The artificial field turf at Charles Jaskwhich Stadium isn't exactly conducive to the "cloud of dust" that comes with an old football adage, but in a second half where Kenosha Bradford needed to slow the game down, the Red Devils had the "three yards" it needed.
Bradford made a third-quarter touchdown stand, and Muskego fell just short on two crucial fourth downs before falling to Bradford in Level 2 of the WIAA Division 1 football playoffs Friday night, 27-21. The Warriors finished 9-2, with both losses against the Southeast Conference champion Red Devils (12-0).
Bradford made a habit of long, methodical drives, chewing up the clock with drives of 14 and 10 plays in the second half, then turning it over to the defense. Kenosha Bradford held Muskego mere inches shy of a first down on 4th and 5 from the Bradford 31-yard line with under 1 minute to play.
"We still moved the ball in the second half," Muskego coach Ken Krause said. "We were one yard and two inches away. We never stopped believing."
Muskego quarterback Eric Pachowitz tried to stretch for the necessary yardage on the final meaningful play of the contest but was pushed out of bounds by Max Hagopian and Quanzell Murphy. Following a tense measurement along the Muskego sideline with players from both teams huddled around the officiating crew, the Kenosha Bradford players raced across the field in celebration.
It was reminiscent of a play earlier in the half, when Pachowitz took a keeper on 4th and 4 from the Bradford 5-yard line. Hagopian was again in on the tackle, keeping Pachowitz a yard short of the marker. On the preceding drive, Bradford's Henry Cabrera took the carry on 10 of 13 plays, capping the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to give his team the Red Devils their first lead of the night.
"We thought if we could get up a score, we could control the clock a little bit," Bradford coach Jed Kennedy said. "Our defensive speed is unbelievable. We're not very big over there, but we are fast."
Bradford advanced to face either Brookfield Central or Franklin in Level 3.
The Red Devils took some risks on their own fourth-down plays. The second of those came on a fake punt with 2 minutes to play in a 4th and 5 situation on the Bradford 45 -- the play gained two yards, giving the Warriors great field position for a final drive. The Warriors picked up an immediate first down and advanced to the 36, but the drive stalled three plays later.
"I think a lot of high school teams, when they didn't get the fake punt, they would have died." Kennedy said. "It didn't faze our kids a bit. That's the way we play, and people know it coaching against us. You get some and you don't get some."
It wasn't the first time Bradford had lived dangerously. On 4th and 1 from its own 13 yard line, quarterback Zach Swisher scampered 81 yard, stopped short of the end zone only by a hustle tackle from Josh Breider. Three plays later, Bradford had tied the game at 14-14 in the midst of a shootout first half.
"Not many people go for it on fourth and 1 on their own 9 yard line, but we kind of do what we do," Kennedy said. "You have to put your kids in position where you have confidence in them. I have confidence in these kids, and they made me look pretty good."
On the final day of the Major League Baseball season, Muskego found its home run power. Jordan Gruettner's 56-yard run midway through the first quarter made it 7-0, and after Bradford's follow-up drive ended it a Cabrera touchdown, Brady Simkowski did his teammate one better by going 67 yards on the first play of the next series.
"We played them three weeks ago and saw their scheme, so we put a couple new plays in that we felt were going to be home run plays for us, and it did work out that way in the first half,' Krause said.
Simkowski went 39 yards for a score that put his team up 21-14, but Swisher hit Danny Lira on a rare pass play to tie the game with 3:57 to go in the second quarter.
After Bradford scored on the first drive out of halftime, the Red Devils left the door ajar when the extra-point attempt from Eric Wittkowske went wide left. Gruettner recovered a fumble with 9:03 to go in the game to stop a Bradford drive that had reached the Muskego 21, but the Warriors went 3-and-out. By the time Muskego got the ball back, only 2 minutes remained.
"Jordan Gruettner is one of the best leaders I've ever had, and he made a play to give us a chance to win," Krause said. "It's going to be a hard group to say goodbye to. I took over when these guys finished eighth grade. It's hard to believe it's over. I thought we were going to go a little further. We have all the respect in the world for Bradford, but we thought we could go a little further. It's a tough loss."
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