Tags: Feature Sports Story
|Derek Diehl (click for larger version)|
August 07, 2012 | 05:26 PMINDIANAPOLIS — The odds were stacked a mile high against the Lake Geneva Generals Saturday night.
The winless Generals traveled by bus down to Indianapolis to face the defending Mid-States Football League runner-up Indiana Generals without six starters, including three from the offensive line.
With temperatures around 100 degrees and severe humidity, depth seemed like an issue. Jason Grace, a backup offensive lineman who was asked to start, came down with flu-like symptoms from food poisoning the night before.
So Generals head coach Derek Diehl, who is on the roster for "emergency purposes," decided to suit up in Grace's place to play offensive guard, a position he had never played.
"I didn't even bring my equipment," Diehl said. "I had to wear Grace's helmet and uniform, and luckily they fit. Jason didn't want to let the team down, but we didn't want him to get heat stroke."
Call it desperation or trying to rally the troops, but Diehl's plan worked.
Lake Geneva scored 21 unanswered points after falling behind 13-0 and hung on for a 21-19 victory, its first of the season (1-3).
"We got the monkey off our back," Diehl said. "And we did it on the road. We did it as a team and we bonded. Our defense was the savior. It was lights out and looked like it did last year (when the Generals defense led the league)."
But the offense was another story and almost cost the Generals the game.
Quarterback David Byerley had a night to forget, his third straight rough outing. His first three pass attempts were picked off, and one was a pick-six. Then, Trevor York's fumble late in the first quarter was returned for a 65-yard touchdown, and the Generals quickly fell into a 13-0 hole.
However, Byerley redeemed himself in the second quarter, hooking up for a 70-yard slant that Demetrius Butler took to the house to make it 13-7. On the next drive, though, Byerley tossed another pick, but the Generals defense was in shut-down mode and kept Indiana scoreless the rest of the half.
With a minute to go in the third quarter, it was Ricardo Williams' turn to shine. Byerley scrambled after the pocket broke down and found Williams for a short pass. Williams sprinted 50 yards after the catch to the end zone to give Lake Geneva its first lead, 14-13.
On the ensuing possession, Generals safety C.J. Wilson, a former Western Michigan star who was one of the top safeties in the 2009 NFL Draft, snatched an interception and returned it 30 yards to put the Generals in business. Two plays later, running back Requize Rhodman punched it in from 13 yards out to give Lake Geneva a 21-13 lead.
Indiana wasn't done. A 60-yard quarterback sneak on the next drive set up a short touchdown run to cut it to 21-19 midway through the fourth quarter. When Indiana went for two, they scored but the play was called back due to holding.
On the next attempt, Wilson came up with another pick to preserve the lead.
Lake Geneva then ate up the clock for three minutes before punting with two minutes to go in the game. A prevent defense featuring a cover-3 with man-to-man coverage underneath helped lead to a Williams interception to ice the victory.
The local boys committed only one penalty the whole game.
"We kept penalties down and balanced out the field position," Diehl said. "We were able to get turnovers back and kept our composure. Indiana had 10 penalties."
Lake Geneva only mustered 227 total yards, and turnovers led to 13 Indiana points.
"Our offense is definitely a concern," Diehl said. "We're not getting passing production. Our running game is hindered. At the quarterback position, we must find consistency. If we don't, we will struggle."
York, a former Badger star, led the Generals with 51 yards rushing. Rhodman added 31. Butler finished with two catches for 70 yards.
Defensively, the Generals blocked two field goals, picked off three passes and thwarted a two-point conversion.
Wilson paced the defense with six tackles and two interceptions. Jasen Wright added eight tackles and two knockdowns. Former Badger Alex Shaban tallied six tackles.
Former Williams Bay star Daniel Kant-Hull started at offensive tackle.
The Generals will look to start a winning streak Saturday on the road against the Dane County Hawks (0-4). Lake Geneva currently sits three games back in the Northwest Division of the Western Conference behind the front-running Racine Raiders (4-0). But as far as playoffs go, the Generals sit a half game behind the Racine Threat for the sixth playoff spot.
"We will be able to work on some things against Dane County," Diehl said. "But we are down to just two quarterbacks. I'm extremely concerned with our passing game. I hope David can get out of this slump. Our passing game must improve if we plan on making the playoffs."
It's like riding a bicycle
Diehl may have hung up his full-time uniform a couple years ago, but he said he makes sure to mix it up a few times a year.
"I definitely wasn't a savior Saturday night," he said. "But adding speed to the offensive line didn't hurt. We didn't give up a sack."
Diehl, 39, said he still felt good Monday night, but his wife, Jeni, joked he was sore walking up the stairs at home.
"Derek plays through a separated shoulder," Jeni said. "So he uses his helmet a lot."
Derek played in one game last year, against the Racine Raiders. He said playing is like "riding a bicycle." You never really forget how to do it.
"The guys get tired of hearing me bark at them," Diehl said. "Every now and then, you have to practice what you preach."
Diehl was a college fullback and linebacker before finishing up his playing career with the Burlington Blue Devils a few years back. He never played offensive line before, but he was in the middle of some strong company Saturday.
"I knew I was safe between BZ Rice and Dan Weber (two former all-stars)," Diehl said. "I've played with Weber before. I've spent so much time coaching, it's nice to get in there."