"You won't see a game like that one again."
The public address announcer at Mukwonago High School had it right in the immediate aftermath of Thursday's epic showdown between Waukesha West and the host school. West's Thomas MacCudden delivered the winning two-point conversion on a winner-take-all play in overtime, lifting the Wolverines to a 45-44 thriller that left Mukwonago stunned.
One play earlier, MHS had compelled an incomplete pass on the conversion, but a penalty for defensive holding gave West one more crack. Mukwonago traveled the length of the field with 1 minute to play in regulation to tie the game, then scored first in the extra session in a playoff atmosphere.
"The character of Mukwonago's team coming back down two scores … We played against a great football team there," West coach Steve Rux said. "Our guys are completely spent right now. This is what high school football is all about. At any point in that game, it could have gone the other way. We had great football, great players and great coaching on both sides of the ball."
The roller coaster of emotions really hit high gear with 10:58 to play in the game, when West's Alex Andraski picked off Mukwonago quarterback Aaron Nixon and returned it 58 yards for a score that put West ahead, 31-17.
Mukwonago answered with its own big play, with Nixon dumping a short pass to multi-talented threat Dominic Cizauskas, who went 65 yards for a score. Cizauskas blocked a punt on West's next possession, setting the Indians up on West's 19-yard line. After Cizauskas converted on a 4th and 1 at the 10, Nixon scored with 1:59 to go, pulling MHS within 31-30.
But the extra point attempt was a low kick and blocked, putting West in superb position, especially after the Wolverines converted a 3rd and 1 to take a first down at their own 40. Elijah Fort, who sparkled with 157 yards and three touchdowns, went 60 yards to paydirt on the next play – but that wasn't necessarily a good thing.
"We were in a situation where if we get one more first down, it's over," Rux said. "They still had one timeout left so we wanted to run something outside and stay inbounds. It would have been beneficial if he hadn't scored. What are you going to do? Tell a kid not to score? If we're ever in that situation again, I'll say, 'break through the line, (think) ball security as much as you can and go down.'"
"I wasn't thinking about it at the time," Fort said with a smile. "The adrenaline was flowing. But when I got off to the sideline, I'm like, 'They let that go,' I should have gone down."
When West missed its first extra point of the night, Mukwonago had 59 seconds to travel the length of the field, facing just a 37-30 deficit.
Nixon took the first snap from the Mukwonago 35 and bobbed and weaved his way for 42 yards down to the 23. Two plays later, with 14 seconds on the clock, Nixon found Ryan Wagner wide open in the end zone for an 18-yard strike that pulled Mukwonago back within a point. MHS initially lined up for a 2-point conversion that would have decided the outcome of the game but abandoned that plan following a false start.
"People were starting to hang their heads and we know we have to keep our heads up and keep fighting," Fort said. "They scored and we had to come right back at them. It was incredible, the best game I've ever played. Mukwonago is a great team. We played great, they played great. I'm just happy we came out on top."
It marked the second time in as many years that the two teams faced off in a game that went overtime. Last year, West won by a 28-25 count after Mukwonago had taken a 22-7 lead. This year, it was Mukwonago's turn to rally late.
Colton Williams scored from 13 yards away — part of a sensational night that featured 147 yards on five carries — in the first overtime to give Mukwonago the edge. On MacCudden's first-down carry, a personal-foul facemask penalty put West at 1st and goal on the 7, and two plays later, Fort scored. West wasn't going to play for a second overtime.
"There wasn't any doubt in my mind," Rux said. "There weren't any questions on the sideline. The defensive coordinator came out there and said, 'Go for two?' and I said, 'Absolutely.'"
Following the holding penalty that gave the Wolverines a second chance, Rux turned to MacCudden.
"We thought we could get a yard and a half with that play; when you're at 2 ½ it's questionable," Rux said. "Last year, we played them into overtime over at West and used that same play that we scored on."
Said MacCudden, "I just drove my feet, I've got a great running backs coach and great coaches. … One thing with our team is we never let it go. Our team motto is, 'Together we stand, divided we fall.' That was running through our head all game, and we came out victorious."
The reaction – West storming the field and Mukwonago's deep dejection – closely resembled the aftermath of a playoff outcome, with television cameras observing on a Thursday night.
"We probably all put too much pressure on them to do certain things, but all they really should do is battle to the best of their ability, and that's what every kid on this field did," Mukwonago coach Clay Iverson said. "While it hurts right now, I can't remember the last time I'm as proud of a group as I am right now."
West catches fire
West came out of the chute firing in the second half, scoring on the third play from scrimmage when Chase Scharnek leaked behind the defense, and sophomore quarterback Conor Blount found him for a 77-yard touchdown connection, giving the Wolverines their first lead of the game at 17-10. Just before halftime, West had driven 66 yards in 50 seconds, with Blount converting three pass completions, to set up a Ben Milzer field goal that tied the game at halftime.
"He's a very talented young man and he's just going to keep getting better," Rux said of Blount. "He does some great things and he's learning every day. Coach (Jeff) Trickey does a great job with him."
West kept its foot on the gas pedal, forcing a 3-and-out and taking advantage of a sloppy Mukwonago snap on the punt to take over at the Indians 10-yard line. Two plays later, the Wolverines had a third straight scoring drive lasting one minute or less and 24 unanswered points.
Mukwonago got back into the game on a drive that featured a number of runs from bruising Cizauskas, including one for the last two yards to make it 24-17.
Mukwonago crossed into West territory to the 45 still trailing by one score on the ensuing drive, but Andraski jumped a route and was gone. At that point, it seemed like the game might be over. It wasn't.
"We competed like crazy," Iverson said. "We made too many mistakes, but they're fixable mistakes. We made no effort mistakes, and I can go to bed with that."
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