Prairie du Chien, Lancaster conference rivalry is no more, the two football teams have met 75 times

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Prairie du Chien gains good yardage on this play during a 2015 battle against Lancaster.

 

By A.J. Gates, Grant County Herald Independent

 

Over the past year, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA)  has approved two separate conference realignment proposals affecting high school football in Wisconsin for the next three seasons.

Without a doubt, the significance of those changes will directly affect the Lancaster football program more than any other school in the area, as the Flying Arrows depart from the Southwest Wisconsin Conference (SWC) to join the Southwest Wisconsin Activities League (SWAL) starting this season.

With the approval of such realignment proposals, and the WIAA’s future intent to maintaining fair play in the sport of football, it’s quite likely the Flying Arrows may never again take the field against their rivals from Platteville, Prairie du Chien, River Valley, Dodgeville and Richland Center, all of whom have a significantly higher student enrollment than Lancaster.

Sure there may be the occasional non-conference game scheduled against one, or even two, of their old rivals, but it won’t have the same feeling as those heated conference contests, which began over a century ago for some.

With that being said, I think it’s worth looking back through the history books and taking a walk down memory lane, recounting Lancaster’s storied history against each of their five opponents that made up the former SWC.

This week we’ll look back at Lancaster’s history with the Blackhawks of Prairie du Chien, who have been a heated rival of the Flying Arrows over the years.

Since 1937, Lancaster and Prairie du Chien have met on the football field 75 times, the second longest running series aside from the Arrow’s rivalry with Platteville.

Of those 75 games, Lancaster has won 49 of them, with Prairie winning 25, and the two team’s tying once in 1968.

With the Blackhawks not on Lancaster’s schedule this fall, it marks the first time in 51 consecutive years that Lancaster and Prairie du Chien will not play each other in football. The Arrows and Blackhawks have played each other every season for the past 50 years dating back to 1968.

Lancaster and Prairie du Chien were in the original SWC together from 1925 to 1960, and in the original SWAL together from 1961 to 1970.

They were not in the Southern Eight conference together from 1971 to 1986, but did play each other each year in non-conference play.

Lancaster and Prairie were then in the SWAL I together from 1987 to 2004 and then in the SWC from 2005 to 2018.

The series was nearly even throughout the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s with Lancaster winning 17 match-ups to Prairie du Chien’s 14, and one game that ended in a tie.

From 1983 to 1988, the Blackhawks defeated Lancaster six straight times, with the streak being broken in 1989 with a 12-6 Arrow victory.

While Prairie du Chien dominated the series in the 1980’s, Lancaster has won 27 of the last 30 meetings, with last season’s 39-34 loss to Prairie being only the second loss to the Blackhawks in the last 16 meetings.

Lancaster’s first meeting against Prairie du Chien was in 1897, Lancaster’s first high school football season, and the first win in Lancaster’s storied history.

Known early on in their existence as the Prairie Dogs, the Lancaster Puregolds won the game in convincing fashion, 70-0.

After starting the 1897 season against the city team, Jimmie McBrien’s Invincibles, the Lancaster squad played its first-ever road game at Prairie du Chien that year on Thursday, Nov. 25, on Thanksgiving Day.

It was said in an article published Nov. 10, 1960 in the Grant County Independent about the 1897 season, that the team started out at 5 a.m. that morning and arrived in Prairie du Chien around 11 a.m. for a 2:00 game. Though they rented two rigs from the livery stable, the team still had to walk up the hills on the way to their game.

While I was hard-pressed to find a more lopsided victory over the Blackhawks throughout the storied history of the series, Lancaster did post victories of 48-0 in 2006, 42-0 in 1995 and 63-16 in 2013. 

The worst beatings Lancaster took against Prairie du Chien were a 48-0 loss in 1980 and a 41-0 loss in 1975.

More times than not, the two teams played in some very close games, none closer than a 19-19 tie in 1968.

Sept. 13, 1968

Lancaster opened the 1968 campaign at Prairie du Chien, and it took a fourth-quarter score with 4:16 to play in the game to tie the score, 19-19.

The scoring started when quarterback Bob Hoffman connected with George Frear for a 21-yard TD pass, while Roger Henry made the extra-point kick.

