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Golden Eagles turn back Pointers
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Fennimore senior Kaleb Cauffman (56) leaps for joy after the Golden Eagles recovered a Mineral Point fumble in the fourth quarter of Friday night's 21-20 win. - photo by Robert Callahan photo

What a great birthday present.

Fennimore senior Deven O’Brien celebrated his 18th birthday with a thrilling 21-20 Southwest Wisconsin Activities League win over Mineral Point on Friday, Sept. 2.

The Golden Eagles took a 21-0 lead into the locker room at halftime, but needed all they could muster and then some to hold off the Pointers in the second half.

“The first half was played as perfect as you could plan a game, from a coaching standpoint,” Fennimore coach Boone Tollefson said. “The players did exactly what we wanted to do and executed exactly what we thought we would be able to execute.

“A 21-0 score at halftime may be a little unexpected, but we did the things we practiced to do. That is what I am most proud of there in that first half.”

After a pair of sacks led to a three-and-out for the Mineral Point offense late in the first quarter, Fennimore senior quarterback Jordan Williams connected with junior wide receiver Liam Kenney on a 24-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the Golden Eagles’ ensuing drive. An extra point by Fennimore senior Tim Fecher gave the host Golden Eagles a 7-0 lead with 2:42 to go in the first quarter.

Mineral Point advanced into Fennimore territory in the second quarter but was forced to punt. Fennimore again scored on their first play from scrimmage, this time when Williams hit junior wideout Trevor Neuroth in stride for a 85-yard touchdown pass. Fecher tacked on another extra point and gave the Golden Eagles a 14-0 lead with 8:10 to play in the first half.

Fennimore faced a fourth-and-15 in Mineral Point territory when Williams found sophomore Reid Larson in the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown with 15 second left in the first half. Fecher’s extra point put Fennimore ahead 21-0.

Mineral Point scored only 1:52 into the second half but misfired on its extra point attempt. When Fennimore’s first possession of the second half stalled, Mineral Point blocked Neuroth’s punt attempt. The Pointers scored moments later and a two-point conversion trimmed the Golden Eagles’ lead to 21-14.

It appeared Fennimore would add to its lead in the fourth quarter but the Golden Eagles fumbled the ball into the end zone for a touchback. When the Pointers fumbled the ball away on their ensuing possession, the Golden Eagles fumbled the ball again.

A facemask penalty on fourth down kept the Pointers’ drive alive and Mineral Point scored with 18 seconds remaining in the game. The Pointers attempted a two-point conversion but the Golden Eagles’ defense would not be denied.
Mineral Point recovered an onside kick moments later, but their Hail Mary as time expired came up short.

“I think coach [Dan] Bredeson and coach [Jonah] Roth did a great job getting our defense ready for this week,” Tollefson said. “We play a five-man front against a spread team like Mineral Point is a lot times, running the spread option, but we did a great job of doing what we practiced to do.

“We don’t try to throw a lot of curve balls, we just try to do the basics. Our defense did a great job. Unfortunately, offensively in the second half we put our defense in a few bad spots but we are able to overcome that.”

Mineral Point defeated Fennimore in the final game of the 2013 and 2014 regular seasons, dashing the Golden Eagles’ Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association postseason hopes in the process.

“All these guys have had that experience. Mineral Point seems to be the big game for us every year. It seems to be that tilt game whether you hopefully get in the playoffs or not,” Tollefson said. “We haven’t guaranteed ourselves anything this year, that is only game one. We are 1-0 in the conference and we took an important step but again, we haven’t earned a single extra game yet.

“It is definitely a big step in the right direction and for the seniors, as freshman and sophomores when Mineral Point being the last game of the season, dictating whether or not you get in the playoffs,  and then last year, being a game where we had a lot of adversity and weren’t able to come out on the right side, it was a big relief for them afterward.”

O’Brien is hopeful the win is a sign of things to come for Fennimore.

“Beating Mineral Point definitely felt good,” he said. “They are one of the better teams in the conference and for us to walk away with the win hopefully goes to show that we are going to accomplish great things this season. Now we need to keep up the hard work and hopefully our success continues.”

Tollefson shares O’Brien’s optimism.

“The exciting thing for me is we are doing a lot of great things, but we have so much room for improvement and we can be so much better than we have been,” he said. “And that is the really exciting thing for me. Each week these kids show up in practice and they just want to work. They just want to work and get better, and that will take us to unbelievable heights if that continues.”

Tollefson credited his young men in the trenches for being the unsung heroes of the game.

“I thought our entire defensive front, Kaleb Cauffman and Jake Zintz at defensive end, and then our defensive tackles, Cody McCollough and Deven O’Brien and Barron Carns at nose tackle – I thought that defensive front played a phenomenal game,” he said. “We have changed our defense as the year has went on from a 4-4 to really a 5-2 or 5-3 look, and the kids have got better and better every week. That has allowed linebackers like Justin Tollefson, Tavian Kashcub and Derek Kephart to make plays.

“When those five guys in the front can occupy all of the offensive linemen and the running backs, we are going to make plays. Our defense gave up a couple of little things in the game but overall, defense won the game for us.”

Williams completed 11-of-20 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns. Neuroth caught seven passes for 158 yards and a touchdown and sophomore Zach Davis ran the ball 11 times for 30 yards.

Justin Tollefson led the Golden Eagles with 16 tackles, including 10 solo and three for a loss. Kaschub had 12 tackles and Kephart had eight. McCollough had three tackles for a loss and a sack, and Cauffman and Carns added sacks as well.

“It was an unbelievable game. Putting it in perspective, looking at the film, we put ourselves in a lot of those situations in the second half. Give Mineral Point all the credit for playing hard and not quitting, but we did a lot to put ourselves in those situations,” coach Tollefson said. “To be able to have the kids say, ‘Hey, we are going to win this game,’ and when Mineral Point was going for two to just have the mindset, ‘Hey, we are going to stop them’ and finish the game.

“And then for us to give up the onside kick and say, ‘OK, we still got this. We are still going to stop them and finish it.’ It is tough for a young team. It is a great thing to see. It is exciting. The great thing as a coach is saying, we made these mistakes and we have so much more room for improvement and can be so much better than we were yet. It lends itself to that ‘sky’s the limit’ mantra.”

Fennimore (2-1, 1-0) will travel to Cuba City for the Golden Eagles first road test of the 2016 season on Friday night. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.