By Dan Truttschel~Sports Correspondent

There were plenty of unknowns for the Wilmot football team as it prepared for its 2012 opener Friday night at Notre Dame Prep (Niles, Ill.).

But it didn’t take long for the Panthers to realize their new non-conference opponent had plenty of firepower.

Notre Dame drove right down the field on its opening drive en route to a 27-7 non-conference victory. The loss dropped Wilmot to 0-1 overall.

Football teams in Illinois are allowed 30 contact days with coaching staffs in the summer compared to just five in Wisconsin, and that extra preparation was a difference, Wilmot coach Mike Greinke said.

“We’ve been at it with our five contact days and two and a half weeks of camp practice, and they’re ahead of us,” he said. “That’s kind of what it looked like.

“I wouldn’t say it was for a lack of talent. We have a talented group and they have a talented group.”

Notre Dame, an all-boys school of about 800 students, looked like it may have an easy time after the strong opening drive.

But the Panthers hung tough and battled, which didn’t surprise their coach at all.

“We’re about fighting and fighting back,” Greinke said. “We pride ourselves on playing good defense. They got us in a couple situations where they challenged our defensive rules, and when they did that we had to go back to the drawing board and change things up.”

Wilmot, which trailed 14-0 at halftime, got on the scoreboard late in the third quarter when Bennett Kothe sprinted 56 yards into the end zone. Near the end of the play, it looked like Kothe had been stopped, but his knee never hit the turf and he scored untouched by Notre Dame’s defense.

“Bennett is going to be important to things (we do) this year,” Greinke said. “I think he had a pretty good game.”

But that was as close as the Panthers would get, as the Dons added a pair of second-half touchdowns to close out the scoring.

For the game, Wilmot rushed for 129 yards on 19 carries, while quarterback Noah Strasser completed 11 of 28 passing attempts for 197 yards in his first varsity start.

Kothe finished with 120 yards rushing on 17 carries, while Matt Christensen led the receiving corps with eight catches for 184 yards.

Notre Dame had 37 carries for 269 yards and 95 yards through the air.

The Panthers face another big challenge this week when they open Southern Lakes Conference play against visiting Waterford at 7 p.m.

Wilmot and Waterford split a pair of games a year ago, as the Panthers won the regular-season battle 14-10, but the Wolverines had the last laugh in a 52-0 second-round playoff win.

Waterford eventually advanced all the way to the state finals in Madison before they lost to powerhouse Waunakee in the Division 2 championship.

“We’re two totally different teams this year, two totally different groups of kids,” Greinke said. “They have big, powerful kids on the offensive line. Their perimeter talent is different. There’s different strengths and weaknesses.

“They have the same offensive and defensive system. I would say the defense that (head coach Adam) Bakken put on the field last year was one of the best high school defenses I’ve ever seen.”



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