Ryan Luttmer proved to be the player to be named later, the change of pace, as his big night propelled St. Henry to an impressive win at Spencerville.
Spencerville – I had never been to Spencerville. Through it, mind you, but never really in it.
So of course when I got there Friday night I stopped to ask at the gas station…how do you find the football stadium?
“Just turn right on any of these streets and drive to the water tower,” said a kindly patron. “Just go to the water tower.”
Ah, but if everything were that easy in Spencerville, right?
The 8-2, and fourth-seeded Spencerville Bearcats were anything but, pushing #5-seed St. Henry (now 8-3) around in the first quarter Friday night before the Redskins found their way, and their running attack behind junior Ryan Luttmer for a 37-22 win in the opening round of the Division VI playoffs.
Luttmer, the change-of-pace back for St. Henry, whom coach Brad Luthman later joked about taking a lot of flak in practice, dished out some flak of his own…171 yards on 20 carries and a pair of touchdowns in his best game to date as a Redskin.
“It was good to see because sometimes he (Luttmer) only gets six carries and 18 yards and someone else ends up being the star,” said Brad Luthman afterwards. “We get on him in practice, maybe more than we should, over breaking a tackle in the game. Tonight he broke some tackles and was an awesome running back for us.
The ‘Skins needed it.
Spencerville, a Wing-T team that one described as an offense preferring a natural disaster over throwing the football, proved to be a hard-hitting, physical football team that established the fact early that #21, Chris Picker could run with anyone, or any team, in the Midwest Athletic Conference. And Picker ultimately proved that, running for 216 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
They scored first on a 21-yard field goal by David Blair with 11:53 remaining in the second quarter – both teams having traded punts and field position in the first.
St. Henry had threatened at the end of the first quarter, but a fumble on their second drive by Blake Hoyng negated an opportunity to score.
St. Henry came right back, this time finishing the drive with 10 yard run and plunge over a would-be tackler by Jaren Fishbaugh to take a 7-3 lead into the halftime locker room.
The Redskins got the opening kickoff in the second half, and before you could find that big water tower standing behind the south end zone, Ryan Luttmer took a handoff from quarterback Daylon Lange, broke an arm tackle by Spencerville’s Calvin Wilson, and set sail 57 yards, untouched, for a touchdown…14-3, St. Henry. It was a turning point in the game.
“It put them on their heels,” said Blake Hoyng. “It gave us a chance to get on top of them and we did that. At the beginning of the year we had some trouble with finishing games in the second half. But we’ve been working on coming out with more energy in the second half and tonight we finished.”
Remember Chris Picker? He made a statement of his own to answer Luttmer, racing 35 yards at 6:34 on the ensuing possession to close the deficit to 14-9, the Bearcats missing on the extra point try after the touchdown.
Luttmer answered, scoring at 2:18, his second TD of the game, and a two-point conversion extended the Redskin lead to 22-9.
But, oh…that Picker kid! St. Henry kicked off and the 5’6” junior, who weighs all of 160 pounds took the first play from scrimmage 75 yards for a touchdown – 110 yards counting his previous scoring run. 22-16!
By now both teams had their blood up. The hitting was savage, helmets and pads cracking and bodies slow to get up from the repeated blows.
“It was a battle, especially up front,” said Hoyng. “We got some good ones on them (hits), and they got some good ones on us.”
But St. Henry’s offensive had begun to take control of the game.
The Redskins took the kickoff and marched methodically down the field…runs from Fishbaugh, Luttmer, Hoyng, and just enough passing from Lange to add some balance.
“We didn’t throw it a lot tonight,” said Luthman. “But we hit some big ones when we needed to.”
This time it was Hoyng to cap the drive, diving over the pylon from five yards out to extend the lead, with a two-point conversion, to 20-16.
He was hardly through. On Spencerville’s next possession linebacker Mitch Schwieterman unloaded on Bearcat quarterback Dakota Pritchard as he attempted a pass to running back Calvin Wilson. Pritchard’s pass never got to Wilson. It went to a waiting Hoyning, who gathered it in at the 25 yard line and ran it in for a ‘pick-6’ touchdown. The conversion made it 37-16.
Pritchard had to be helped from the field and would not come back. His replacement, Gage Goecke, would drive the ‘Cats down the field for a concluding score, but the matter was settled, setting up St. Henry’s second round game, and a second-chance encounter next week, with Marion Local.
Ryan Luttmer played Friday in the manner of any of the best you could name in the tradition of great MAC running backs. Averaging 8.5 yards per carry, he indeed proved to be the change-up in the Redskins’ attack, something different, perhaps, than what Spencerville had prepared for.
“I’m sure they looked at our films from the last few games and saw how we had gone over the top with the passing game, and with Blake Hoyng, and tried to take that away,” said Luthman. “That’s the product of playing a very good team on the opposite side.
“But tonight Ryan ran real hard in the second half and it was his turn to be the star. He gave us a chance.”
“I have to give the credit to our line. They did a great job,” said a red-faced Luttmer of he Redskins’ 30-point explosion in the second half, hardly expecting the attention. “I’m sure they were expecting Blake, like all the other teams who think he’s our best player, and he is. But sometimes it just evens up like it did tonight. We’re all pretty good on this team.”
Some numbers: Luttmer finished with his 171 yards and two touchdowns…Hoyning didn’t run that much (5 times for 12 yards and a score), but he caught four passes for 95 yards and returned the interception for another score. And Daylon Lange, who left the Marion game three weeks ago with his head ringing, came back for a second week in a row to manage the game, complete 8 of 13 passes for 124 yards, and play as the model of consistency. His offense totaled 372 yards.
And that Picker kid? He finished with 22 carries, 216 yards, and the admiration of everyone on the St. Henry sideline.
It sets up a most notable rematch for MAC fans – St. Henry vs. Marion Local next week in Round 2 at a site to be determined somewhere on I-75.
How notable? Well, with the question posed to Blake Hoyng he had little to say, just a nod and that teenage smile of anticipation. “Definitely looking forward to that,” he said. “Big one.”
And that water tower landmark?
It turns out that it works as well leaving as it does arriving in Spencerville. Pull out of the parking lot and turn left on any street. It’ll take you back to route 66 and home.
I can’t wait to go back.