WALES - It was anybody's game through the first 24 minutes of the WIAA Division 3 state semifinal between Catholic Memorial and New Berlin Eisenhower on Friday night at Kettle Moraine.
But all doubt about who would be traveling to Camp Randall Stadium next week was eliminated quickly in the third quarter.
Catholic Memorial scored touchdowns on each of its first three drives of the second half – two coming courtesy of turnovers – and ultimately put away Eisenhower, 41-14, in a game played in frigid cold, snow and gusty winds that dropped the wind chill into single digits.
It was the second time in as many years the teams faced off in the playoffs, and this time it was a much different outcome. Last year, it was Eisenhower that rode an early second-half touchdown to a 7-0 victory in a quarterfinal game.
The Lions went on to finish as Division 3 state runners-up two weeks later. Now, thanks to their big second half, the Crusaders head back to Madison seeking their second title in three seasons.
"It feels really good to get revenge," said senior linebacker Luke Hubley, who had a hand in Memorial's big second-half performance. "This is a great program and we've had a lot of success over the years.
"But it feels great to get revenge on them."
The tone for the second half was set late in the first quarter when the Crusaders (12-1) cashed in a Lions fumble with a 29-yard touchdown run by Luke Fox. Eisenhower (12-1) answered with a 13-yard touchdown run by Gabe Seifert on its ensuing drive, and the score remained tied at 7-7 heading into intermission.
A high snap on a punt attempt on the Lions' first possession of the second half set the Crusaders up all the way on the Eisenhower 18. They needed six plays before punching it in from 3 yards on a Tate Kopulos run.
Eisenhower got its next punt away to finish its ensuing drive only to see Fox hit Joe Sikma with a 56-yard touchdown pass on Memorial's next play. One play later, the Lions fumbled and a 4-yard Tommy Schmitzer run culminated a six-play drive that made it a 28-7 game and eliminated any mystery.
"I have such respect for Coach (Matt) Kern and the kids from Ike. They really battled hard," said Memorial coach Bill Young. "It was one of those things we always talk about – when does a game break? When do you break your opponent?
"That ball sailed over (Mark) Shields' head (on the punt) and the momentum went our way and it just kept rolling. It happens that way. I've been on the other end of it, too. But you can't say enough about our kids, how we persevered throughout tough conditions just like they did.
"Fox has been extraordinary all year long, and our defense came up with big stop after big stop, and turnovers. Big games are always based on field position and turnovers to get out of a jam or create a jam for your opponent. Everything just kind of started rolling our way."
Although Fox completed his share of passes, the conditions were brutal overall and made it a ground-and-pound game for the most part.
"It was very cold. I could barely feel my body," said Hubley. "But we battled through it, played hard and got the victory."
Added Young, whose team will face West De Pere in a battle of top-seeded teams for the championship at 10 a.m. Friday: "Can't say enough about our kids and the attitude that they've had and the perseverance in a tough game with tough conditions. It's great for us."