Alex Laughlin and his Gibraltar football teammates are excited about beating Suring 30-28 in the opening round of the WIAA 8-Man playoffs last Friday. But don’t expect any of them to be satisfied.
“As a team, our goal this year was to make it one step further than we did last year,” Laughlin said. “We accomplished that last Friday in Suring, and I don’t think anyone on this team plans on settling with just that.”
The 8-2 Vikings will travel to Newman Catholic on Nov. 1, 7 pm, in the quarterfinals. The Knights defeated Gibraltar 61-46 in the first round of the playoffs last season.
In their second game against Suring this season, the Vikings had leads of 16, 14 and 10, only to have the Eagles twice cut the lead to two points. Suring scored with two minutes, 26 seconds to cut its deficit to 30-28, but the Vikings ran out the clock to pick up the win.
Luke Steebs completed seven of 18 passes for 126 yards and three touchdowns, and Alex Laughlin caught five passes for 103 yards and two scores. Brandon Stillman grabbed a scoring pass, and Sam Lindenberg had a scoring reception from Laughlin, who had 87 rushing yards on 16 carries.
“Honestly, after watching film last week, there was not a bit of concern playing a team twice in the same season,” Gibraltar Coach Mike Peck said. “The only thing that I did not care for was them having both games at home. But it helped [to] motivate our athletes that much more for the level-one playoff game. Their effort was exactly what I expected because they always give 100 percent on everything we ask.”
Newman Catholic advanced with a 56-14 win over Marion-Tigerton in the opening round. The 10-0 Knights won the Great 8 Conference with a 6-0 mark – one game ahead of second-place Belmont. In 2017, Newman Catholic defeated Luck in the WIAA 8-Man Jamboree, and in 2018, the Knights lost to eventual state champion Sevastopol in a semifinal matchup.
Quarterbacks Ben Bates and Dylan Akerman have combined for 2,074 yards, 26 yards and only two interceptions. Bates has thrown for 1,239 yards and 17 touchdowns, and Ackerman has 835 yards and nine touchdowns.
“They’re known for throwing short, quick routes,” Gibraltar defensive back Spencer Krause said. “We need to make sure we don’t cheat and get beat on a double move. As long as we stay fundamentally sound and focus on our keys, we’ll be right in the game from start to finish.”
Thomas Bates paces a running game that has produced 2,221 yards and 33 touchdowns with 1,196 yards and 16 touchdowns. Ackerman has 302 yards and eight touchdowns, and Ben Bates has five touchdowns.
“It will definitely be different for us since almost every team we have faced this year has definitely been run heavy,” Laughlin said. “Knowing that we have to game-plan to defend the pass as often as the run, it will change our defensive scheme to hopefully stop the success they have had all year long.”
Peck, who was named head coach after a season as an interim coach in 2018, said he has taken pride in his team’s effort during the past two years. Despite the success this season, Peck says he and the rest of his staff have kept things in perspective.
“This win does not define our program. Our program is defined by the culture we as coaches started creating last year as interim coaches,” he said. “We have started to develop a culture of accountability to each other, whether that be coach to coach or player to player. These kids give us everything we ask for and more, so that makes the coaches try to give the exact same effort.”
Steebs – who has thrown for 1,406 yards and 19 touchdowns – said his teammates have responded to the culture change that Peck and his staff have infused into the program.
“Coach Peck has brought a winning mentality to us,” Steebs said. “He has won a state championship at [Racine Park], so he knows what it takes to do it. He keeps us motivated to continue our season every week.”