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The Rushing Yardage Race of 1992

After reviewing Hillsboro's Dick Barbour's record setting 1970, I was reviewing the progression of the state single season rushing record. In doing so, I had to dig back into my files for game-by-game stats on the two star running backs of 1992, Owen-Withe's Nathan Harms and Elk Mound's Jake Morris. The two would both run for more than Steve Hougum's previous record of 2,616 yards, set in 1986, and it was a great fight for the state rushing record. Would Morris hold the record only to see Harms take it away from him? The season was a see-saw battle.

The big question that I needed to answer by digging back through game-by-game stats was not if Nathan Harms had broken Hougum's record but who broke it first, Harms or Morris. In my last post, I listed the progression of the state single season rushing record. Until Hougum, all of those people had set the record in just 8-9 games of regular season play without the advantage of the playoffs.

When the 1992 season started, Jake Morris was a marked man. He had led the state in rushing as a junior, gained 2,593 yards as a two-year starter and his freshman season as a sub. He had also scored 38 touchdowns. At 5'11", 200 pounds he was a speedster who had great moves as he negotiated the open field. Nathan Harms, standing 6'0" and weighing 185 pounds was more of a power back with good speed. Harms had totaled only 423 yards and scored 7 touchdowns in previous seasons.

Westby's Steve Hougum had broken the season yardage total set in 1970 by Barbour in 12 games. The WIAA had expanded the playoffs and it wouldn't be until the next season, 1987, that there would be more teams added to each division and the champions would play 13 games. It was in the playoffs that Hougum really excelled. Having 1,801 yards in the nine-game regular season, he tore through his playoff opponents. In the opening round he took the opening kickoff back 81-yards to put his team ahead but it was a battle even after Westby led 21-0 going into the second quarter. Dodgeville stormed back and it was 28-28 a the end of three quarters and it remained that way through regulation. Westby's Heath Meyer, a 1400+ rusher on the season for the Norsemen scored the deciding touchdown in overtime for a 34-28 win. Hougum added 154 yards to his total to put him at 1,955.

Next up was Beloit Turner and they fell 28-17 as Hougum passed Barbour for the single season rushing record by gaining 297 yards on 34 carries. This game him 2,252 yards in one season, 16 more than the old season record but in 11 games. The state title pitted Westby against Stanley-Boyd and Hougum set a state title record for all divisions by running for an incredible 362 yards. He only scored one touchdown, that was on the first play of the game as he ran 75 yards to the goal line. The game total gave him a season of 295 carries for 2,616 yards and 26 touchdowns. He had 2,116 yards and 29 touchdowns as a junior to become the first Wisconsin player to gain 2,000+ yards twice. He was all-state as a junior and the AP Player of the Year for 1986.

In 1992, the lead between Harms and Morris changed hands many times during the season. In the end, they both topped Steve Hougum's 1986 season total but fell short of beating Dick Barbour's per game average as each player led their team to the state championship with Owen-Withee beating Hilbert in the D6 game (16-14) while Elk Mound fell for the third time in four seasons in the D5 title matchup to Edgar (14-7). The Mounders lost in 1989 to Hilbert and to Darlington in 1990. In a four season stretch with Jake Morris on the team, Elk Mound went 12-1, 12-1, 10-1 and 12-1 for a four season total of 46-4. Great by any standard.

Morris took an early lead after two games and stayed close until he overtook Harms again in game seven. Nathan Harms had a 301 yard game in week nine and was pressing Morris hard. Then came game eleven and he surged ahead for good. Jake had 2,600 yards after game twelve but that was less than Hougum's 2,616 1986 total. Meanwhile, Nathan surged to 2,698 yards in twelve games as he surpassed the former record holder. Neither had a breakout game in the state finals like Hougum but they played well. So, did Morris hold the season record even for just one day? No. Harms and the Owen-Withee Blackhawks played the day before Moris had a chance to show his stuff in the finals. Despite out gaining Harms in the title game, Morris would have had to have a 240 yard game to beat Harms. He was denied that by Edgars great defense that bent a little but overall held him in check, at least more than most of Elk Mound's opponents could.

