PLATTEVILLE — A week after dominating unbeaten Lancaster to win a share of the Southwest Wisconsin Conference title, Platteville added another instant classic to its 2016 highlight reel.
Senior Alex Traxler caught a game-tying 15-yard touchdown pass from junior Ethan Bernhardt with 13 seconds left and junior Zach White booted the game-winning extra point to lift second-seeded Platteville to a wild 21–20 victory over seventh-seeded East Troy in the opening round of the WIAA Division 4 playoffs.
Just moments earlier, it looked like a 7–2 conference championship season was about to be wiped away with a first-round playoff loss.
Platteville had just been stopped on downs at the East Troy 13-yard line with just over three minutes remaining and it appeared the Trojans would be able to run out the clock after getting one first down.
East Troy (5–5) gained a first down with an 11-yard run to the 26-yard-line. After the Trojans took a four-yard loss on first down, Platteville called its final time out to stop the clock with 1:05 left to play.
Had East Troy elected to kneel the ball on three straight plays and punt, Platteville would have been left with roughly 10 seconds and 60-plus yards to go. Instead, the Trojans inexplicably elected to run the ball on second and third down and were forced out of bounds to stop the clock, on back-to-back plays!
East Troy was forced to punt and the Hillmen had one last chance with just under a minute remaining.
Bernhardt completed a 20-yard pass to Traxler to move to the East Troy 37. Bernhardt then completed an eight-yard pass to junior Donovan Blevins, but Belvins was tackled in play.
With the clock ticking under 30 seconds left, Platteville caught East Troy off guard with a Luke Fugate run. Fugate burst through the line for a 14-yard gain, but more importantly worked his way toward the sideline and got out of bounds to stop the clock.
On the very next play, Bernhardt hit Traxler short of the end zone, but the senior standout eluded one tackle and dove into the corner of the end zone for the game-tying score.
Then, White converted the pressure-packed 20-yard extra point (unlike NFL kickers Chandler Cantanzaro and Steven Hauschka, who both missed chip shot field goals in Sunday night’s 6–6 tie between Arizona and Seattle) to give Platteville the lead.
East Troy threw four incompletions on its final drive before Platteville raced on to the field in jubilant celebration.
“In talking with some of the seniors after the game, they made the comment that it seemed more unrealistic to put the pads away this week than it would be to come back so late in the game,” said Platteville head coach Kyle Craig. “Our leaders exemplified that thought. The team rallied around that through showed the courage to fight the entire 48 minutes. They did not flinch at what most looked at as the dagger in our coffin. These boys have a resilience and faith in this team that is second to none. I was very impressed with mental toughness and poise of every member of the team.”
Platteville an early 7–0 lead on Bernhardt’s 34-yard touchdown pass to junior fullback Cam Brant with three minutes left in the opening quarter.
East Troy pulled within a point on fullback Owen Goedland’s 13-yard run early in the second quarter, but the Trojans extra point attempt sailed wide left.
The Trojans a 12–6 lead midway through the third quarter on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Jake Dessart to Nick Pallanich. Two plays after an interception, Goedland scored on a 35-yard run then added the two-point conversion to make it 20–6 with 3:27 left in the third quarter.
Platteville made it a one-score game when Bernhardt hooked up with Traxler for a 22-yard touchdown pass on a 4th-and-7 play on the first play of the fourth quarter.
“As much recognition that Alex and Luke and Ethan have received, and deservedly so, there are a lot of unsung heros of the season and this game,” said Craig. “Guys like Brad Budden, who started the year at tailback, moved to fullback early on, and unselfishly went to the offensive line the last two weeks. He also forced their running back to bounce the ball outside and allowed Alex to usher him out of bounds on the possession prior to the game winning touchdown.
“Or Jake Niehaus and Austin Wein, who compete with each other throughout the week for one spot on our defense, but do nothing but support each other during the game and want the other to succeed. The victory, while Alex and Ethan are going to get a lot of credit because of the final play (and Zach for making the extra point), it was a total team effort.”
Bernhardt completed 10 of 23 passes for 176 yard and three touchdowns. Fugate rushed for 90 yards on 27 carries. Traxler caught five passes for 108 yards and two TDs.
“Alex has been a beast all year,” said Craig. “In my opinion, he’s the best defensive player in the SWC and has had a tremendous year on offense. He is a competitor; he isn’t going to be out-battled in any single play of any athletic contest. That type of attitude and effort is contagious and you can see his impact, as well as all of the leaders’ impact, on the younger players.”
Platteville advances to face third-seeded Lake Mills (7–3) this Friday at 7 p.m. at UW–Platteville’s Ralph E. Davis Pioneer Stadium.
The L-Cats hammered Mauston 42–13 in Friday’s opening round. Junior quarterback Ben Dunkleberger competed 10 of 25 passes for 208 yards and five TDs, and rushed for 114 yards and a sixth score.
Dunkleberger has passed for 2,689 yards and 31 touchdowns in 10 games this year, while leading the team with 565 yards rushing and 13 TDs.
“Lake Mills is a very good team,” said Craig. “They have the single best athlete we will have faced all year in their quarterback and they are a no-huddle spread team. They are very explosive on offense and have a stout defense.”
WIAA Division 4 Level I playoff
Platteville 21, East Troy 20
(from Friday, Oct. 21 @ Platteville)
East Troy 0 6 14 6 — 20
Platteville 7 0 0 14 — 21
P: Cam Brant 34 pass from Ethan Bernhardt (Zach White kick)
ET: Owen Goedland 13 run (kick failed)
ET: Nick Pallanich 26 pass from Jake Dessart (pass failed)
ET: Goedland 35 run (Goedland run)
P: Alex Traxler 22 pass from Bernhardt (White kick)
P: Traxler 15 pass from Bernhardt (White kick)
First downs — ET 16, P 12. Rushing — ET 49-210, P: 39-129. Passing Yards — ET 163, P 136. Passing — ET 9-25-1, P 7-20-2. Fumbles–lost — ET 0-0, P 2-2. Penalties-yards — ET 7-65, P 6-35.
Rushing — ET: Owen Goedland 35-185; P: Luke Fugate 27-90. Passing — ET: Jake Dessart 9-25-1, 163; P: Ethan Bernhardt 10-23-1, 176. Receiving — ET: Nick Pallanich 4-81; P: Alex Traxler 5-108.