MIDDLETON – Shullsburg head coach Scott Matye has seen a lot in his 33 years of coaching the Miners, but he’s never had the chance to man the sidelines in a state championship game.
That will soon change after Matye’s #9-ranked Miners rallied from an early 6-0 deficit to defeat #4-ranked Hilbert-Stockbridge, 34-6, in a WIAA Division 7 Level 4 playoff game at Middleton High School’s Breitenbach Stadium on Friday, Nov. 11.
The Miners (11-2 overall) advance to the state finals for the first time in school history where they will face 11-time state qualifier Edgar (10-3) in the D7 title game at UW-Madison’s Camp Randall Stadium on Thursday, Nov. 17, beginning at 10 a.m.
“It feels great. These kids have worked so hard for this. Last year they had such a rough season. To come back from that and have it all come together is so nice for them,” said Coach Matye. “I won’t lie. I’m having as much fun as the kids.”
There was nothing fun about the start of the game as the Big East co-champion Wolves (12-1) started off like gangbusters to shell-shock the Miners.
The Wolves, who defeated the Miners the last time Coach Matye’s team advanced to Level 4 back in 1996, took the opening kickoff and marched right down the field to open up a 6-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.
Senior quarterback Jack Halbach capped the 41-yard, six-play trek with a 2-yard touchdown run. The Miners blocked the extra point kick.
Hilbert/Stockbridge got the ball right back in Miner territory on an interception by Bryce Gruett, but a stout goal line stand by the Miners stopped the Wolves at the 8 to keep the score at 6-0.
After forcing a quick Shullsburg punt, the Wolves had another chance to add to their lead following a long punt return by Bennett Lau down to the Miners’ 21-yard line.
Lau moved his team down to the 2 following a pair of runs, but on third-and-goal Shullsburg senior Jeremiah Bailey made a leaping interception in the end zone for another key defensive stop and the turnover was the shot in the arm the Miners needed to alter their fortunes.
“Had we gone down 12-0, I’m not sure where our heads would have been. They didn’t run anything we didn’t expect. Once our guys got used to the speed of their middle trap and started doing their assignments, we did a good job against them. And then, we kind of got our act together,” admitted Matye.
Feeding off the defensive energy, the Miners got a quick first down– their first of the game with just over two minutes remaining in the opening quarter– and they continued down the field.
Senior wide receiver Nathan Wedige wove through the Wolves’ D on a 23-yard pitch-and-catch from senior quarterback Noah Wand on the 14th play of the drive to even the score at 6-6. Shullsburg’s two-point try failed, leaving the score deadlocked at six all with 8:43 remaining in the second quarter.
“That was a terrible start. It wasn’t what we expected. They came out and played much harder than we did. We rebounded pretty well after their first score,” said Wand. “Stopping them on the goal line was huge, and so was the interception by Jeremiah. We just kept going. The seniors were really great leaders tonight. This was a great win.”
Senior Joey Meyer recovered an onside kick at the Wolves 49 on the ensuing kickoff, and senior running back Ben Sigwarth needed just two carries to put the Miners into the lead to stay. His 44-yard scamper on the first play from scrimmage took the Miners down to the 3 after a penalty on the Wolves was tacked on to his run, and he bulled in from the 3 on the next play to make it 12-6 with 8:26 to play in the half.
“No one got down on themselves. We all picked our heads back up and we fought back. It’s really nice to be the first people to go to state from Shullsburg,” Sigwarth commented.
Shullsburg’s D forced a quick Hilbert punt and the offense went right back to work, driving 73 yards in 13 plays to get back into the end zone. Meyer hauled in a 12-yard scoring strike from Wand with 33 seconds remaining to extend the lead to 18-6.
The Miners stopped the Wolves at the goal line again in the third quarter to preserve their 12-point lead, and then senior running back Lance Lierman ran in a pair of scores (10 and 25 yards) late in the fourth quarter to seal the victory and secure the school’s first state championship berth.
“This feels so great. It’s a dream come true,” said Lierman. “Our line was blocking great. (Hilbert was) a really good football team. They came out and played hard. We just got back to what we do best and then we took care of business.”
