WOODWARD — Something happened on Oct. 28 that had not occurred since the 2007 football season — the Woodward-Granger football team was not playing in the first round of the playoffs.
The Hawks started their 2015 campaign slowly, rolled through the middle of their schedule, then stumbled down the stretch to finish 4-5 overall and 2-4 in Class 1A District 8 action.
W-G opened at home with an 8-0 win over Martensdale-St. Marys before suffering a 42-6 road loss at Madrid. An 8-2 loss at Interstate-35 and a 47-13 home loss to Panorama — in which the Hawks led, 13-0, in the first quarter — sent a spiraling W-G squad to 1-3 on the season.
“I told the boys at that point that they were in control of how they wanted the season to play out,” head coach George Ashman recalled. “I told them, ‘Hey, you can hang your heads and finish 1-8 or maybe 2-7 or you can do something about it’ and they did. I could not have been more proud than of the way they responded.”
W-G scored a 26-13 Homecoming win over Southwest Valley and drew to 3-3 on the year with a 20-13 non-district win at South Hamilton, an overtime victory that saw the Hawks score twice late in the game to force overtime before winning in the extra period. A late second-half rally lifted W-G to a 22-20 victory at Central Decatur before a talented Van Meter team overwhelmed the host Hawks, 41-6, in week eight.
The loss set up, for the second consecutive year, a win-to-get-in scenario with Des Moines Christian. W-G stopped visiting DMC, 12-8, in 2014, but this year the Lions more than turned the tables in claiming a 46-21 win.
“When I look back on the season I see that I-35 game as a game we absolutely should have won — probably by two touchdowns — and then I look at the Des Moines Christian game, and I honestly feel that if we had played that one the way we played in the second half at South Hamilton or Lamoni (Central Decatur) that we would have won it, too, but we didn’t,” Ashman said. “This was not as talented a team as we have had in the past, but we were good enough to have won a few more games — we just did not get it done.”
W-G was outscored 250-124 over the season, including facing a 90-195 scoring deficit in the district, with 134 of those points scored by DMC, Panorama and Van Mater.
“I thought we started out good on defense, then as the year went along the offense took over and the defense went the other way,” Ashman said. “That happens a lot, because the offense takes longer to get going as it requires more time and repetition. I thought our defense would be able to hang in there better, but it didn’t happen for us.”
W-G struggled to throw the ball, especially with any kind of depth in the passing attack, which allowed defenses to step up and jam the running game.
Sophomore Brendan Bird was 34-83-5 for 433 yards and two touchdowns through the air, with Race Brant hitting Johnnie Morgan with an 11-yard TD pass in the DMC game.
Morgan (11-209, 3 TDs) led the W-G receiving corps, with Brant catching 14 passes for 159 yards.
Junior Tanner Vermaas ran for 11 TDs and 1,129 yards on 244 carries, with Brant adding 153 yards on 45 rushes while Josh Saak scored twice while gaining 105 yards on 28 hauls.
The defense recovered 18 fumbles and intercepted two passes. Austin Scharlau’s 57 tackles were a team-best, with Vermaas adding 50 stops, Morgan 42 and Saak 40.
W-G loses 11 seniors: Brant, Morgan, Nick Musich, Tory Santi, Dakotah Bailey, James Barger, Josh Groves, Dan Johnson, Cole Moran, Jordan Pierce and Hunter Vermaas. All were freshmen when the Hawks finished 11-1 and advanced to the Class A quarterfinals. W-G was a combined 26-15 overall in the four years the group were members of the program.
Tailback/linebacker Tanner Vermaas, defensive back John Stucker and lineman Drew Jaconsen were the only juniors on the 38-man roster this year. All were starters.
“We saw some glimmers of things that might be good for us in the future, because we had many sophomores see quite a bit of playing time this year, and there are some good freshmen in the system,” Ashman said. “What we need is to have a few guys come back out next year who chose not to play this year and for our returning guys to keep working hard in the off-season.”