HURLEY - Hurley's offense may be among the best defenses in Wisconsin.
No. 2 Hurley (10-1) dominated time of possession and blanked No. 3 Athens (9-2) Friday in WIAA Division 6 Level 2 playoff action.
The reward couldn't be better. The Midgets host next week's state quarterfinal against No. 4 Webster (10-1), which upset No. 1 Edgar 14-6 Friday night.
Maybe Hurley will let Webster have the ball a couple of times.
"You look at our guys who just play offense and their jerseys are clean because they never got on the (muddy) field," Athens coach Ryan Bargender said. "We did a good job not allowing too many big plays, but they were able to sustain drives like crazy and keep our offense off the field."
Hurley had the ball for 17 minutes, 12 seconds in the first half. It ran out the final 7:59 of the first half and didn't even score. During that drive, Hurley went for it on fourth and 1 at its own 25 with Mark Saari picking up two yards for the first down.
"That's how we play," Hurley coach Scott Erickson said of going for it. "Our fans are accustomed to it. Maybe I'm a stupid coach, but it's been working out and we're going to stick to that. I'm not going to vary from that recipe that's worked so well since the early part of the year."
The Midgets held Athens to just 78 yards of offense and had 30 more plays than the Bluejays.
Turning it over three times didn't help Athens as Hurley scored 22 points off them.
"That obviously led to a long night of defense for them," Erickson said. "We had the ball the whole first half basically. Our guys are grinders. The (muddy) field was made for them. Hopefully we can get another next week."
Keeping the offense on the field so much has been a total team effort.
"One person scres up the play, it doesn't work," said senior Jordan Kolpin, named the Great Western's top offensive lineman. "Everybody does their job and it works everytime. Mark and everyone of the backs runs hard. All the blockers block hard. We've been doing it all year. Hopefully we can keep it going."
Friday's game started turning after the first drive.
A dropped pass that could have gone all the way was Athens' only chance to score.
That was on the first drive of the game when Athens made it to the Hurley 11 on 45 of their 78 yards in the game. After a loss on third down, it was fourth and 11 and Collin Ellenbecker only gained three yards.
"That got us a little momentum, we took the ball down and scored," Erickson said.
Bargender said. "If we could have maybe punched in that first possession, maybe things are different, but you can always play that game"
Mitchell Maki got Hurley on the board with a one-yard touchdown run with 3:22 left in the first quarter. Roman Lupino's conversion run made it 8-0 Hurley.
Athens went to the air again, away from its normal running game. It didn't work.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Hurley's Roman Lupino picked off a pass at the Hurley 28 and returned it 26 yards to the Athens 46.
"He threw it up a little over his guy," Lupino said. "I was playing a little deeper, a little further than his receiver and it came right in my arms. It gave us some momentum."
'The Midgets took advantage, going 46 yards on 10 plays. Saari ran it in from 13 yards out. Lupino scored the two-point conversion on an option pitch by quarterback Jake Tenlen. Hurley led 16-0.
Athens punted and that's when Hurley chewed up the 7:59 of the half without scoring. It went 18 plays all the way to the Athens 14.
Any thought of a second-half comeback went out the window pretty quickly for Athens.
Mark Saari, put on the kick return game this week, ran the kickoff to start the second half back 83 yards for a touchdown. Hurley led 22-0 with 11:47 left.
"I think Wednesday they threw me in there, just to see what happens," Saari said. "I caught the first one, we said OK, we moved on. The only one today, that was something else. I started running up the middle. I tucked it. It just parted like the Red Sea. It was wide open. One guy to beat after that and it was all the way to the end zone. It was nice, perfect, really good blocking."
Saari made his coach look good on that play.
"He's a straight-line runner and if you hit a middle wedge at a straight line, you might have a chance," Erickson said. "And I'll be darned, look at that."
Athens' Daltan Lavicka fumbled the ensuing kick and Hurley's Zach Ofstad recovered it on the Athens 36. Tenlen hid it on his hip and kept it, running 10 yards for the score.
Just 2:10 into the second half, Hurley had two second-half touchdowns and led 28-0.
Hurley added a fourth-quarter touchdown on a 24-yard pass from Tenlen to Lupino.
Hurley's offense was balanced. Saari picked up a game-high 119 yards on 23 carries. Mitchel Maki had 99 yards on 14 carries.
Tenlen had 41 yards, running the keeper with the ball hidden on the hip well.
It was another record-breaking night for Saari. He has 1,929 all-purpose yards this season after gaining 214 Friday.
Jarret Rhenlund held the Hurley single-season record at 1,715 in 2011.
Saari broke the school's single-season rushing record last week.
"Hurley's got a good team, it's a credit to them," Bargender said. "They'll make a big run. They're big. That Saari kid is the best running back we've seen all year. It takes seven, eight guys to bring him down."
Bargender can't be much of a fan of Hurley. He was the best player on Edgar, which lost to Hurley in Level 2 in 1995.
"The kids at home, I've got an 8 and a 6 year old, we watched highlights of the Edgar-Hurley game in 95, just to show them, because at that age they can't believe that Hurley's nickname is the Midgets," he said. "I had to show them that and that was pretty much the same result."
Now Hurley will spend a week preparing for a state quarterfinal at home. It doesn't get much better than that.
Athens 0 0 0 0 - 0
Hurley 8 8 12 8 - 36
Hur - Mitchell Maki 1 run (Roman Lupino run), 3:22
Hur - Mark Saari 13 run (Lupino run), 9:43
Hur - Saari 83 kickoff return (run failed), 11:47
Hur - Jake Tenlen 10 run (pass failed), 9:50
Hur - Lupino 24 pass from Tenlen (Mitchell Maki run), 11:04
First downs 7 20
Jason Juno/Daily Globe
HURLEY'S MITCHELL Maki is wrapped up during Friday's WIAA Division 6 Level 2 victory over Athens, 36-0, at Veterans Memorial Field in Hurley.
Rushes-yards 26-72 53-279
Comp-Att-Int 1-5-1 5-8-0
Passing 6 57
Total yards 78 336
Penalties-yards 0-0 5-40
Fumbles-lost 2-2 3-1
Rushing - Athens, Lane Tessmer 10-40, Daltan Lavicka 9-34, Max Stange 1-5, Colton Ellenbecker 2-3, Collin Ellenbecker 4-minus 5. Hurley, Mark Saari 23-119, Mitchell Maki 14-99, Jake Tenlen 6-41, Roman Lupino 7-19, Cole Huotari 2-1, Nick Fink 1-0.
Passing - Athens, Collin Ellenbecker 1-5-6-1. Hurley, Jake Tenlen, 5-8-57-0.
Receiving - Athens, Colton Ellenbecker 1-6. Hurley, Roman Lupino 2-30, Jared Wendt 2-15, Mark Saari 1-12.