It should have been easy collecting stats as both players were listed each week in the Eau Clair Leader-Telegram but it turns out that their stats listed in the weekly area leader list were often wrong, even going into the playoffs. I've mentioned before that some stats were incorrectly reported in newspapers because of simple adding errors. This seemed to come up quite often for these two players, especially Harms. The final totals for each player are correct but the game totals varied during the season in the paper because after looking at game film the totals might change and it might not have been reported to the newspaper.

In fact, to this day, the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram insists that Nathan Harms gained 2,799 yards. Back in 2010 I ran across the school's football website and saw they had Harms with 2,820 which is what I had pieced together back in 1995. Coach Laube confirmed the total in an email that he sent to me and I forwarded to the newspaper but got no response. So I have the coach's and school's official total here and in the record book. Having access to computerized stats reporting that was available as early as 2006 by both and has made it easier for coaches and stats people to enter and correct team and individual player's totals. Its done on an honor system that teams aren't padding stats information and it seems to work. Until 2006 the online programs that other websites had perfected were not widely used.

Both players would set other state records in their fantastic 1992 seasons.

Nathan Harms

  • 2,820 yards on 342 carries and 37 touchdowns (Plus a safety).

  • 22 2-point conversion runs, a record that stood until 2019.

  • Record of 268 points on the season was ranked then as the third best season total.

Jake Morris

  • Scored 49 touchdowns and 1 2-point run for 296 points (A state single season record at the time.)

  • Scored seven touchdowns in a single game against Prescott and again against Blair-Taylor. The only player to score seven touchdowns twice in the same season.

  • Returned seven of the eight punts kicked to him in 1992 for 449 yards (55.8 average) and a state record seven touchdowns in a season.

  • Returned 10 total punts for touchdowns in his career.

  • His career 5,447 rushing yards and his career 530 points were state records.

Great performances by both and they had success after high school. Nathan Harms attended UW-Stevens Point where he earned 1st team All-WSUC honors as a senior in 1996. He earned a teaching degree and lives in Waupaca with his family, according to his former coach, Terry Laube. Nathan is also an assistant football coach for Waupaca High School (Thanks for the heads up Terry).

Jake Morris's career took him to North Dakota State University where he had an interesting football career. He redshirted as a freshman and went on to earn all-conference honors the next season. He tore his ACL as a junior and was told he would never play again but he spent the year getting into great shape and in 1996 he returned to the field and set school records by rushing for 1,865 yards and earning Little All-America honors. He ended up gaining3,843 career yards. Jake then had a two-day tryout with the Packers but was cut. Two weeks later his agent called him with an offer from the Detroit Lions that listed three weeks. He returned to Fargo and got his degree in pharmacy.

1992 was a great year for the two running backs. Jake Morris was named State Player of the Year and Nathan Harms joined him on the first team squad. But what about their coaches?

I mentioned Terry Laube of the Owen-Withee Blackhawks. He's still there after winning the 1992, 1999 and the 2014 state titles and he has posted a 192-135 career record. He still coaches and has outside business interests. Terry is a member of the WFCA Hall of Fame. Likewise, Elk Mounds coach Dan Pederson put in some long years at the school. He is also part of the WFCA Hall of Fame having posted a 261-128 career record at the school. He was recently named to the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

There you have it. The race for the state rushing record and season title for 1992. But there is one more aspect to the record. In 1998, Luke Hagel of Random Lake nearly broke the single season rushing mark. You see, he had 2,652 yards and scored 301 points on the season, in 12 games. As a junior he had 2,139 yards and scored a single season total of 317 points, also in 12 games. His team played a total of 13 games in 1998 as they made it to the state title game. he was hurt and didn't play game number eight against Oostburg. What if he had the same rushing and scoring totals as he obtained as a junior against Oostburg, a game where he gained 219 yards and put up 35 points on five touchdowns and five extra point kicks? Those totals would certainly have been within reach as his team scored a 32-3 win without him. If you added those 1997 game stats to his 1998 totals he MIGHT have had 2,871 yards along with 336 points. He would have been at the top of the single game rushing list until Adrian Davis came along in 2001.

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