By Kelsie Hoitomt
GLENWOOD CITY – The Hilltopper football team advanced to the Level 3 Playoff game after defeating the Owen-Withee Blackhawks 42-21 at home on a chilly night last Friday, November 1.
The contest started with the Blackhawks receiving the kick and starting on their own 34 yard line. Their run game was stopped immediately by the Hilltoppers’ defensive line, which would force Albert Goerlitz to punt.
The Toppers would come up short on their first possession and the ball would go to the Blackhawks on downs. It wasn’t until their second drive of the game that they made progress.
The boys in blue would start on the 20 yard line and the first two plays would result in a gain of zero yards. It was then that Jeff Kopacz found a slot down the left side of the field, which moved the ball from the 20 yard line to the Blackhawks 45.
Kopacz carried the ball to the Blackhawks 34 for a Hilltopper first down. It was then the legs of Isaac Tuttle that brought the ball to the 13.
With it fourth down and eight yards to go, the Toppers set up for a field goal. However, the play was a fake and Nick Mrdutt took the snap and instead of kicking it, tossed it up to Tuttle for the touchdown.
Mrdutt booted the extra point to put the Toppers on the board first, 7-0 with one minute left in the first quarter.
Goerlitz took off with the ball on the kick return and was tripped up by Mrdutt inside the ten yard line. He would carry the ball in five yards for the Blackhawks’ first touchdown as well as the extra point to knot the score at 7-7.
The Toppers would start their first possession in the second quarter on their own 48. Tuttle would be given the ball on the next play, which he ran for a 52 yard touchdown. The extra point was tipped so the score read 13-7.
The Toppers would suffer a slight lapse in their play in the final minutes of the quarter after they lost two, back to back fumbles.
The first fumble resulted in a Blackhawks’ touchdown after a 40 yard run by Austin Milliren. Goerlitz kicked the extra point for a 14-13 lead.
The second fumble put the Blackhawks on the Toppers 37, but a solid defensive line held them to fourth down.
The Toppers regained their composure as they started their drive on their own 35. Mrdutt completed a five yard pass to Todd Petersen and then a seven yard pass to Kopacz to put the ball on the 47.
It was then a bomb to Jake Hierlmeier that landed the team with a first down on the Blackhawks’ 16 yard line.
With less than 30 seconds left in the first half, Mrdutt threw a bullet past several defenders and into the hands of Kopacz for a 14 yard touchdown completion. The two-point conversion run by Tuttle was good to put the Toppers ahead 21-14.
The Blackhawks would fumble the ball and the Toppers would recover it on the 47. Mrdutt attempted to make a pass to the end zone, but the ball would fall and the clock would hit zero.
The Toppers secured their lead in the start of the third quarter after Tuttle blasted his way down the field for a 90 yard touchdown run on the opening kick return. Mrdutt kicked the extra point for a 28-14 score with just 12 seconds off the clock.
The Hilltoppers would set up for their next scoring sequence on the Blackhawks’ 46 after they were unsuccessful at their fourth down attempt.
The first play of the drive was a huge pass completion from Mrdutt to Tuttle to put the ball on the 20 yard line. A run by Kopacz would put the team on the eight.
It was then Tuttle again who carried the ball within inches of the goal line, but he was tackled funny and limped off the field with a sprained ankle and was out for the remainder of the game.
Despite the injury, the Toppers didn’t miss a beat; from the one yard line, Mrdutt held onto the ball for the touchdown. The extra point was unsuccessful, but the Toppers were now further ahead, 34-14.
The Toppers would get the ball back in a matter of seconds after Donovan Fornal recovered a fumble. Kopacz bring the ball from the 40 to the four, but a flag in the end zone would push the Toppers back to the 15.
With it second down, Mrdutt would go to the air, but his pass was intercepted in the end zone and the Blackhawks would get a touch back and take over on the 20.
The fourth quarter would begin with the Blackhawks making their way down the field towards the goal. Then from the five yard line, Bryce Niemi would score their final touchdown. The extra point was good to put the score at 34-21.
The Hilltoppers would run eight minutes off the clock during their final possession of the game, which began on their own 24 yard line.
Billy Norenberg gained their first, first down of the drive to put the ball on the 35. Kopacz gained 13 yards in three plays for another first down.
Mrdutt then went to the air to Kopacz who luckily caught the ball after it was tipped off the fingers of a Blackhawk defender. The completion advanced the Toppers to the 19 yard line.
Blayze Wood carried the ball nine yards to put the ball on the ten. Then it was Kopacz who brought it to the one. Again with the ball inches from the goal line, Mrdutt punched it in for their final touchdown. The two-point conversion was completed on a pass from Mrdutt to Hierlmeier.
The Blackhawks would start their drive with 1:17 on the clock. On their third play, Mitch Hurtgen would recover a fumble and the game would end with the ball back in the Hilltoppers’ hands to secure the final score of 42-21.
The Toppers finished the night with 142 passing yards with eight completions out of 15 attempts from Mrdutt. Receiving was Hierlmeier with 40 yards, Tuttle with 39 and Petersen with five.
Tuttle and Kopacz were the leading rushers for the game. Tuttle had 130 yards on 14 attempts and Kopacz followed with 129 yards on 18 attempts. Both players also accounted for 141 yards in kick returns.
Also rushing was Norenberg with 20 yards on eight attempts, Mrdutt had 13 on five attemptes and Wood had ten yards on five attempts.
As a team, the Toppers rushed for 302 yards, 100 yards more than the Blackhawks as they had 202. The Blackhawks also had just three yards receiving.
The Hilltoppers will now face off against Pepin/Alma. The Eagles are a Lakeland-South Conference team with a 6-0 record in their regular season. They beat Florence and Greenwood/Granton to advance to this contest.
“Pepin is a very physical team that likes to run the ball. They rely on a 225 pound fullback and a speedy halfback that makes up 90 percent of their offense. The key will be to control the line of scrimmage and no turnovers,” said coach Shane Strong.
The Division 7, Level 3 Playoff game will be in Pepin this Friday night (Nov. 8) with kickoff starting at 7:00 p.m.