Prairie answered on their next possession, but following the touchdown run, missed the extra-point kick.

Before the first quarter had come to an end, Prairie scored on a 78-yard pass, and made the extra-point kick for a 13-7 lead, which held until halftime.

Late in the third quarter, Dick Morehouse found the end zone from three-yards out, and with their extra-point being blocked, tied the game at 13-13.

Prairie answered with a 13-yard TD pass, but the blocked extra-point kept the Blackhawk’s lead at 19-13.

On their ensuing possession, Lancaster marched the ball down the field and found themselves sitting with a first down at the Prairie du Chien 16-yard line.

Morehouse carried the ball twice for 13 yards, before Frear recovered a Lancaster fumble at the nine-yard line to keep the Arrows’ hopes alive.

Hoffman then ran for four yards to the five, and was followed by a five-yard TD run by Morehouse with 4:16 to play.

With the score knotted again at 19-19, Lancaster’s extra-point kick missed right by the slimmest of margins.

Lancaster had one last chance in regulation after getting a pass interference call on Prairie to put the ball on Prairie’s 25-yard line.

Morehouse followed with a 12-yard run, but with no timeouts left, had just three seconds remaining on the clock, and the ball at the 13-yard line.

On the final pass play of the game, Prairie sent an all-out blitz, catching Hoffman   for a sack in the backfield to end the game.

There was no overtime in high school football at that time.

While that was the only tie among the two teams, there were plenty of close games decided by a single point over the course of their history together. Here is a look down memory lane and just a few of those games.

Oct. 12, 1956

It was homecoming for the Flying Arrows, who were heavy underdogs to the Blackhawks coming into the contest. 

As is the case in most close games, defense played a major role in Lancaster’s 7-6 victory over Prairie du Chien.

Lancaster scored first in the contest with a 27-yard TD pass from quarterback Jimmy Laabs to end Pete Udelhoven in the first minute of the game. 

Don Carroll caught halfback Doug Bark’s pass directly in front of the goal post for the extra-point, which proved to be the margin of victory for the Flying Arrows.

Prairie scored late in the second quarter on a one-yard TD run, but their extra-point conversion pass was knocked down by Bark.

Offensively for Lancaster, the workhorse was six-foot, 195-pound junior fullback Joe McDermott, who in his first start of the season rushed for 95 yards on 16 carries.

Oct. 7, 1973

Lancaster opened the 1973 season with a non-conference contest against Prairie du Chien, beating the Blackhawks, 15-14.

Halfback Mike Leibfried scored touchdown runs of one and seven yards, and finished the game with 112 yards on 23 carries.

Following his first touchdown run, the Arrows lined up for the extra-point kick, but directly snapped the ball to Greg Vorwald, who shot into the end zone for a two-point conversion run and an 8-6 Lancaster lead.

Recovering an on-side kick attempt by Prairie to start the second half, Lancaster marched down the field to take a 15-6 lead on a Leibfried touchdown and extra-point kick by Randy Orr.

Late in the third quarter, Prairie’s Tom Stevens broke loose for a 52-yard touchdown run, and a two-point conversion pass, pulling the Blackhawks to within 15-14.

Lancaster’s ensuing drive ended at the Prairie du Chien 20-yard line with just over six minutes to play, giving the Blackhawks one last chance to steal the victory away.

The Blackhawks marched down the field, setting up a second-and-goal at Lancaster’s two-yard line.

Prairie’s quarterback moved before the snap on an attempted quarterback sneak for a five-yard penalty, moving them back to the seven-yard line with just 10 seconds to play.

Stevens then rushed for five yards back to the two-yard line, giving the Blackhawks a third-and-goal from the two with five seconds to play.

On the final play of the game, Lancaster’s defense kept Kem Kuckenbecker out of the end zone as time ran out, giving Lancaster the win.

Sept. 7, 1979

Though only three points separated the two teams in this meeting, Lancaster’s 24-21 victory really wasn’t as close as the score might have indicated.

Prairie took an early 7-0 lead over the Arrows, but Lancaster scored the next three touchdowns to take a 24-7 lead with most of the fourth quarter to play.

