Even though it faced a punishing T formation, the Cleveland varsity defense, for most of the game against visiting Waterville-Elysian-Morristown on Thursday, bent a few times but didn’t break, and the Clippers maintained a 6-0 lead for over 42 minutes.
But the Buccaneers, with a roster almost two times that of the Clippers and much heftier players too, stuck with what they did best and eventually punched in a touchdown and the PAT run to go ahead 8-6 with 5:48 left in the final quarter en route to an 16-6 victory.
“They are a tough team,” said head coach Erik Hermanson. “Every guy over there is older, bigger and stronger. They played their hearts out, and except when we had to scramble at the end, going for broke, we gave up only one touchdown, the real offense against the real defense. That is incredible. We do that all season long and that is something to really hang your hat on.”
Featuring a 16-yard Tanner Simonette catch, the Clippers got to the WEM 29 on their first possession. With the Clippers facing fourth-and-15 after a delay-of-game penalty, Kale Kelley hauled in a Lyons toss for 11 yards, but the ball went to the Bucs on downs.
WEM was moving the ball well, but a fumble, recovered by senor Ian Vlasak, ended the drive on the Cleveland 40.
From there, Gabe Sullivan legged 9 yards, and Carson Lyons caught his brother’s pass for 5 more. The Clippers picked up another 10 yards on a holding call before Kelley leapt between two defenders to catch a Blake Lyons throw for a 28-yard catch and run that put the ball on the WEM 6.
The Lyons-Lyons connection struck on the next play for the TD, and, after a missed PAT pass, the Clippers were up 6-0 with 2:51 remaining in Q1.
The game continued to go the Clippers’ way after the ensuing kickoff. While the Bucs were on the move, the Clippers got the ball back when Carson Lyons broke up a fourth-down pass into the end zone. Later in the first half, Kelley stopped a drive on an interception.
But the Clipper offense kept coming up short. After taking the ball over on downs on the Cleveland 23, Blake Lyons kept the ball for 20 yards, and the Clippers got 15 more on the play when he got horse collared. Carson Lyons caught an 11 yard pass after, and the Clippers got all the way to the WEM 20 but turned the ball over on downs.
Both teams punted before the Bucs completed a 66-yard drive that started just into the fourth quarter and finished when they rolled right for a 4-yard touchdown run.
“There is no question about the effort and no question about how smart we were,” Hermanson said. “We didn’t get tricked. We just by the end wore out because it was bigger stronger guys just leaning on smaller guys.”
The Clippers wasted a series when they fumbled on the second play after the kickoff, although once again the defense held, and the Clippers got the ball back on the WEM 20, but with the Clippers facing a fourth and 10 with less than a minute left, the Bucs picked off a Blake Lyons pass for a 55-yard touchdown. The PAT run made for the 16-6 final, and for the third year in a row, the Clippers were ahead of their Le Sueur County rival but couldn’t quite hang on.
Lyons completed 19 of 42 passes for 187 yards and one TD. He was intercepted three times. With nine receptions for 116 yards, Kelley was his favorite receiver.
But the Clippers spread out their air game. Carson Lyons pulled down three catches for 22 yards. Simonette had three catches for 27 yards. Braeden Smith caught two passes for 16 total yards. Sam Ternes had one catch for 5 yards, and Sullivan had one catch for 1 yard.
“We proved that someone on the team can catch the ball besides Kale and Carson,” Hermanson said. “The refs are different each game, and if the defenders are going to get handsy with Carso and Kale and grab them and grab them, it’s going to be harder on us if other players can’t step up and make catches, but they showed tonight that they can.”
With seven carries for 67 yards, Blake Lyons led the ground attack. Kelley carried the ball three times for 21 yards. Sullivan had seven carries but was held to 10 yards. Caleb Possin ran the ball three times but only managed 1 yard.
“We have to work at running the ball too,” Hermanson said. “Because Blake can’t just keep on taking a pounding every game.”
Sullivan led the defense with seven solo tackles and seven assists. Brady Bostic had two solo tackles and three assists. Blake Lyons had two solos and five assists. Nick Simonette had one solo tackles and four assists. Tanner Simonette had four solo tackles and two assists with one tackle behind the line.
Smith had five solo tackles and four assists with one tackle behind the scrimmage line. Kelley and Mason Kluntz each had four solo tackles and four assists with Kluntz making one tackle in back of the scrimmage line. Vlasak had two solos and six assists. Carson Lyons had one solo tackle and three assists. Possin had one solo tackle.
WEM vs Cleveland is typically a close game of late. In 2020, Cleveland beat WEM 18-0, but after, the Buccaneers have won 8-7 and 8-6.
The Clippers are back to Friday night lights when they travel to Janesville this week.
Elsewhere in the district, Lester Prairie beat Medford 42-0, GFW topped JWP 40-8, Mayer Lutheran defeated St. Clair/Loyola 30-6, USC beat Randolph 14-0, and NYA beat NRHEG 35-0.
Above: Junior quarterback Blake Lyons on the keeper.
Braeden Smith on the solo tackle.
Gabe Sullivan corrals a Buccaneer runner.
Kale Kelly and Ian Vlasak pin a WEM runner.
Blake Gibbs, who suffered a broken femur during last week’s game, was on the sidelines in support of his teammates.
Defensive coordinator Kyle Atherton’s brother Chad is the defensive coordinator for WEM. Here, they compare notes after the game.