Five years ago, Elgin Pope John and Elgin High each played in the state football finals, with Pope John winning the Eight Man-1 title and Elgin finishing as runner-up in Eight Man-2.
With shrinking enrollments, Elgin and Pope John decided in 2010 that it was necessary to enter a co-op agreement, with the two programs becoming one team.
“I do an elementary program here, a flag football program, so I would get kids from both schools to participate in it. They knew each other and what each other brought,” said Carlie Wells, who has taught in Elgin since 1996 and has been a head coach for 12 years.
“I don’t know if they thought it would be this successful, but they’ve done well.”
That’s an understatement. In their three seasons as Elgin/Pope John, the Wolfpack have gone 32-3. That includes their current 25-game winning streak.
The No. 2 Wolfpack will try to complete back-to-back 13-0 seasons when they play No. 7 Exeter-Milligan (12-0) in the Eight Man-1 championship game at 2:45 p.m. Monday at Memorial Stadium.
Elgin/Pope John outscored its playoff opponents 208-65 en route to last year’s state title. This season, the Wolfpack have outscored playoff opponents 200-25.
“I think we’ve played great defense in the playoffs,” Wells said. “I think our defense has done a great job of giving us a short field, giving us a better opportunity to score.”
The Wolfpack have experience this season — 12 of the 31 team members are seniors. Most of the starters are seniors — a group who were freshmen when Elgin and Pope John had separate teams.
“We knew we had some good kids coming back and thought we could have a successful season,” Wells said. “I don’t know if we thought we could get here, but as the season progressed, these seniors have taken it upon themselves.”
Four seniors are the leading rushers in the Wolfpack’s option attack. Quarterback Ross Schindler has 1,113 yards; fullback Blake Anderson has 684; and tailbacks Austin Heying and Levi Kerkman have 570 and 450, respectively.
The team’s top three tacklers are Lee Bartak, Andrew Heithoff and Kyle Heithoff. Andrew Heithoff starts on the offensive line with his cousins, Nick and Kyle Heithoff.
Wells sees similarities between his team and Monday’s opponent.
Exeter-Milligan has a fast defense, and the Timberwolves have won nearly all of their games by lopsided margins. Exeter-Milligan averaged 51 points per game before needing a rally to edge Bruning-Davenport/Shickley in 24-20 the semifinals.
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