By Kelsie Hoitomt
CHIPPEWA FALLS – This is the first time in the history of football at the Glenwood City High School that a team has made a back-to-back appearance at the State Championship game.
The Hilltoppers defeated the Pittsville Panthers 48-26 last Friday night to win the semi-final game and return to Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.
“It is a lot tougher,” said Strong of returning to state. “A year ago no one expected us to get there and this year there has been a lot of pressure on the kids, not negative as the community has been fantastic supporting us all year long.”
Last season the Hilltoppers had a power surge in the second half of each of their playoff games, which led to the win. That story rang true again in their victory over the Panthers while playing on the Chippewa Falls High School field.
Their play was mundane to say the least in the first two quarters of the game. The offense pushed in touchdowns, but the defense lacked any fire under their shoes, which let the Panthers continuously answer back with points.
The game tied at 26-26 before the Toppers’ flame ignited and they blew up the field with three unanswered touchdowns to seal the deal on the Level 4 Playoff game.
“I have told the kids all year long that you don’t win games on emotion, you win on execution,” stated Strong. “So when things go up or down, they’re not going well or they are going great, that won’t carry you. It is executing the next play. Our kids play every play like it is the last play.”
The Hilltoppers’ started the game with the ball in their hands first after Pittsville’s Paul Downs booted the ball for the kick off.
Isaac Tuttle brought the ball to the 48 yard line on the return and then had three more carries to put the Toppers on the Panthers’ 35.
It was then Kopacz who had his first carry of the night from the 35 to the 18 for the first down. Nick Mrdutt stepped back and fired a short two yard pass to Kopacz to put the ball on the 16.
Kopacz then found an opening on the next play and ran into the end zone for the first touchdown of the game with 9:20 left on the clock. The two-point conversion run was successful by Tuttle to put the score at 8-0.
The Panthers fumbled the ball on their opening drive and the Toppers took over on their own 48. However, two plays in, the Toppers themselves lost the ball to put the Panthers on their own 33 yard line.
The Panthers took advantage of the turnover as they carried the ball 28 yards in two plays before Nathan Dupee sprinted down the field and into the end zone for a 39 yard touchdown. The conversion was no good, which put the score at 8-6.
Standing in the backfield for the Toppers was Tuttle who again caught the kick and carried in to their own 40. He then had a nine yard gain to bring the ball near midfield.
The Toppers were facing third and ten after Mrdutt was sacked for a loss of nine yards. Then it was four and five to go after a gain of five yards from Nathan Mrdutt.
The Toppers set up in punt formation on fourth down, but it was a fake play and Nick Mrdutt pitched the ball up to Tuttle who carried the ball to the Panthers’ 33 for the first down.
Tuttle brought the ball to the nine yard line and then it was Kopacz with an eight yard run to rest the ball next to the goal line.
Nick Mrdutt handed the ball off to his brother Nathan for the touchdown with 11 seconds left on the clock. The conversion was no good, but the Toppers were now ahead by a score 14-6.
The second quarter started with the Panthers on their own 42 yard line. Quarterback Brad Wesely stepped back and fired to Kyle Kolar who was wide open down the field, which allowed him to run 58 yards into the end zone to put the score at 14-12.
It continued as a “cat and mouse” game throughout the second quarter as the Toppers answered back with a score of their own.
To start the drive, Tuttle had a 36 yard return to set the ball on the Panthers’ 46. Nathan Mrdutt picked up a four yard gain and Tuttle followed with six yards.
Then from the 36, Nick Mrdutt threw the ball to Kopacz who made his way into the end zone for a 36 yard reception to put the score at 20-12 with just two minutes off the clock.
The Toppers were able to get their hands back on the ball after they held the Panthers on a fourth down attempt.
With one yard to go, the Panthers missed their chance by a mere chain link, which gave the Toppers the ball on downs on their own 21.
Tuttle, Kopacz and Nathan Mrdutt brought the ball to midfield and then it was Kopacz with the run into Panthers’ territory on the 43 yard line.
Tuttle carried the ball to the 38 for a first down and then it was Kopacz with a strong 20 yard run to the 18 for yet another first down.
In two plays Kopacz carried the ball again to the one yard line. This time it was Nick Mrdutt with the keeper for the touchdown to put the score at 26-12.
The Panthers’ offense answered back in three quick plays after Alex Kolar returned the kick to their own 35. Then Wesely completed a nine yard pass to Jacob Allind to put the team on the 44.
Dupee then took the hand off from Wesely and headed down the field for a 56 yard touchdown run. Wesely again connected with Allind for the two-point conversion to put the score at 26-20.
With 1:45 left in the first half, the Toppers started the drive on their own 30. Tuttle had a six yard gain and then Kopacz followed with 15 yards for the first down with under a minute left on the clock.
Nick Mrdutt went to the air and hit Todd Petersen for another 15 yard completion, however a flag on the following play would push the ball back ten yards. They would gain those yards back after a pass completion to Kopacz for 17 yards to put the ball on the 27.
Another pass would fall incomplete and a five yard penalty was called before Nick Mrdutt threw an interception in the end zone.
