PHS, Kewaskum renew championship rivalry

by Greg Ceilley of The Review staff

Just as they did many times in recent years in the Eastern Wisconsin Conference, the Plymouth Panthers and the Kewaskum Indians will again be battling for a football championship – only this time the showdown is in the new East Central Conference.

Friday’s game at Kewaskum, witha7p.m.kickoff,isthe regular-season finale for both teams. The Indians lead the ECC with a 6-0 record, followed by PHS and Berlin at 5-1.

Kewaskum, 8-0 overall and ranked No. 5 in the Associated Press medium-division poll, will earn the title outright with a win over PHS. A win by the Panthers (5-3 overall) will give them a share of the crown with Kewaskum and possibly Berlin.

“It’s what these guys worked for the last 12 months. They have an opportunity and that’s all you can ask for,” said Panther head coach Dan Knaus about his team trying to win the ECC title.

“Not all high school players get to experience a game of this magnitude, so they will be excited and ready for the experience.”

“I do think it should be a good game,” said Indian head coach Jason Piittmann. “Like so many times in the past 10 or 12 years it is [these] two teams at the top of the conference.

“We’ve had a nice rivalry with them. It is always a good challenge to face Dan [Knaus] and his staff and kids.”

Both teams feature outstanding running backs in senior Brandon Thull of Kewaskum and senior Samuel Staehling of Plymouth. Thull is the league’s top rusher with 1,153 yards and 21 touchdowns, followed by Staehling with 817 yards and 15 TDs.

For the overall season, Thull has gained an impressive 1,487 yards and 26 TDs on the ground with a whopping 10.8-yard average per carry. Staehling has rushed for an outstanding 970 yards and 17 TDs, with a stellar 7.9 average per attempt.

“They have a great running back [Thull] that everyone knows about but they are also very effective in the pass game which makes you cover the whole field,” Knaus observed.

“Defensively, they play very tough, giving up the fewest points in the conference.”

Indian senior quarterback Michael Prochnow leads the ECC in passing yardage with 851 and TD passes (tied for first) with nine, and has an impressive 63.9 completion percentage.

How well the Panthers contain Thull, a 5-10, 190-pounder, will be critical to their hopes for a win. Thull was a first-team allstate back as a junior.

“He is a great running back that runs with strength and speed. He spins off tackles well. We will have to tackle well and not let him get yards after contact,” said Knaus whose team has won four in a row.

Both coaches think the teams match up fairly even.

“I think we are similar in overall size and speed. I think they have a bit more depth than we have,” Knaus pointed out.

“Size is relatively comparable except for a couple of big guys they have. Plymouth is fast. They have lots of track kids,” said Piittmann.

“They are a good team and continually improving.”

“We have done the things we have needed to do after the loss to Berlin,” said Knaus. “I think we are getting better week after week.”

Plymouth’s last defeat was at Berlin, 28-7, on Sept. 11.

Knaus and Piittmann agreed that turnovers will be one of the keys to the outcome.

“Like all well-matched games it will come down to winning the turnover battle, playing better special teams and winning the field- position battle,” said the PHS coach.

“Turnovers will be huge. Big plays will also be a factor,” said Piittmann.

Knaus pointed out other areas which are crucial for his team to win:

“Keep their offense contained, defensively, and [having] the offense sustaining drives to limit their possessions.”

Both teams are fairly healthy coming into the game.

“After many early season injuries, we have been mostly healthy since then,” said Knaus.

“We are relatively healthy for week nine – bumps and bruises for the most part,” said the Indian coach.

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