GAME OF THE WEEK (Oct. 17–23)
WIAA DIVISION 6 FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS: Cuba City 35, Seneca/Wauzeka 34 (OT)
SENECA – The continuation of Cuba City football season came down to the legs of quarterback Andy Clendenen and kicker Gerardo Garcia.
Clendenen ran for his third touchdown of the night on Cuba City’s first possession of overtime to tie the score at 34 all, and then Garcia lifted the team to victory by splitting the uprights on his fifth extra-point kick of the night as the Cubans knocked off previously unbeaten and #7-ranked Seneca/Wauzeka-Steuben, 35-34, in a thrilling WIAA Division 6 Level 1 playoff football game held in Seneca on Friday, Oct. 19.
Momentum swung wildly between the teams throughout the night with the leading changing hands eight times on the 11 scoring plays.
“It was a lot of fun. That’s what the first level of the football playoffs is all about,” said Cuba City head coach Guy Kopp. “It was a great game. We’re going to enjoy this for 24 hours and then get ready for Fennimore.”
The #4-seeded Bluegolds (9-1 overall) deadlocked the score at 28 all with 2:37 remaining in regulation on the arm of senior quarterback Jared Payne, who completed a 31-yard scoring strike to Gavin Ralph and then connected with Carter Lomas for the two-point conversion to tie the game.
The teams each had a chance to win it in regulation, but were unable to break the tie forcing overtime.
The Bluegolds hit pay dirt on their opening drive of OT with Payne connecting on his fourth TD pass to the night– a 5-yard toss to senior Nate Benish– to put the hosts ahead 34-28. However, instead of Lomas attempting the extra point, the Bluegolds opted to go for fake but Payne’s pass fell incomplete to leave the lead at six.
Lomas has booted a pair of field goals from 33 and 45 yards out during regulation and was successful on both of his extra point kicks in the game.
Starting at the 25-yard line on their OT possession, the #5-seeded Cubans (6-4) kept the ball on the ground. A bruising 11-yard gain by Clendenen on 3rd-and-1 set the Cubans up at the 5, and the senior punched in his third score of the night on the next play to draw even at 34-34. Garcia snapped the tie with a game-winning PAT.
“We did a gut-check at halftime and we called a few guys out as who we needed to step up and one of them was Andy. We needed him to lead our team. You could see it in the second half. He took control and made things happen. He led us down there in overtime and called his own number, which is what you want to see from your senior quarterback who has been since his sophomore year,” expressed Kopp.
Clendenen, who threw for 145 yards and ran for another 86 yards in the game, erased an early 3-0 deficit with a 6-yard TD run with 1:31 remaining in the first half to give the Cubans their first lead.
That left just enough time for the Bluegolds to strike back. Payne teamed with Lomas on a 7-yard TD reception with eight ticks remaining in the half to put the Ridge and Valley champions up 10-7 at the intermission.
Senior running back Mason Reuter put the Cubans back into the lead at 14-10 with a 14-yard TD run midway through the third quarter, but the hosts needed just 97 seconds to regain the lead with Payne finding a wide open Nick Benish for a 23-yard for a 17-14 advantage.
A 65-yard kickoff return by senior Brayden Holzemer swung the momentum back to the Cubans’ sideline, and Clendenen swung it even further their way with a 1-yard blast into the end zone with 2:56 to go in the third quarter.
After Lomas’ 45-yard field goal– which may have been good from beyond 55 yards– brought the Bluegolds back within a point, Reuter ripped off a 40-yard TD scamper to put the Cubans up 28-20.
The Bluegolds outgained the Cubans in the game, 368-341, and even won the turnover battle, 4-1, but they came up a little short where it mattered most as the Cubans live to fight another day.
Reuter led the Cubans with 91 yards rushing on 13 carries with two scores, while Holzemer hauled in five catches for 70 yards to lead the air assault.
Defensively, Jacob Carey accounted for the Cubans with an interception deep in Bluegold territory, which led to the team’s first score.
The Cubans will face a familiar foe in Level 2 on Friday, Oct. 26, when they head to Fennimore to face the top-seeded Golden Eagles (9-1), who advanced with a 48-12 win over Cochrane-Fountain City last Friday.
The Eagles posted a 27-0 shutout over the Cubans in week four of the regular season. It was the only time this season the Cubans were held off the scoreboard, so Kopp feels his offense will be fired up for the rematch.
“Our offense is going to be hungry because that’s the only time we were shutout. They’ve gotten better, but we’ve also gotten better. We’re going to prepare the guys to play four quarters,” said Kopp.
DIVISION 6 LEVEL 1 GAME
Cuba City……… 0 7 14 7 7 – 35
Seneca–Wauz.… 3 7 7 11 6 – 34
SWS – FG, Lomas 33
CC – Andy Clendenen, 6 run (Gerardo Garcia kick)
SWS – Lomas, 7 pass from Payne (Lomas kick)
CC – Mason Reuter, 14 run (Garcia kick)
SWS – Ni. Benish, 23 pass from Payne (Lomas kick)
CC – Clendenen, 1 run (Garcia kick)
SWS – FG, Lomas 45
CC – Reuter, 40 run (Garcia kick)
SWS – Ralph, 31 pass from Payne (Lomas pass from Payne)
SWS – Na. Benish, 5 pass from Payne (pass failed)
CC – Clendenen, 5 run (Garcia kick)
First Downs– CC 12, WS 11. Rushing– CC 32-196; WS 47-258. Passing– CC 15-26-3, 145; WS 8-13-1, 110. Fumbles-Lost– CC 3-1; WS 1-0. Penalties- CC 7-55; WS 6-50.
CC Individual Leaders:
Rushing (Att-Yds-Td)– Mason Reuter, 13-91-2; Andy Clendenen, 17-86-3. Passing (Comp-Att-Int-Td-Yds)– Andy Clendenen, 15-26-3-0, 145. Receiving (Cat-Yds-Td)– Brayden Holzemer, 5-70-0.
SPECIAL MENTION (WIAA D6 Football): Darlington 15, Melrose–Mindoro 15
MELROSE — After winning their final three games just to make the WIAA playoffs, the Darlington Redbirds kept the momentum going by pulling off a stunning upset in the their playoff opener.
Thanks to solid efforts on both sides of the ball — and a key stop on a late two-point conversion — the 7th-seeded Redbirds (5–5) saddled the 2nd-seeded Melrose–Mindoro Mustangs (8–2) 15–13 in a WIAA Division 6 Level 1 playoff football game last Friday night.
The Redbirds answered an 86-yard Melrose–Mindoro touchdown run early in the second quarter, with a 57-yard touchdown pass from Braden Davis to Carter Lancaster. Blake Whalen added the two-point conversion run and Darlington led 8–7 at the half.
Darlington extended the lead to 15–7 early in the fourth quarter on a 1-yard TD run by Whalen and Simone Guidi tacked on the extra point. Whalen, who was Darlington’s starting quarterback at the beginning of the season, suffered his second broken bone of the season — a broken collar bone — with three minutes left in the game.
The Mustangs hit pay dirt on another long run — a 53-yard scamper by Patrick Corcoran-Evans with 2:27 left to play — to cut the deficit to 15–13, but the ‘Birds stuffed the conversion run to maintain a two-po