As the clock ran down to zero, the Panthers fumbled the ball and Nick Mrdutt picked it up and sprinted towards the end zone, but the whistle blew as his foot stepped out of bounds to end the second quarter.
The game changed over the half time break and a stronger, more determined Hilltopper team stepped out onto the field.
The Toppers allowed the Panthers to score only one final touchdown, which came on the opening drive of the third quarter.
“After a little talking to at halftime, more of adjusting some attitudes, our kids played their assignments,” Strong said. “We bottled up Dupee and didn’t let him get to the perimeter and turned the quarterback back inside where we wanted him and we were able to stop him at the line of scrimmage before he could get going.”
They started on their own 42 and worked their way to the Hilltoppers’ 23 yard line. Then it was Wesely that completed a pass to Dupee for the touchdown. The pass was almost intercepted by Marcus Kadinger, but the ball bounced off his fingers and into Dupee’s hands.
“Marcus had perfect coverage on the play,” said Strong. “He was in position. Just one of those plays, sometimes you have to be lucky and on that play they were lucky. Marcus on the other hand had a couple huge tackles. He came up and hit.”
The Panthers’ final touchdown of the game tied the score at 26-26 with 9:04 still remaining in the quarter.
The Toppers took the lead after starting on their own 47. Tuttle and Kopacz shared the ball as they carried it to the Panther’s 26 and then it was Nathan Mrdutt with a four yard gain for the first down.
From the 22 yard line, Tuttle took off down the right side of the field for the touchdown. He carried in the two-point conversion to put the score at 34-26.
After their last touchdown, the Toppers’ defense turned into a solid wall and there was little movement allowed on the Panthers’ offense. This let the Hilltoppers control the majority of the time on the clock throughout the second half.
The Panthers punted on their second possession in the third quarter and then the Toppers ran 11 straight plays to go from their own 41 yard line to the Panthers’ 13 before the quarter ended.
In the midst of the drive, Jake Hierlmeier caught a pass for a 13 yard gain to give the Toppers a first down. However, Hierlmeier landed wrong after the catch and suffered a broken collarbone and left the game.
The fourth quarter started with the Hilltoppers on the nine yard line. Kopacz carried the ball to the six and then Tuttle brought it to the one. With it being fourth down, Nick Mrdutt held onto the ball for the keeper and the touchdown.
Nick Mrdutt drew back and connected with Kopacz who managed to keep the tips of his toes in bounds for the two-point conversion for a 42-26 score.
Wesely struggled to make a pass play on their following drive as the Toppers were thick on coverage. Kopacz batted down the ball on the Panthers’ fourth down attempt, which gave the Toppers the ball on downs on the 44.
Billy Norenberg ran for 14 yards to give the Toppers a first down. Then it was Nick Mrdutt with the back-to-back keepers for 13 yards to put the ball on the 10 yard line.
Kopacz picked up four yards and Nick Mrdutt had three yards before Tuttle punched the ball in the end zone for a three yard touchdown run.
Tuttle again wrapped his arms around the ball for the final conversion run of the game to put the score at 48-26 with 3:59 left in the game.
The Panthers again faced fourth down after Wesely was tackled by Nick Mrdutt and then sacked for a total loss of nine yards.
The Toppers ended up with the ball back in their possession on downs at the Panthers’ 42. Blayze Wood carried the ball twice for a gain of nine yards before the clock ticked down to zero.
Excitement erupted as the boys sprinted over to the sea of fans in blue and white where they gave their high-fives before they headed back to the field to receive the Level 4 Championship plaque.
The Hilltoppers finished the semi-final game with 478 total offensive yards including 83 passing and 395 rushing.
“Our offense played great all night long,” Strong emphasized. “I don’t think, other than the one fumble, we played flawless football on offense. We made some great passes on some play action which was huge for us.”
They allowed the Panthers 157 yards passing, but just 163 rushing. Dupee led their team in rushing with 148 yards and Kyle Kolar had the team high in receiving with 120.
For the Toppers, Nick Mrdutt threw five completions out of eight attempts for 83 yards. On the receiving end was Kopacz with 55 yards on three receptions, Petersen with 15 yards on one reception and Hierlmeier with one reception for 13 yards.
Leading the team in rushing yards was Kopacz with 163 on 20 attempts. Nick Mrdutt had 32 yards on 10 attempts, Nathan Mrdutt with 21 yards on six attempts, Wood with 19 yards on three attempts and Norenberg with 14 yards on one attempt.
Also on rushing was Tuttle with 146 on 23 attempts. Those yards pushed Tuttle over the 2,000 milestone marker for rushing yards this season with 2,084 according to the Wisconsin Sports Network.
The Hilltoppers advance to the State Championship game where they will play Black Hawk High School; a school district about an hour south of Madison in South Wayne, Wisconsin.
“Black Hawk is going to be a great football team, but we have to see them on film and see what we are going to do against them,” said Strong.
The Black Hawks are a part of the Six Rivers Conference. They finished 8-0 this season and are currently undefeated after beating Belmont, De Soto, Potosi and lastly Lake Country Lutheran to reach the championship game.
It has been many years for the Black Hawks as their last debut at Camp Randall Stadium was in 1998 where they lost 0-28 against Lake Holcombe.