WALES — It was fitting that a snowball effect took place during the WIAA Division 3 state semifinal football game between Catholic Memorial and New Berlin Eisenhower Friday night at Kettle Moraine High School.
Snow flurries came down for much of the first half — the wind chill was a mere 6 degrees at kickoff — as the two teams were locked in a slugfest similar to that of their Round 3 matchup last season, which was won 7-0 by the Lions.
This time, the score was knotted up at 7 apiece after 24 minutes, but junior quarterback Luke Fox knew that his team was capable of better than what it showed in the first half.
“We came together at halftime,” Fox said. “We knew we had to get it going. We had a pretty crappy first half.”
But the Crusaders were able to build some momentum just before the break, making a big defensive stand and blocking a field goal that never really got off the ground with under a minute remaining.
It felt like whichever team could find a sliver of an opening in the second half would be returning to Madison.
Instead, the Crusaders decided to blow the doors wide open.
Eisenhower’s opening possession of the third quarter ended in disaster. With senior Mark Shields back to punt, the snap sailed several feet over his head and the ball was eventually recovered by the Crusaders at the Ike 18-yard line.
“We were really blessed,” CMH coach Bill Young said. “Things started going our way. The ball sailed over the punters’ head and everything after that just rolled for us.”
That set up a 3-yard go-ahead touchdown run by senior Tate Kopulos, putting CMH ahead 14-7 with 6 minutes, 32 seconds to go in the third quarter.
And what a third quarter it would turn out to be.
That blown punt execution was just the third of six turnovers Eisenhower would commit on that night. The final three were trivial.
On Catholic Memorial’s next possession, Fox popped the top off the defense and found junior receiver Joe Sikma for a 56-yard catch-and- run. By the time he stopped, he was in the end zone and CMH suddenly had itself a 21-7 lead with 4:22 left in the third.
“This is a team, they haven’t lost all year, but they haven’t faced the competition we have,” Fox said. “They haven’t faced the adversity we have and we came together, took the lead and we came out and we showed them what we’re made of. We showed them why we’re here.”
A fumble by Ike senior running back Jack Himmelspach gave the CMH offense another short field to work with. It would take full advantage once again.
On fourth-and-7, junior receiver Cole Dakovich — who later had a pick-six — made a leaping catch to move the sticks and paid for it, crashing hard onto the icy playing surface.
It proved to be well worth it as it led to a 3-yard TD run by junior tailback Tommy Schmitzer with 2:14 on the clock.
That might as well have done it. In a span of just 4:18, the Crusaders had outscored the Lions 21-0.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys and it just turned on a dime,” Young said. “I’ve been on the other side when things just go south on you.
“I can’t say enough about our kids.”
It will be the fourth straight year either Catholic Memorial or Eisenhower represent the county in the Division 3 state championship at Camp Randall Stadium.
Young praised his assistant coaches for helping tilt things in his team’s favor after halftime.
“(Assistant head coach) Mike Kinateder made some adjustments,” Young said. “They were hitting us on iso plays and we kind of cleaned that up. I can’t say enough about my staff and how they make changes.”
That coupled with Catholic Memorial’s ability to turn a game on its head in the blink of an eye, is what could have the Crusaders raising their second golden trophy in three years next Friday.