BURLINGTON – In a playoff game, each and every play can be a game-changer. And, each and every chance to put points on the scoreboard must be taken advantage of by a team in order to earn a victory.
Black Hawk had their fair share of game-changing plays in Saturday’s Level 2 showdown with perennial Division 7 powerhouse Catholic Central. However, a missed conversion attempt by the Warriors midway through the fourth quarter proved costly as the #9-ranked Hilltoppers rallied late for a 35-34 victory over #12-ranked Black Hawk at CCHS’ Topper Bowl on Oct. 29.
The Warriors (8-3 overall) snapped a 28 all tie with 5:03 remaining in the game when senior Michael Walker capped a 76-yard, five-play scoring drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Walker, who also serves as the team’s kicker and was 4-for-4 on his extra point attempts in the game, was injured on the scoring run and had to sit out the point-after try.
With his kicker on the sideline, Black Hawk head coach Cory Milz was forced to gamble for a two-point try and the Hilltoppers put heavy pressure on Warrior quarterback Kyle Walters, causing an incompletion to keep the score at 34-28.
“Our backup kickers are very inconsistent (one for their last 11 PAT tries), so we felt we had just as good a chance scoring two as scoring one. We were on the road, felt like they would score in the last five minutes, so we went for two,” explained Milz. “We ran the play that we practice the most for two-point conversion tries, and two guys were open but we had too much pressure from (Catholic Central’s) rushers.”
The ‘Toppers (7-4) responded with an eight-play, 55-yard scoring drive of their own, tying the game on Carson Meinholz’s 1-yard sneak with 1:43 to play. T.J. Walkington tacked on his fifth PAT of the game to give CC a 35-34 lead.
“Defensively, we shut down their running game until the very end. In the fourth quarter, they used their size to their advantage and pretty much ran the isolation play at will on their last drive,” Milz said of Catholic Central, who has knocked the Warriors out of the playoffs in their last three post-season appearances, including a 40-6 Level 1 loss at the Topper Bowl a year ago.
An interception by Walkington halted the Warriors ensuing drive, but senior Dejay Warrell recovered a Meinholz fumble with 36 seconds remaining to give the guests a final shot.
Walters got sacked on the first play of their final drive, and the Warriors final two pass attempts were knocked down by the ‘Toppers in the closing seconds.
“I am proud of their efforts and very disappointed that such an effort couldn’t be rewarded with a win,” commented Milz. “Our boys executed the game plan very well. They put in a tremendous amount of film study and practice hours for this contest. They prepared like champions.”
Not many people around the state thought the Warriors would be able to hang with the high-octane Hilltoppers, but few of those people knew the make-up of these Warriors.
After a scoreless opening quarter, senior Jace Johnsrud got the Warriors on the board early in the second stanza with a 37-yard interception return. Walker’s PAT made it 7-0.
CC answered with a pair of TD runs by senior running back Rayce Wadsworth (55 and 2) to go ahead 14-7, but a 92-yard kickoff return by Warrell knotted the score at 14 all with 8:54 to play in the half.
The ‘Toppers regained the lead with a 17-yard TD pass from Meinholz to Grant Alderman, then Black Hawk responded with a 1-yard plunge by Jayden Rufenacht with 1:20 remaining in the half to tie the score at 21-21.
Meinholz connected with Alderman for a 69-yard TD pass and Walters hooked up with Hayden Schliem for a 90-yard scoring strike in the third quarter to send the teams into the final frame tied at 28.
“We didn’t want to go toe-to-toe with that offense, so we knew we needed to control the clock and establish a running game. In the past, we have tried to beat them through the air and the results were disastrous. Our offensive line and running backs were very physical and we were able to move the ball on the ground, limiting their touches,” Milz said.
Johnsrud finished with 105 yards on 10 carries to lead the Warriors and go over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Walker added 69 yards on 16 totes with a score and Rufenacht tacked on 26 yards on six carries with a score as the Warriors outgained the Hilltoppers on the ground, 191-136, for the game.
Wadsworth gained 118 yards on 20 carries to lead the Hilltoppers, who have advanced to the D-7 state championship game in each of the last three seasons.
Meinholz, who averaged over 120 rushing yards per game during the season, was limited to just 10 yards on the ground, but the junior went 12-for-20 through the air for 204 yards and two TDs with an interception.
Walters completed 4-of-8 passes for 171 yards with a TD and an interception. Schliem caught all the passes to finish the season with 727 receiving yards and 10 TDs.
Defensively, Cuyler Meier led the Warriors with 13 tackles and Cory Rupnow chipped in with 10 stops. Logan Stietz and Coltin Piefer each had nine tackles, while Schliem, Shawn Woodruff and Tanner Sweeney added eight tackles apiece.
Sweeney and Walker had sacks, and Warrell and Kyle Woodruff recovered fumbles for the Warriors. Johnsrud also added an interception.
“What an outstanding effort by this group of young men. I think BCC overall was an incredibly talented offense. To outgain, and almost outscore them took a great effort. We were outsized but our tenacity and aggressiveness was outstanding,” noted Milz.
This season was a reminder of the importance of athletics and competition in the overall upbringing of our nation’s young men. They went through a lot of adversity, and disappointing losses; yet they met each challenge head on and never whined about their situation. I thought these guys grew up a lot during the course of this season.”
Saturday’s game marked the final prep appearance on the gridiron for Black Hawk seniors Jace Johnsrud, Hayden Schliem, Dejay Warrell, Michael Walker, Shawn Woodruff, Patrick Mahoney and Connor Moore.
“I am happy to see them achieve their goal of ‘Taking It To the Next Level’. They may not have always done what we wanted them to do in the offseason, but when practice started, they gave us their heart and soul. We admire and respect them for that and wish them the best of luck,” stated Milz.
WIAA DIVISION 7 LEVEL 2
Black Hawk……… 0 21 7 6 - 34
Catholic Central… 0 21 7 7 - 35
BH – Jace Johnsrud, 37 interception return (Michael Walker kick)
CC – Wadsworth, 55 run (Walkington kick)
CC – Wadsworth, 2 run (Walkington kick)
BH – Dejay Warrell, 92 kickoff return (Walker kick)
CC – Alderman, 17 pass from Meinholz (Walkington kick)
BH – Jayden Rufenacht, 1 run (Walker kick)
CC – Alderman, 69 pass from Meinholz (Walkington kick)
BH – Hayden Schliem, 90 pass from Kyle Walters (Walker kick)
BH – Walker, 1 run (pass failed)
CC – Meinholz, 1 run (Walkington kick)
Team Stats: First Downs- BH 13, CC 12. Rushing- BH 39-191; CC 39-136. Passing- BH 4-9-1, 171; CC 12-20-1, 204. Fumbles-Lost- BH 2; CC 2. Penalties- BH 6-52, CC 3-27.
Individual Leaders: Rushing (Att-Yds-Td)- Jace Johnsrud 10-105-0; Michael Walker 16-69-1. Passing (Comp-Att-Int-Td-Yds)- Kyle Walters 4-8-1-1, 171. Receiving (Cat-Yds-Td)- Hayden Schliem 4-171-1.