The Menomonie High School football program (No. 1 seed), undefeated in the 2017 season, hosted Green Bay Southwest High School (10-1, No. 2 seed) in the WIAA Division 2, Level 3 Playoff game.
Though both teams have big playmakers on both sides of the ball, it was the Fighting Trojans that made more big plays to advance with a 16-14 victory.
Southwest won the toss and elected to defer until the second half. Menomonie took the opening kickoff and started with the ball on their own 33-yard line after 23 yard return by Logan Sorenson.
After four consecutive runs by Justin Evans, an incomplete pass to Brenden Johnston made it third down and long. Quarterback Jake Ebert came right back to Johnston on an 11-yard pass for the first down. A big play for the Mustangs was on fourth down and one from the Trojans 13-yard line. Evans got the carry, broke a tackle in the backfield, and lunged across the line to keep the drive alive.
On third and goal from the six, Ebert keep the ball on a bootleg to the right and raced to the corner of goal line for the first score at 4:58. Thomas Poplawski added the point after, and the Mustangs had the lead 7-0.
Southwest has a very solid quarterback in junior Nick Howard. Menomonie coach Joe LaBuda knows the best defense against him is to keep him off the field, and the Mustang defense did just that. They managed to push a three and out forcing a Southwest punt. The Mustangs started with the ball on their own 16. An Ebert pass was intercepted by Southwest’s Josh Yahsha, who returned the ball to the Menomonie 16-yard line.
The Mustang defense stayed tough, however, and held Southwest to a field goal. Camden Czarnecki calmly booted the 30-yard field goal to make the score 7-3 with 1:33 left in the first quarter.
Momentum now shifted to the Trojans who forced a Mustang punt on the first play of the second quarter. Tyler Amundson went into punt formation. The snap went over his head and was picked up by Southwest’s Kaleb Keener who raced into the end zone for paydirt. The point after gave Southwest a 10-7 lead with 11:51 left in the first half. In a somewhat strange situation, Southwest had scored 10 points without gaining a first down.
Menomonie went back to work with the ball on their own 18-yard line. They needed to put together a long drive, eat up the clock, and get the momentum back in their favor if they wanted to get the game back under control. The Mustangs went back to the ground game and the line started to grind down the defense.
But the Trojans didn’t make it this far without making some big plays along the way. The Trojans sacked Ebert, then knocked down a pass on the following play. But Ebert found his bearings and ran down the right sideline, good for a first down. Southwest was hit with a 15-yard penalty as two players hit him out of bounds.
Now with the ball just inside the Trojan 20-yard line, Sorenson then ran the ball around the right side for a first down, setting the ball up on the 12. Evans completed the 82-yard drive with a one yard plunge into the end zone. A good point after from Poplawski gave the Mustangs back the momentum and the lead at 14-10.
That momentum went back and forth, with the Mustang defense making tackles for loss, then with Southwest finding two consecutive first downs. Menomonie’s Steven Brenner came up with a big sack on Howard to force a Trojan punt.
Taking over on their own 19-yard line, the Mustangs went back to the ground game. However, Southwest held Menomonie to just one first down before they had to give the ball right back. This time, the snap was good and Amundson kicked the ball to the 30. A block in the back penalty on Southwest moved the ball to the Trojan 24-yard line with 1:10 left in the first half.
Southwest gained some ground with the last possession of the first half, using two consecutive first downs to set the ball on the 50-yard line. However, the Mustang defense held strong and the first half expired with a Trojan punt.
The second half began with Menomonie kicking off to the Trojans. Poplawski’s kick went out of bounds at Southwest’s 35-yard line. After just two rushing plays, Southwest had the ball at midfield once again and appeared to be controlling the line of scrimmage. However, a fumble was recovered by Menomonie’s Ben Newman-Heim and the Mustangs took over on their own 30-yard line.
Evans took the ball for the next three plays and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Southwest moved the ball to the Trojan’s 32. The Menomonie offensive line was winning the point of attack and as long as they kept the ball between the tackles they could continue using Evans to run. On a fourth down with five to go from the 16-yard line, Ebert went from the shotgun, was sacked and it was the Trojan’s ball on downs.
On a second down pass attempt, Menomonie’s Dalton Wang and Mason Platter teamed up to sack Howard for a nine-yard loss. That made it third and 18 yards to go, where the defense forced a poor throw for an incomplete pass. A Southwest punt ensued, which was downed at the Mustang 28-yard line. On third down and nine, Ebert scrambled for a five-yard gain, forcing an Amundson punt. The punt was short and gave the Trojans good field position at midfield with 2:29 left in the third quarter.
On third down and seven, Menomonie’s Sam Thompson made a stop, bringing out the punter for Southwest. The ball went into the end zone for a touchback and the Mustangs had the ball on their own 20. However, a Menomonie holding penalty moved the ball to the ten. The quarter expired after two straight runs by Evans gained the Mustangs five yards.
The fourth quarter opened up with a third down run by Evans that came up short. Amundson punted the ball to midfield, where it was returned to the Mustang 20-yard line by Joe Statz.
The Mustang defense now had to reach down and find a little extra. The Trojans made it first and goal from the 8-yard line. On second down from the six, Joshua Komis ran it in for the score. The point after was no good, but the Trojans had taken the lead at 16-14 with 9:52 left in regulation. This marked the first time all season that the Mustangs had trailed in the fourth quarter.
With the ball at their own 34-yard line, a 30-yard run by Evans was nullified by a Mustang penalty. On the next play, Ebert completed a flea flicker pass to Bret Lecheler, good for a 50-yard gain to the Trojan 30-yard line. Evans made the next run, which was good for a first down. After no gains on their next three attempts, they came to a fourth down situation at the Trojan 19-yard line. Poplawski came in to attempt a 32-yard field goal, which would put the Mustangs up by one point. However, Poplawski’s kick was just short and Southwest took over with 5:14 left to go.
Now it was the Trojans turn to run the ball and eat up the clock. They used just two runs to go from their own 20-yard line to the 50. Another big play on third and eight kept the clock running. After the snap, Howard dropped the ball but scrambled for the pick up for a gain of two.
With the season hinging on fourth down, Southwest lined up to punt and it went into the end zone and giving the ball back to Menomonie on their own 20. With just 2:40 left on the clock, and possibly the season, a Mustang penalty moved the back to the 15. Now on fourth down and six, Ebert was sacked in the backfield, but a horse-collar penalty kept them alive with 1:48 to go.
On third down and two, Evans ran 15 yards for a first down, moving the ball into Trojan territory. On the next play, Ebert threw a pass for an incompletion and was shaken up on the play. Newman-Heim came in as the quarterback with 1:07.
His first down pass was intercepted by Yasha and he was downed at the 40-yard line of Southwest with just under one minute to go. Game, set, match.
Ebert completed two passes good for a combined 60 yards. Evans led in rushing with 186 of the team’s 253 yards. Ebert himself ran for 55 yards on nine carries while Sorenson rushed for nine and John Brogan for eight.
Despite a remarkably strong season and a hard fought game, the Mustang season came to an end. The team put together a quality season performance and can hold their heads high.