WATERTOWN — Ten weeks ago, the notion of the 1–3 Platteville Hillmen getting to the state Division 4 football championship seemed, to put it mildly, unlikely.
Four weeks ago, the notion of winning more than one playoff game ran contrary to history, given that the Hillmen had not won more than one playoff game per season since 2006, had not gotten as far as Level 3 since 1995, and were looking at no more than one home playoff game.
But after Derek Schambow’s end-zone interception with 21.7 seconds remaining, the impossible became reality Friday night. The 22–15 win over Manitowoc Roncalli cemented Platteville’s first state championship game appearance since 1983. Platteville (9–4) will play Division 4’s other Cinderella, Winneconne (8–5), at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison Thursday at 7 p.m.
“This team continues to show tremendous focus and resiliency,” said coach Scott Statz, who will be coaching in his first state championship game Thursday. “We had several injuries throughout the game and many kids stepped up including Jacob Bernhardt, Jerrad Heer, and Brenden Cullen. It was an excellent overall team victory.”
More from the Department of the Unlikely: Without running back William Cooley for most of the second half, the Hillmen gained only 75 yards on the ground. The Hillmen were outgained by Roncalli’s multiple-formation offense — which showed everything from two-tight-end two-wingback looks to the pistol spread — 316–231, and Roncalli had 15 first downs to Platteville’s seven.
But quarterback Logan Butson was 10 of 18 for 156 yards and two touchdowns, both to Schambow. The Hillmen defense also got two interceptions and held Roncalli on fourth down twice.
“It is amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit, and this is how these kids operate,” said Statz. “They could [not] care less who scores, who gets what honor, etc. ... They have one goal, and we can attain that Thursday night.
“The defense was huge all night, again. This has allowed us to advance each week — each guy doing their job, not flinching, and finishing plays.”
Schambow’s first touchdown catch, of 22 yards, ended Platteville’s first scoring drive, of 10 plays and 56 yards, with 7:01 left in the first quarter. Butson found tight end Mitch Knockel for an eight-yard gain on third-and-7, and Schambow’s touchdown, which he caught over defensive back Alec Salutz, came on fourth-and-7.
Roncalli responded with an eight-play 65-yard scoring drive, ending in John Paul Ruether’s 33-yard touchdown run with 3 minutes left in the first quarter, tying the game. Roncalli’s second drive got as far as the Platteville 29-yard line before a pair of incompletions ended the drive on downs.
The Hillmen took a 14–7 lead on Cooley’s 11-yard touchdown run, during which he broke at least three tackles, with 36.8 seconds left in the first half. The nine-play 68-yard drive included two third-down completions from Butson to, in order, Schambow and Ryan Weber, plus an eight-yard Cooley run on third-and-four.
Roncalli’s first drive of the second half looked fated for the end zone until Jake Bernhardt intercepted a Jared Patek pass at the Platteville 1. One series later, the Jets took the lead on a one-yard Joey MacDonald run to end a nine-play 58-yard drive, highlighted by a 21-yard completion from left-handed quarterback Brett Bahrs to Ruether on third-and-19. Patek then completed a two-point conversion pass to Nick Stelzer to give Roncalli a 15–14 lead with 6:11 left in the third quarter.
That lead stood until Platteville’s eight-play 70-yard scoring drive, which featured Butson completions of 15 yards to Bernhardt on third-and-7, and a 30-yard completion to Knockel. On third and five, Butson threw to Schambow, who outdueled two defenders for the go-ahead touchdown with 7:12 left. Butson then threw a two-point conversion pass to Schambow to extend the lead to 22–15.
The following Roncalli drive included a 26-yard running back-to-quarterback pass from MacDonald to Patek, but thanks to a quarterback sack, ended on two incompletions. Platteville ran the clock down to 2:06, and then punted on fourth-and-3.
From the Roncalli 26, Patek threw 33 yards to Salutz, then Bahrs threw a 28-yard completion to Ruether to get to the Platteville 16. Bahrs then threw 12 yards to Salutz to get to the Platteville 4. After a spike, Bahrs threw to the end zone, where MacDonald, Salutz, Schambow, Jason Withrow and Bernhardt converged. Schambow ended up with the football.
“Derek Schambow was clutch on both sides of the ball,” said Statz. “Logan Butson continues to make great decisions as a leader on offense.”
Cooley’s injury limited him to 40 yards on 16 carries. Schambow had 70 yards on four catches, two of them for touchdowns.
The game was Platteville’s first state semifinal appearance since their 1995 Level 3 loss to New Berlin Eisenhower. The win was Platteville’s first state semifinal win since 1983, when a 42–30 win over De Forest at UW–Platteville propelled those Hillmen to their first state Division 4 title, 16–6 over Mosinee.
“Our goal Thursday night is to play our best game of the season — after that, we will see what the scoreboard says,” said Statz. “This is a special group of kids and we love them all. Even when we were down 15–14 in the fourth … there was a calm and a focus that was priceless.”
Winneconne got to state over an even more unlikely path. The Wolves started their season 0–3 and were 2–5, needing two wins to get into the playoffs. After finishing fifth in the Eastern Valley Conference, the sixth-seeded Wolves then beat third-seed River Valley, second-seed Wautoma, number one seed Nekoosa, and defending Division 4 champion Somerset 16–14 Friday to win their first state semifinal appearance since 1987 and qualify for their first state trip.
WIAA Division 4, Level 4 playoff game
Platteville 22, Manitowoc Roncalli 15
(from Friday, Nov. 15 @ Watertown)
Platteville 7 7 0 8 — 22
Roncalli 7 0 8 0 — 15
P: Derek Schambow 22 pass from Logan Butson (James Bailie kick)
MR: Ruether 33 run (Jacquart kick)
P: William Cooley 14 run (Bailie kick)
MR: Macdonald 1 run (Stelzer pass from Patek)
P: Schambow 20 pass from Butson (Schambow pass from Butson)
First downs — P 7, MR 15. Rushing — P 31-65, MR 34-113. Passing Yards — P156, MR 203. Passing — P 10-18-0, MR 14-30-2. Fumbles–lost — P 0-0, MR 0-0. Penalties-yards — P 6-61, MR 4-30.
Rushing — P: William Cooley 19-45; MR: Ruehter 17-59. Passing — P: Logan Butson 10-18-0, 156; MR: Patek 9-18-1, 107. Receiving — P: Derek Schambow 4-70; MR: Salutz 4-79.