The Arrows got a touchdown run from Scott Stimart and a two-point conversion run from Mark Langreck to take an 8-7 lead with 3:51 left to play in the first quarter

Quarterback Doug Noble then scored on a touchdown run, and followed with a two-point conversion pass to Terry Keller for a 16-7 lead with 6:30 to play in the third.

Early in the fourth quarter, Noble hit Jim Ihm on a touchdown pass, and the two connected again on a two-point conversion pass, giving Lancaster a decisive 24-7 lead with 10:36 to play in the contest.

Prairie cut into their deficit with a touchdown and two-point conversion pass, making it 24-15 with 9:06 to play.

On their very next possession, the Blackhawks found the end zone again, but the failed two-point conversion left the score, 24-21 with 2:39 to play.

Again the Blackhawks attempted an onside kick, which was smothered by Tom Walker, before Lancaster picked up one first down and then ran out the clock.

Oct. 15, 1993

Lancaster held a 22-8 lead going into the fourth quarter of this game, where Prairie du Chien scored 17 straight points to take a 25-22 lead with five minutes to play.

With a playoff bid on the line, Lancaster drove 85 yards in seven plays and scored the winning touchdown with 2:25 to play in the game, beating Prairie, 28-25.

Quarterback Matt Brei scored untouched from nine yards out on a quarterback keeper, holding the ball high over his head as he crossed the goal line.

With the win, Lancaster improved to 4-1 in SWAL I play and 6-2 overall, while Prairie fell to 3-2 in conference play and 5-3 overall with the loss.

Prairie had trouble stopping Lancaster’s running attack in that game, as the Arrows rushed for 401 yards, led by fullback Mike Hoskins who rushed for a season-high 183 yards on 23 carries, while Brei had 145 yards on six rushing attempts.

Oct. 18, 2002

A 35-game winning streak for the Arrows that included state titles in 2000 and 2001, ended on Oct. 18, 2002 against the Blackhawks of Prairie du Chien in an 8-7 battle.

Their one-point loss to Prairie du Chien that year, was Lancaster’s only loss of the season, as they went on to pick up the programs third consecutive state title.

Against the Blackhawks, Lancaster scored at the 3:40 mark of the first quarter, and held that 7-0 lead until the 3:20 mark of the fourth quarter.

Lancaster’s lone score was set up by an interception by defensive back Doug Larson, who picked off a Prairie pass at the 38-yard line and returned it down to the nine.

Two plays later, quarterback Mike Johnson scored from five yards out, while Larson followed with the extra-point kick.

Defensively, the Arrows got an outstanding performance from nose guard Brad Moore, who had a total of 16 tackles in the game, including six for loss.

With just 6:19 to play in the fourth quarter, Prairie du Chien began their game-winning drive on their own 48-yard line.

Fullback Kyle Bode set the Blackhawks up for the score by bouncing an inside trap play to the outside for a 29-yard gain down to the Lancaster 17-yard line, which was Prairie’s first time inside Lancaster’s 40.

The Blackhawks later converted on a fourth-and-six from the 13-yard line, with a 12-yard pass to set up first-and-goal from the one.

On the very next play, Bode plunged into the end zone with 3:23 to play in the game. Electing to go for the win, Prairie du Chien then got a two-point conversion run from quarterback Dustin O’Kane.

On their final drive of the night, Lancaster marched down to the Blackhawk’s 24-yard line, before a bobbled exchange was recovered by Prairie du Chien with 30 seconds remaining.

Oct. 9, 2015

In perhaps the wildest game in the history of the Lancaster-Prairie du Chien series, the Blackhawks scored 15 points in three minutes to defeat the Arrows, 44-43.

Both teams entered the game with identical conference records of 3-0, and it was Lancaster who held a 14-point lead over Prairie with just 3:14 to play in the contest.

After one half of play, Lancaster held a slim lead of 29-26, and with neither team finding the end zone in the third quarter, the lead held into the fourth.

A 29-yard field goal by the Blackhawks evened the score at 29-29 with 7:40 to play in the contest.

On their very next possession, the Flying Arrows drove the ball downfield and were faced with a fourth-and-four at the PdC nine-yard line, but turned the ball over on downs with an incomplete pass attempt.

