinavia were losses for Shiocton by a combined score of 76-12. A 34-26 loss vs. winless Weyauwega-Fremont was a tough way for the Chiefs players to end the season.
The late-season collapse was something that could have been avoided.
“Iola was a tough team and clearly showed why during our game,” Pahlow said. “Bonduel and Weyauwega-Fremont we lost mentally. Against Bonduel, we would march down the field then turnover the ball, including a decimating pick-6. Whereas against Weyauwega-Fremont, our players did not play to the best of their abilities and the attitude during the game was very poor. We controlled our own destiny, unfortunately when opportunity presented itself we did not grasp it.”
Pahlow is hoping his younger players who will return next season learned some important lessons from the late-season losses that slammed the door on the playoffs.
“It was evident that we were outmatched strength wise a few games, and hopefully that will motivate them to work hard during the offseason,” Pahlow said. “Another rough lesson to learn was the mental toughness and maintaining a positive attitude even in adversity, something we struggled with the entire season. The young players returning next year should take those lessons to heart and let them influence them to not make similar mistakes next season.”
Offensively, Shiocton averaged 17 points per game. It tallied 26 or more points in four games, but seven points or less in three contests. The offense was a work in progress.
“The players did a good job of learning the new offense as quickly as possible, but the execution on gameday became hit or miss,” Pahlow said. “In the early games, there was some confusion which can be expected with a completely new offensive playbook and terminology with new coaches. After that the team needed to be consistent, no matter the opponent. Like the defense, when the team became discouraged the execution on offense also would falter. There were some great plays made offensively, and not quitting on our last-minute wins was probably the highlight of the year. With better preparation and a year under our belt, I believe those great plays will become much more frequent.”
The defense allowed 29 points per game – 34.4 points against conference foes. Earning a shutout against Rosholt in Week 2 was a major high point.
“Most of the season our first quarter play defensively was solid, players were flying around, making big plays and stopping offense from moving the ball,” Pahlow said. “However, they were quick to be discouraged if they were met with adversity on either side of the ball. Big plays on the defense or not moving the ball offensively cannot take the toll it did on us mentally because as soon as we were discouraged we started lacking in effort or making mental mistakes. If we continued to play all four quarter with the fire we had to start games, the story could have been different.”
Shiocton had a senior-laden team this season. It will be tough to say goodbye to the nine players – Jack Fielding, Sam Bloch, Brady Volkman, James Ver Voort, Reis Stingle, Dashal Mentzel, Tyler Ace, Trevor VanStraten and Owen Surprise – who were key pieces to the team. Bloch, the team’s starting quarterback, battled injuries and Ver Voort, Stingle and Volkman led the Chiefs in rushing.
It’s a senior group that meant a great deal to the program for their entire high school careers.
“A few of the seniors have been playing since their sophomore or even freshman year, so they have been impacting the team for a while now,” Pahlow said. “Not only were they talented on the field but they were also great leaders for the team. Each senior was a good influence on the team — all of them did well in class, behaved in school and the community and were all coachable players. I would say their biggest impact was how they led by example. They were not the most vocal of players, however their efforts on and off the field spoke volumes.”
There were only five juniors on this year’s team, but they will be relied on heavily as leaders next season to the younger players. Pahlow is hoping the small junior class steps up and works hard during the offseason.
“They are already working to improve and are taking on the role of team leaders well,” Pahlow said. “There were a substantial amount of sophomores who played varsity this year that will be key players for next year’s team if they get their butts out of the woods and into the weight room.”
Putting in the offseason work could go a long way in determining if Shiocton will have another three-win season in 2019 or return to the postseason.