Wibaux and Westby-Grenora meet on Saturday afternoon for the second time in less than a month. The Thunder took the regular-season meeting 52-42 on their home field to knock Wibaux out of the conference-title race. This weekend, though, there's much more at stake, as a berth in the 6-Man title-game is on the line.
Westby-Grenora is hoping for a carbon copy of the Oct. 18 matchup where the Thunder were able to run the ball at will on Wibaux, as their downhill running attack gashed the Longhorns defense.
“They ran on us pretty easily. That was kind of frustrating,” Wibaux head coach Craig Lunde said. “We’re healthier, so we’re trying to get back to speed here. We’re working on some of the stuff that they did to hurt us. … Hopefully we’re going to clean some of that up. For the most part they were getting five yards or better per crack.”
Senior Ridge Sargent leads a talented backfield for the Thunder and has been the workhorse throughout the season. He’s been the team’s heartbeat on defense, too, making plays from sideline to sideline. When Sargent gets a head of steam coming out of the backfield, defenders can pay the price for trying to bring him to the ground.
“He’s a big, strong kid. He’s plenty fast,” Westby-Grenora coach J.R. Johnson said of Sargent. “He runs the ball hard, runs the ball downhill, which is what we like. He wants to dance sometimes, and I ask him not to dance, just make a 45-cut and go with it. He’s adapted his running style to that. He’s an absolute great kid to coach, but he fully understands his success running the ball doesn’t happen without the blockers in front of him.”
Sargent is just one of the weapons at Johnson's disposal, though, as sophomore Erik Field and junior Darian Holocek, who has "all the moves in the book," according to Johnson, have made plays from the quarterback position throughout the season. Along with junior Keegan Nelson, the Westby-Grenora offense has been a handful.
Wibaux, too, has an offense capable of lighting up the scoreboard in a hurry with do-everything quarterback Tel Lunde leading the charge. Containing Lunde will be key for the Thunder defense.
“There’s a ton of athletes (in the 6-Man East). It seems like every week we’re facing an electric-style quarterback/running back. Tel Lunde is the forefront and leader of those guys. There’s no question he’s one of the best players, if not the best player in 6-Man football right now. I think a couple other guys out East would have something to say, like Keenan Murnion at Jordan or Ridge Sargent,” Johnson said. “We’re just going to try to focus on containing him. We have our own scheme, and the team as a whole has to work as a unit. … You just try to limit him more than stop him. He’s a great football player and he does it both offensively and defensively. We respect the heck out of him.”
Both teams want to establish their running games, which in turn will open up the pass. Wibaux’s tandem of Wyatt Davis and Gavin Nelson have been a problem for defenses all season long, as both run with a purpose. But at critical times in the game, both coaches will look to their studs to make plays.
“I’m one of those guys that hates to change a whole lot. We’d rather make the other team change up what they do. We need to run hard, finish our blocks and read our blocks. That’s what we’ve been built on, is our run game. We’re not the quickest or most athletic team, so we need to be sound in our blocking,” Craig Lunde said. “We all have a lot of confidence in Tel. He helps us on both sides of the ball so much. We’ve all got to do our part, but we’re pretty confident in him if it comes down to that situation.”
October’s matchup wound up being a shootout, as the two combined for 94 points. It could be the complete opposite this weekend with the two teams having familiarity with one another. That coupled with the strong defenses seen in recent years out of the 6-Man East could lend Saturday’s game to a grind-it-out style.
“We know each other pretty well. Hopefully it’s a little bit to our advantage,” Craig Lunde said. “They may not have got the recognition early on, but they’re definitely earning it now. They’re athletic and a smart team. Their coaches have a remedy if something isn’t working.”
Westby-Grenora is looking for its fourth title-game appearance in the past six seasons. The Thunder finished runner-up in 2014 and 2016 and won the 6-Man title in 2017. Wibaux made it back-to-back titles for the 6-Man East with its first 6-Man title in 2018 and the program’s seventh overall. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon in Wibaux, with the winner traveling to the Jordan/Big Sandy winner in the 6-Man championship next weekend.