Memorial headed back to Camp Randall
Crusaders crush Vikings in Level 4 of football playoffs
This is just what Catholic Memorial does.
Every year, the Crusaders hit the Division 3 football postseason as one of the least desired matchups, a squad battle-tested in the Classic 8 Conference against much larger schools. Every year, Catholic Memorial shows it doesn't need an unblemished record to play with the very best teams in the state. All that's left is for CMH to go one step further.
CMH had already left two previously unbeaten opponents in its wake - Pewaukee and Wisconsin Lutheran - during the WIAA playoffs. Saturday's foe in a Level 4 contest, Mt. Horeb-Barneveld, incurred its lone loss by a tight 13-10 score against three-time defending state champion Waunakee. But on the field turf at Kettle Moraine on a windy afternoon, CMH looked like the powerhouse, rolling to its second state championship game in three seasons with a 35-7 victory.
It was Memorial's third trip to Level 4 in four years and third time playing at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison for the WIAA crown, but the Crusaders are still looking for their first WIAA gold ball.
"We were a little down about ourselves at the beginning of the season when we went 2-2," said quarterback Pat White, whose 31-yard touchdown run shortly before halftime could be considered one of the turning points and whose 35-yard strike to a diving Andre Bodden in the fourth could be considered the dagger. "But we fought back, and now we're just keeping on rolling."
Memorial reached the state championship game in 2001 (Division 2) but fell to Ashwaubenon, 27-7. Two years ago, the Crusaders fell to West De Pere, 35-0. The Phantoms were looking for a third consecutive Division 3 state title this year but fell in a thrilling 16-14 semifinal to Waupaca (12-0), the program CMH will meet this time around.
"I think we're very much the same (as the 2010 team)," said junior Alec Kocour, who was a freshman on the last team to play for the title. "We run the ball, and the passing game has come a long way. Hopefully we get it done during state this year."
Kocour made one of the game's signature plays. With his team ahead, 21-7, and just more than seven minutes to play in the third quarter, Mt. Horeb/Barneveldquarterback Kale Pustina threw a ball that hit Kocour squarely in the chest at the MHB 40-yard line. He darted his way through traffic to the end zone, at one point cutting inside with three defenders descending near the goal line.
"I was headed toward the pylon and saw a cutback, and I hit it," Kocour said. "I didn't think I'd make it."
Matt Degner, the lone senior on an offensive line that has paid huge dividends for the Crusaders all season, saw the moment as a turning point.
"I feel like the game turned when Alec Kocour went beast mode and took an interception to the house," Degner said. "It was a crazy play, huge for us."
It was clear where the game was headed thereafter. The only other points of the half came when White launched a pass toward Bodden, who made a full extension grab with his back to the field of play. Each of the 13 other plays on that drive, which consumed a full 7:17 off the clock, had been of the running variety, and the wind-aided heave came as a surprise.
"I saw him going and I was just hoping to God I'd get it there on time, hopefully the wind wouldn't push it out," White said. "He did a great job laying out back there making sure to hold that thing. You definitely have to play the wind. If you throw it too far, it's going to go out of bounds.
"We couldn't pass as much as we would like to," he added. "When we did get the wind (at our back), it was nice being able to open up the playbook a little more."
White also made a huge difference with his feet. Mt. Horeb-Barneveld pulled to within 14-7 with 2:03 to go in the first half, but White was able to engineer a 4-play, 80-yard drive that needed just 1:11, with White navigating the final 31 yards.
The Crusaders also struck first on the first of two touchdowns from Matt Hubley, who finished with 120 yards on 22 carries. His three-yard score off right tackle on fourth down made it 7-0, and Memorial was in business again when a bad punt put the ball at the Vikings' 18-yard line. A fumble at the 4-yard line appeared to kill a glorious opportunity, but Bodden stripped a Vikings rusher shortly thereafter, giving the Crusaders the ball back at the MHB 30 when Hubley recovered.
Hubley capped the ensuing drive with a 1-yard run to give his team a 14-0 lead.
"It's nice to hav ea great line in front of us to run behind and a guy like Hubley to run the ball," White said.
Degner's cohorts on the line include sophomore Tony Balistreri, sophomore Austin Ziolecki, junior Noah Krause, and junior Jake Drwila.
"We're a pretty large line, but at the beginning of the year, we struggled a little bit and had a hard time meshing," Degner said. "We're a young team, but we started coming together. I'm not the only one leading; Jake Drwila has been a horse for us. I'm doing my best teaching them what I have, and coach Jake Reynolds and Jim Richert have really played a huge part.
"I was expecting a closer game, but I'll take what I can get," he added.
Waupaca needed a field goal as time expired to snap West De Pere's 39-game winning streak. The Eastern Valley Conference champion Comets are led by Sam Menzies (1,106 yards rushing) and Beau Ash (1,028).
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