NEW BERLIN — Late in the third quarter, the New Berlin Eisenhower football team had a kickoff roll out of bounds.
An assistant coach was insistent that the ball was touched, but officials threw a flag and the ball was moved to the 35-yard line. An Eisenhower defensive lineman looked at the coach and said, “We’ll hold them. It’s all good.”
The way the Lions’ defense had been playing, there was little reason to doubt the prophetic player. The defense held firm yet again — much like it did throughout the Lions’ 31-6 victory over Greendale in a WIAA Division 3 state quarterfinal Friday.
“I know turnovers is something that’s been a calling card for our defense all year, and being able to get on top early in a game like this is important,” Eisenhower coach Matt Kern said. “Our defense plays well when we’re ahead.”
That defensive prowess began on Greendale’s first possession — which ended with senior Jimmy Arcuri picking off a pass.
Greendale’s next drive? An interception from senior Jake Schara.
Greendale’s next drive? An interception from junior Ben Buechel.
“It’s a big part of our defense. We thrive on turnovers,” Schara said. “It really turns the game around for us.”
By that point, Eisenhower held a 21-0 lead thanks to two touchdown runs by senior Jack Himmelspach and another by sophomore quarterback Gabe Seifert.
“Our offense really has been coming on strong the whole last half of the season,” Kern said. “Early on offensively, we had some challenges to work through and a tough schedule.
“The last few weeks, our offense has really built their own identity independent of the defense.”
The defense was making big plays, and the offense was, too. That combination spelled trouble for Greendale, which managed just 59 first-half yards.
“We’re all kind of firing each other up,” Arcuri said. “The excitement just keeps building and building.
“It never really dies down.”
Greendale went three-and-out on its first two second-half possessions before scoring its only touchdown to cut Eisenhower’s lead to 24-6.
“We have a really good defense, and it’s not only just the guys on the field but the backups, too,” Arcuri said. “We have a lot of good players at a lot of good positions, and we’ve been using them all year.”
The Lions answered right back with a touchdown run from junior Jack Osielski for a 31-6 lead in the final two minutes. And in a fitting end, Schara picked off Greendale’s final pass as the clock expired.
“I’m always chasing (junior) Max Lewis for the most picks on the team,” Schara said. “Max still has me by one, but I’m coming for him.”
The Lions will play Catholic Memorial in a state semifinal Friday at Kettle Moraine — the winner advancing to the state title game. It’s a familiar place for the Lions, who lost Rice Lake in last year’s title game.
“I think our focus has been on the opponent coming up, but the experience of last year has played a role in this year,” Kern said. “There’s no newness, and the guys know what it takes and know the challenges involved.
“The experience of last year has helped with that part.”
While that hasn’t been at the forefront of the Lions’ minds, a trip to Camp Randall certainly been the ultimate goal.
“In our postseason interviews last year, every single goal was to go back to state and win it,” Schara said.