AUDUBON — The undefeated Audubon Wheelers returned to the gridiron Friday night after a two-week layoff due to a Coronavirus outbreak and while by Audubon standards it took a while to shake off the rust, in the end the Wheelers picked up where they left off — winning.
As has been their habit, the Wheelers struck early when quarterback Gavin Smith connected with Garrett Christensen for a 30 yard touchdown and from there they would roll to a convincing 55-0 win over Bedford in the opening round of playoff football.
But fans who have followed the Wheelers as they slashed and burned their way through the district, outsourcing opponents 321-22 in their first five games, it was apparent early in the game that they weren’t yet firing on all cylinders. Wheelers head coach Sean Birks said after the game that he expected a bit of early rust but was pleased the Wheelers were able to play through it.
“We did not play very well in the first half for the most part,” Birks said. “The guys were getting on each other a little bit. We haven’t faced a lot of adversity, we haven’t trailed and we haven’t been in a lot of sticky situations in general.”
“This was good for us, I knew we’d have some rust and I knew they’d be ready to go. It’s a credit to Bedford they were more than ready to go…. They pushed us, we learned a little bit about ourselves.”
Of course everything is relevant and the Wheelers idea of “not playing well” is still pretty good. The Wheelers scored just seven points in the first quarter, but as things began to fall into place they would add 21 more points in the second quarter with junior quarterback Gavin Smith breaking off runs of 18 and 28 yard before connecting on a two-yard touchdown pass to Ethan Klocke as the half was winding down.
Smith would have another outstanding game, passing for four touchdowns and rushing for three more accounting for 282 yards of offense.
Ethan Klocke would find himself on the receiving end of two touchdown receptions while brother Joel and Christensen would claim one each. Braden Wessel, who came in to replace Smith in the fourth quarter, took his first snap and dashed around the right side for a 46 yard score.
And though Bedford came into the game winless, the Bulldogs put up a fight moving the ball early on against a very stout Wheeler defense led by the Klocke brothers who accounted for 14 tackles between them with Joel besting Ethan by two with eight total tackles.
Because Bedford was able to stay relatively close it also gave the Wheelers varsity players an opportunity to do something they haven’t done all year — play a full third quarter. In each of their first five games the Wheelers held such large early leads that the varsity played little of the second half — usually a series or two at most.
But as the team advances, and the competition gets tougher, the Wheelers will need more of that experience.
“We had enough of those warmup five games so to speak to figure out we can blow some people out when they are not ready, but playoff football is not like that,” Birks said. “We need to find out what it’s like to put drives together — it’s going to get tougher every week.
“Not only the conditioning aspect but the mental toughness aspect. How you respond when things go bad; are we going to quit, are we going to give up, are we going to get our heads down. We saw some of that tonight and there will be more as the games get tougher.”
Next up for the Wheelers will be the 5-3 East Mills Wolverines, who handed Lennox a 41-16 loss Friday night. The Wolverines feature an offense led by senior quarterback Jackson Wray who is 11th in the state in scoring touchdowns with 28 and eighth in the state in pass completions.
But for now, the Wheelers are back and have a actual game under their belt. The goal now?
Coach Birks summed up it up.
“Survive and advance,” Birks said. “It wasn’t pretty but after two weeks of no games we kind of expected it and I’m glad we played better as the game went.”