WALES — The juggernaut that is the Catholic Memorial football team continued to roll Friday.
However, looks can be deceiving.
In a hard-fought game in extremely cold and windy conditions, Memorial broke away from deadlock at halftime and benefited from four second-half Eisenhower turnovers and another miscue on special teams as the Crusaders defeated the undefeated Lions 41-14 in a WIAA Division 3 state semifinal game at Kettle Moraine High School.
Memorial, now 12-1 on the season, advances to the state finals at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison next Friday against undefeated West De Pere. Eisenhower, which was looking for its second straight trip to the championship game, finished at 12-1.
The Crusaders, which have now won their last five state semifinal games, will be looking for their third state championship after winning in 2012 and 2016.
Memorial took advantage of a failed punt attempt by the Lions where the ball sailed over the punter’s head and the Crusaders scored after all four turnovers by Eisenhower in the second half.
Overall, the Lions had six turnovers while Memorial had none.
“Big games are always based on field position and turnovers,” Memorial coach Bill Young said. “Do you get out of a jam or do you create a jam for your opponent? Everything just started rolling our way.
“Our defense came up with big stop after big stop and turnovers. Without a doubt we took advantage of those turnovers. It’s one thing to get a turnover but we kept pounding and putting it in the end zone.”
Tied 7-7 at halftime, the game swung in Memorial’s favor after the Crusaders recovered the ball at the Eisenhower 18-yard line after the ball was snapped over the head of Lions punter Mark Shields on a play that started just over midfield.
Six plays later, senior running back Tate Kopulos scored on a 3-yard TD run and Memorial led 14-7 with 6:32 left in the third quarter.
Then on the first play following an Eisenhower punt on its next possession, Memorial junior quarterback Luke Fox connected with junior wide receiver Joe Sikma on a 56-yard scoring play and the Crusaders’ lead was quickly 21-7.
Eisenhower then fumbled on its next play from scrimmage and Memorial continued to take advantage of the errors by the Lions as junior running back Tommy Schmitzer scored on a 4-yard touchdown run and what had been a tight game was now a blowout with the Crusaders taking a 28-7 lead.
The Eisenhower turnovers continued in the fourth quarter when junior linebacker Cole Dakovich intercepted a Lions pass and returned it 21 yards for a score and a 34-7 Memorial lead with 10:01 remaining.
“It was one of those points that we always talk about, when does the game break?” Young said. “When do you break your opponent? That ball sailed over Shields’ head and the momentum got on our way and it just kept on rolling. It happens that way in sports. I’ve been on the other end of that, too.
“You can’t say enough about our kids. How we persevered throughout tough conditions. And I have such respect for Coach Kern and the kids from Eisenhower. They really battled hard.”
Senior defensive back Matthew Schultz had another Memorial interception that led to another Crusaders score in the fourth quarter — a Fox 1-yard TD run.
“This definitely wasn’t a blowout,” said Memorial senior defensive end Luke Hubley, who had two fumble recoveries. “That was a really hard fighting team and they played a great game. We just battled and battled until the end and came out with the victory.
“The weather definitely played a role in the turnovers and we were able to pounce on balls on the ground. This feels great. We’ve wanted to do this for the longest time and we did it. It’s so exciting.”
Sophomore quarterback Gabe Seifert had the first Eisenhower touchdown on a 13-yard run early in the second quarter to tie the score at 7-7 after Memorial had scored first on a 29-yard TD run by Fox with 1:16 left in the first quarter.
Senior running back Jack Himmelspach had the other Eisenhower TD on a 15-yard run midway through the final quarter.