LANCASTER — With a share of the Southwest Wisconsin Conference title hanging in the balance on the final night of the regulars season, Platteville played perhaps its best 48 minutes of football this entire season.
Coach Kyle Craig’s Hillmen dominated every facet of the game, hammering previously unbeaten and third-ranked Lancaster 35–6.
Platteville’s dominating performance forced a three-way tie for the SWC crown between the Hillmen (7–2, 4–1 SWC), Flying Arrows (8–1, 4–1) and River Valley (6–2, 4–1).
“I’m so proud of every individual on this team,” said coach Craig. “They have embraced the day-to-day grind that it takes to improve throughout the year and focused on what it takes to win some very tough games. It’s a true credit to their preparation, effort, and the leadership that exists. This group wanted to cement a place in Hillmen Football history and they did just that. We had to shuffle some pieces this week and asked some guys to do some things that they never had to before. But there was no hesitation from any of the players and the coaching staff did a tremendous job of getting them up to speed in one week’s time.”
Platteville was far from 100 percent, playing without three starters, senior offensive tackle Chandler Miesen (ankle), senior guard/defensive tackle Will Simmons (leg) and freshman defensive end Will Schaefer (concussion), but it didn’t show.
Platteville got off to a great start and never looked back.
Junior Caleb Lueder forced a Lancaster fumble on the fourth play of the game and senior Luke Fugate recovered at the Lancaster 23-yard-line. Lueder recovered a pair of fumbles in the second half.
Three plays later junior Ethan Bernhardt tossed a 10-yard touchdown pass to junior fullback Cam Brant and Zach White added the extra point to give Platteville an early 7–0 lead just over two minutes into the game.
The Platteville defense, which was geared up to stop SWC-leading rusher Evan Gates all night, forced a quick three-and-out. Lancaster shanked a 17-yard punt into the wind and the Hillmen took over at the Arrows’ 33.
With the wind at their back Platteville offensive coordinator Scott Statz and the Hillmen went to the air early and often.
Senior Alex Traxler made a leaping one-handed 24-yard catch on the next play and on second-and-goal Fugate went around the left end for an 8-yard touchdown run and a 14–0 lead.
Platteville’s defense again held on three play and forced a Lancaster punt.
Bernhardt connected on a 31-yard pass to senior Jordan Wages and later hit Traxler for an 11-yard gain down to the down to the 3.
Fugate bulled through the line two plays later to make it 21–0 with 1:04 left in the first quarter.
“We expected to win,” said Craig. “We haven’t gone into a game yet this year not believing we could win. The fumble recovery on their first possession and resulting touchdown allowed our confidence to grow. It’s not too difficult to get the kids focused and ready to go with as much on the line against a big rival, but playing from ahead early can become very settling. I was very impressed with the work of our offensive unit lead by Coach Statz and Coach Schambow.”
The Lancaster offense finally found some footing on the ensuing drive feeding their star fullback. Gates, who entered the game with 1,458 yards rushing and 22 TDs, carried eight straight times for 71 yards as Lancaster moved to the Hillmen 15-yard-line. But Platteville held after a fumbled snap and an incomplete pass on fourth down.
On the very next play, Fugate took a pitch around the right end and raced 82 yards. White tacked on the PAT to make it 28–0.
With a four-touchdown lead, Platteville was content to run the ball and rely on its defense in the second half.
Lueder recovered a pair of Lancaster fumbles in the third quarter to end a pair of drives near midfield. The Arrows fumbled six times in the game, losing four.
Lueder’s second fumble recovery set up Platteville’s final touchdown — a five-yard Bernhardt to Brant TD pass — with 10:40 left in the game and turned on the running clock.
Braden Nies recovered another Lancaster fumble on the ensuing drive and the Hillmen marched to the 1-yard line before losing a fumble themselves.
Junior quarterback Evan Straka broke loose for a 61-yard TD run with two minutes left in the game to break up the shutout.
“Our defense Friday was the same recipe that we’ve had all year,” said Craig. “Do your job, trust each other, attack your key, and finish the play. We knew if we were able to do those things our offense would have the ball in a favorable position.”
The Hillmen earned the second seed in their eight-team region of the WIAA Division 4 playoffs and will host East Troy (5–4) Friday at 7 p.m. With a win Platteville would advance to face either three-seed Lake Mills (6–3) or six-seed Mauston (6–3).
River Valley is the top seed in the region.
“Football is a different beast come postseason time,” said Carig. “You have to earn your way in, so there are no bad teams in the playoffs. East Troy plays in a very good conference. They are big and physical. We will have to play well on the line of scrimmage and protect the football if we want to advance.”
Platteville 35, Lancaster 6
(from Friday, Oct. 14 @ Lancaster)
Platteville 21 7 0 7 — 35
Lancaster 0 0 0 6 — 6
P: Cam Brant 10 pass from Ethan Bernhardt (Zach White kick)
P: Luke Fugate 8 run (White kick)
P: Fugate 3 run (White kick)
P: Fugate 82 run (White kick)
P: Brant 5 pass from Bernhardt (White kick)
L: Evan Straka 61 run (kick blocked)
First downs — P 11, L 10. Rushing — P 33-152, L: 38-222. Passing Yards — P 126, L 16. Passing — P 11-13-0, L 2-4-0. Fumbles–lost — P 1-1, L 6-4. Penalties-yards — P 3-22, L 3-41.
Rushing — P: Luke Fugate 20-137; L: Evan Gates 19-149, Evan Straka 18-75. Passing — P: Ethan Bernhardt 11-13-0, 126; L: Evan Straka 4-8-0, 16. Receiving — P: Cam Brant 4-28, Alex Traxler 3-49; L: Tanner Reuter 4-16.