On first-and-10 from their own nine-yard line, the Blackhawks were whistled for holding on first down, setting them up at their own three-yard-line.

The Blackhawks then made an ill-fated attempt to run a screen pass out of their end zone, as Lancaster junior Justin Allen intercepted the pass in the end zone for a Lancaster score.

The extra-point kick by freshman kicker Tanner Oyen gave the Arrows a 36-29 advantage with just 4:38 to play in the game.

Allen made one more defensive play for the Arrows by recovering a miss-handled snap by PdC punter Brogan Potter on the Blackhawk’s eight-yard line.

It took Lancaster just one play, a run by Nic Wood, to find the end zone once more, while Oyen’s extra-point kick gave Lancaster as 43-29 lead with just 3:14 showing on the clock.

On the ensuing kick off, Prairie’s Casey Hogenson raced 83 yards untouched up the middle of the field for a quick Blackhawk score that took just 12 seconds off the clock and pulled Prairie to within 43-36.

Expecting an onside kick, Lancaster had its hands team on the field, but somehow the Blackhawks recovered the dribbler at the Lancaster 48 with 3:02 to play in the game.

It then took the Blackhawks seven plays to find the end zone, scoring on a one-yard TD plunge with 59 seconds showing on the clock.

Trailing the Arrows, 43-42, Prairie du Chien made the decision to avoid overtime, and completed a two-point conversion pass, giving the Blackhawks a 44-43 win.

Lancaster got as far as Prairie’s 41-yard line on their next possession, but turned the ball over to the Blackhawks with 16 seconds remaining.

The Arrows finished the game with 256 yards rushing on 39 attempts. Led by Nick Wood’s 210 yards and four TDs.

Prairie used their aerial attack, finishing with 338 passing yards and completing passes to nine different players.

Sept. 29, 2017

One of the top individual performances occurred on Sept. 29, 2017 against an undefeated Prairie du Chien squad, when senior fullback Evan Gates put together the single-best rushing performance in Lancaster school history.

Prairie came into their homecoming game with an unbeaten record of 6-0, and was looking to run through the conference schedule on their way to a league title. Lancaster entered the game, 5-1 overall with a loss to Fennimore to start their season.

Gates set three school records against Prairie du Chien that night, rushing for 387 yards and six touchdowns on 50 carries (7.74 yards per carry), and with a 16-yard reception finished the game with 403 all-purpose yards.  

Of course no running back can be at all successful without the hard work of his offensive line, which paved the way for Gates’ record-breaking performance.

Senior center John Wagner played a vital roll, and was able to take on Prairie’s nose guard one-on-one, which allowed teammates Ty Mayne, Joseph Recker, Cole Zenz and Theron Schindler to block other defenders and open up the running lanes for the record-breaking performance.

During the years when Lancaster and Prairie belonged to the same conference, the Blackhawks have won or shared eight league titles.

In the original SWC they won titles in 1935, 1940, 1941 and 1947. In the original SWAL they only won one title in 1961. Then, in the SWAL I, they won their only title in 1988, and most recently in the SWC, have won titles in 2015 and just last season in 2018.

The Blackhawks have also had a number of outstanding individuals over the years, which have won conference Player of the Year honors.

The first of Prairie’s players to earn Player of the Year honors was Kelly Schissel (OT/LB) in 1987, while Brian Fernette (RB) earned the honor the following year in 1988.

Tyler O’Kane (RB) was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2008, and Kyle McCoy (RB) in 2009, while just last season, Gavin Gillitzer (QB) earned the honor for the Blackhawks.

When it comes to top coaches from Prairie du Chien, Duane Bark shared the league’s Coach of the Year honor with John Hoch in 2000, while the only other coach of the Blackhawks to receive the honor being Jason Thiry just last season.

The Blackhawks have two coaches in the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in Cecil Smith and Paul Bebow.

The Blackhawks have made the playoffs 19 times, the first coming in 1976. They have not won a state title, but have been state runners-up three times (1978, 1985, 1988) under head coach Bebow.

After playing against the Blackhawks every year since 1968, it’s going to be very different not having Prairie du Chien on Lancaster’s football schedule anymore.

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