North loses quarterback Mergl to serious injury
“I’m heartbroken,” said Woodstock North High School head football coach Jeff Schroeder after his team’s 21-0 victory over the Woodstock Blue Streaks Oct. 13 at Larry Dale Field. The Thunder claimed the First National Bank Crosstown championship, but the first six points came at a high price as senior quarterback Collin Mergl suffered a broken leg after running in a touchdown.
The crosstown matchup, sponsored by First National Bank, was a fundraiser for both schools with a pregame meal included with admission to the game. Both schools were well-represented, and the festivities included the Star 105.5 rolling radio, sports team introductions and the national anthem sung by WHS alum and recording artist Jenae Cherry.
Each team was represented by an honorary captain. Adam Vetere, a member of the 1997 state champion football team, was on the sidelines for the Streaks. Lance Corporal Benjamin Flores from the U.S. Marine Corps, a 2015 graduate of WNHS, represented the Thunder.
The fired-up teams and fans cheered as the game started, but just three minutes into the first quarter the mood shifted to concern when Mergl failed to get up after running 49 yards for a touchdown.
As Mergl was being prepped for an ambulance ride to the hospital, WNHS head coach Jeff Schroeder said, “I hugged him and told him I loved him, and he told me, ‘Win the game.’”
When the game resumed Carter Coalson found himself playing quarterback. The assignment came as a surprise for the WNHS junior who hadn’t taken a snap since freshman year.
“Those were some big shoes to fill,” said Coalson. “To put a guy like me in took [guts] … I was glad to have the support of my teammates. This season is all about teamwork.”
Despite a few opportunities including a fumble recovery by the Streaks and an interception by the Thunder, the score remained 6-0 at the half.
Sophomore Ryan Zinnen took over in the quarterback position in the second half with Coalson switching to receiver. With five minutes, 55 seconds left in the third quarter, Zinnen passed to Coalson for a touchdown. A successful two-point conversion extended the Thunder lead to 14 points.
Third-quarter play continued as a quick downpour came through. The Streaks fought to get on the board, gaining yardage on passes to junior receiver David Shinherr and senior running back Sean Doyle, but they didn’t make it into the end zone.
With 6:57 left in the fourth quarter, Zinnen connected with Joseph Grover for a 26-yard touchdown pass. The extra point attempt was good, resulting in the final score of 21-0.
“I’m happy for my team, but heartbroken for Collin,” Schroeder said at the end of the game. “He’s a great football player, but a better person.”
He then headed off to the hospital to check on Mergl and present him with the Crosstown Challenge trophy.
WHS head coach Tommy Thompson said, “I thought we came out better in the second half but we were inconsistent running the ball.”
Doyle described the matchup as a friendly rivalry, but conceded it was a tough loss. “Our line was good,” he said. “We need to execute more … we have some stuff to clean up.”
WHS, now 4-4 on the season, will face Richmond-Burton at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, in Richmond.
The win boosts WNHS to 5-3 overall, 5-1 in the conference. The Thunder will square off against Rock Falls at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, at Rock Falls.