WAUKESHA — Something has to give Friday night.
On one side, you have undefeated New Berlin Eisenhower. On the other side you have once-beaten Catholic Memorial. Both have big résumés.
Eisenhower (12-0) has answered every call this season. Coached by Matt Kern in his fifth season at NBE, the Lions have been dominant since the start of the year. In three playoff games, Eisenhower has outscored Cudahy, Grafton and Greendale by a lopsided 104-13 margin.
The Lions have been strong on both sides of the ball. On offense, they’re averaging 37.1 points per game and have allowed seven points or less in nine of their 12 games. That defense has pitched three shutouts.
And then we have Memorial. Coached by National Hall-of-Famer Bill Young, in his 41st season at CMH, the Crusaders (11-1) enjoyed another big season in the highly competitive Classic 8 Conference. Memorial finished second with a 7-1 mark, losing only to undefeated Muskego by a 28-27 score. A last second two-point conversion came up 1 yard short in Memorial’s upset bid. In three playoff games so far, CMH has defeated Jefferson, East Troy and Mount Horeb/Barneveld by a commanding 124-21 margin.
In conference play the Crusaders defeated four schools that made the WIAA playoffs. After 12 games, the offense has been solid, putting up 34.8 points per game.
Two of the most successful programs in Waukesha County bumping heads in a WIAA Division 3 state semifinal game Friday night at 7 p.m. at Kettle Moraine High School. The stakes are high. The winner goes to the state championship game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison on Nov. 16. The loser comes up one win short of obtaining that lofty goal.
Ironically, one year ago, the same two powerhouses met in a D3 third-round playoff game and the Lions nipped Memorial, 7-0. The lone score came in the third quarter. The game was dominated by both defenses. The Lions finished with 232 total yards and Memorial had just 144 total yards. Eisenhower went on to make the finals, falling in the championship game to Rice Lake, 25-3.
“It’s really going to be a big challenge for our kids and coaching staff this week against Eisenhower,” Young said. “Coach Kern has done a great job over there, leading them to a 25-1 record the last two years. They have a great running back in Jack Himmelspach and a great defender in Mark Shields. They can score points and play tough defense. Those things will win you a lot of games.”
Kern has led the Lions to a 44-11 mark in his five years. But in the last four seasons Eisenhower is 40-6. Memorial also has put up some big numbers. In the last seven seasons, CMH is 75-14 overall.
“We’re happy how we’ve played this season and we’re excited about being back in the semifinals for the second straight year,” Kern said. “The guys have worked hard and our goal all season was to win the conference title and then keep going in the playoffs as long as we can. We have a lot of respect for Coach Young and his team. They play in one of the best conferences in the state and against bigger schools every week and they lost only once. We had a great game with them last year and are expecting the same thing this week.”
Friday’s playoff battle will mark the fourth time the two schools have met in the WIAA playoffs. In 2008, CMH stopped the Lions by a 17-7 score in a first round game and in 2009 Memorial won by a 24-0 score in a Level 2 game.
Eisenhower senior Davy Counsell, a 6-foot-3, 238-pound offensive tackle and defensive end, is looking forward to playing another playoff game against Memorial.
“We’re all excited about Friday’s game,” Counsell said. “We obviously know about Memorial. They’re one of the most storied D3 programs in the state. It seems like they’re in contention every year to go to state. Last year we were able to overcome that mental barrier about playing them and we were able to beat them. By winning that game we now know that we can do it. We proved last year that we can play with those guys. But still, this is a new challenge this year.”
On offense for NBE, a big chunk of the game plans runs through Himmelspach. He’s rushed for 1,213 yards averages 6.6 yards per carry and has scored 26 touchdowns. Other rushing threats are Eli Hoelke, Jake Osielski and quarterback Gabe Seifert. The Lions have scored 42 rushing touchdowns.
Seifert also has completed 69 of 122 passes with 12 touchdown passes, while having just two interceptions. The top receiver is Hoelke, who has caught five TD passes.
Defensively, the Lions have great balance. Leading the way for Eisenhower is the group of Shields, Nate Clark, Colton Filipowicz and Counsell.
“The key for us all season is that we had a lot of kids step up and fill starting spots that were left open because of graduation,” Kern said. “These kids weren’t totally new. They had been very successful on the varsity reserve team and at the junior varsity level and we knew they could play. A lot of guys have made big strides forward since the season began. We’re excited about playing Friday night in a Level 4 playoff game.”
While Eisenhower has had a lot of success on the ground, Memorial’s offense has outstanding balance. The Crusaders have scored 30 rushing touchdowns and 26 passing touchdowns.
On the ground, the trio of senior Tate Kopulos, junior Tommy Schmitzer and senior Dominic Hoffmann have been strong. Kopulos averages 6.8 yards per carry and has scored 15 touchdowns while Schmitzer has come on strong and has eight scores. Hoffmann averages 7.3 yards per rush.
Junior quarterback Luke Fox has improved every week since the start of the season. He’s completed 60 percent of his passes, good for 26 touchdowns while throwing just two picks. Junior Joe Sikma has caught 49 of those passes and has scored 12 touchdowns,. Kopulos and junior Daniel Fynaardt also are receiving threats.
The CMH defense does it with balance, too. That side of the ball is anchored by junior Ben Kreul, senior Luke Hubley, junior Cole Dakovich, sophomore JC Latham and junior Joey Goetz.
“Our kids have worked hard all season and have improved a lot since the start of the season,” Young said. “The nice thing is we’re playing our best football right now and so is Eisenhower. But everybody knows that this time of the year it comes down to things like special teams, avoiding mistakes and turnovers.
“Last year they beat us with the kicking game. They pinned us inside the 10-yard line four times and we struggled to move the ball. I like how we’re playing right now.”
Both teams have been very successful in the WIAA playoffs. Eisenhower is making its 28th playoff appearance, second-most in county history behind Arrowhead’s 29 playoff trips. NBE has won two state titles, capturing crowns in 1995 and 1996 under coach Jeff Setz. They’ve also finished second three times (1986, 1989, 2017).
CMH has won two state titles, winning in 2012 and 2016. They also finished second in 2001, 2010 and 2015. This is Memorial’s 16th playoff appearance, including 12 in a row.
And now it’s time to make more history Friday night.