Shullsburg finished with a 275 to 213 advantage on the ground, and they held a 62 to 28 edge through the air to outgain the Wolves 337 to 241 for the game.
Sigwarth ran 23 times for 110 yards and a score to lead the Miners and moved within six yards of a 1,000-yard season, while Lierman carried it 20 times for 104 yards and two scores.
Wand completed 4-of-11 passes for 62 yards with two TDs and an interception. He also ran nine times for 43 yards.
“When Lance broke off that last touchdown, we knew we had the win. It’s the greatest feeling in the world. It’s a dream come true,” stated Wand.
Senior Hunter Matye had two catches for 27 yards, while Wedige and Meyer each scored on the lone catches to guide the aerial attack.
“It was kind of neat. I think everybody had a big play for us during the game. It was fun to see us spread it around like that. Noah had a great game. After a bit of a rough start, he played tremendous,” noted Matye.
“We have a good offense and we can score a lot of ways and make good things happen. But it’s still the defense that sets the table. Once we got the lead, it was ‘Katie-bar-the-door’. We were coming hard at them and the kids were excited on defense.”
Thursday’s state game will pit two WFCA Hall of Fame coaches going head-to-head against one another for the first time ever with a state title on the line.
Head coach Jerry Sinz is in his 44th year at Edgar and a 2003 HOF inductee, having guided the Wildcats to state titles in 1979, 1992, 1999, 2001, 2009 and 2010 and runner-up finishes in 1991, 1998, 2000 and 2008. Sinz is second all-time in Wisconsin with 394 career wins.
“If you’re going to go to state, you might as well play one of the best,” said Matye, whose dad, Duane (a 1995 WFCA Hall of Famer) is close friends with Sinz. “I mean, Edgar is one of the best small school programs in the state of Wisconsin. They are a classy program and a great team. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The Wildcats finished fourth this season in the Marwood Conference, which is loaded with D5 and D6 schools, after suffering three close losses in the middle of the season partly due to a few injuries suffered by their key contributors. They have righted the ship with five straight victories, and they got their star senior running back Alec Hafferman back from injury during the playoffs and he picked right up where he left off.
“Certainly we were pretty fortunate to drop to Division 7 this year. We have the (state) routine down pretty well. I think it’s our advantage,” said Sinz in a statewide conference call.
The Wildcats average 33 points per game on offense and allow just eight ppg. on defense. They run for 203 yards per game and pass for 60 ypg., while yielding just 100 rushing ypg. and 43 passing ypg.
“The funny part is I see a lot of us in what they do,” said Coach Matye. “It’s been a great season for us. We’re healthy and happy to play one more game.”
Edgar defeated Assumption, 34-7, #5-ranked Wild Rose, 50-7, #10-ranked Loyal, 33-6, and then knocked off defending D7 state champion and #1-ranked Bangor, 29-6, to advance to state.
WIAA DIVISION 7 LEVEL 4
Hilbert/Stock… 6 0 0 0 – 6
Shullsburg....... 0 18 0 16 – 34
H – Halbach, 2 run (kick blocked)
S – Nathan Wedige, 23 pass from Noah Wand (pass failed)
S – Ben Sigwarth, 3 run (pass failed)
S – Joey Meyer, 12 pass from N. Wand (pass failed)
S – Lance Lierman, 10 run (Meyer pass from Wand)
S – Lierman, 25 run (Wedige run)
Team Stats: First Downs– H 13; S 20. Rushing– H 44-213; S 53-275. Passing– H 3-8-1, 26; S 4-11-1, 62. Fumbles-Lost– H 3-1; S 0-0. Penalties– H 6-32; S 4-43.
Shullsburg Leaders: Rushing (Att-Yds-Td)– Ben Sigwarth, 23-110-1; Lance Lierman, 20-104-2; Noah Wand, 9-43-0; Nathan Wedige, 1-18-0. Passing (Comp-Att-Int-Td-Yds)– Wand, 4-11-1-2, 62. Receiving (Cat-Yds-Td)– Hunter Matye, 2-27-0; Nathan Wedige, 1-23-1; Joey Meyer, 1-12-1.