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Toppers bring home silver from Madison

MADISON — There were tears, hugs, and heartache as the clock at Camp Randall Stadium slowly counted down to the end of the 2013 football season and Glenwood City’s reign.

The defending WIAA Division 7 state football champion’s bid for a second consecutive crown, and fourth overall, fell short Thursday morning in Madison as the Black Hawk Warriors dethroned the Hilltoppers 44 to 22 in the D7 state championship game and laid claim to the 2013 small school title with an unblemished 14-0 mark.

Glenwood City, 12-2, committed five turnovers – a fumble and four interceptions – in the game but that was just a symptom of the real culprit – a big, physical, and explosive Black Hawk team that took the Toppers out of their game plan early.

“It did (hurt us) but we got out of our offense because we had to!” said Shane Strong, Hilltoppers’ head coach.

“It all came down to Black Hawk executed very well and put us into a game plan that we didn’t want to play,” Strong added. “That was the difference in the game.”

“I think Black Hawk was a better team today,” stated Strong. “And they earned the state championship!”

And bigger team!

The Warriors’ line averaged 235 pounds each and included four players that went from 242 to 280 pounds. It also featured five players that were at least 6’ 2” and taller.

That hefty line made room time and again for the Black Hawk’s talented running back tandem of Tanner Sweeney and Jayden Rufenacht. Sweeney eclipsed the 2,000-yard season rushing mark with 145 yards and a pair of score on 19 runs in the state championship game. Rufenacht had just three carries but finished with 28 yards and a score.

If that was not enough to handle, the Toppers were also confronted with the Warriors’ versatile quarterback, Heath Butler. The 6’ 4” junior signal caller showed he could run as well as pass. Heath entered the game with nearly 1,500 passing yards and 800 yards running. He added to those lofty stats going six-of-seven on aerials for 126 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown.

That size and weaponry were displayed early and often as the Warriors stunned the Toppers with a pair of first quarter touchdowns.

For just the second time this season, Glenwood City found itself trailing by 14 points early in the first half.

The Hilltoppers had dodged an early bullet when Nick Mrdutt was able to punch the ball out of the arm of Butler near the end of a 40 yard run and have Todd Petersen pounce on the loose ball to stop a potential Warriors’ scoring opportunity.

Black Hawk, however, would put together a seven play, 52-yard drive capped by Jayden Rufenacht’s 17-yard run. The two-point conversion would be stopped short but the Warriors had drawn first blood to lead 6-0.

The Warriors would soon be on the march again. Isaac Tuttle fumbled on the first play of the Toppers ensuing offensive possession and Black Hawk recovered at the GC 36. Four plays later Tanner Sweeney scored on a five-yard run. He also made good on the conversion run to put the Warriors ahead 14-0 with 1:44 remaining in the first quarter.

But the Hilltoppers rallied, just like it had done against Spring Valley in the regular season finale the previous month, and stormed back to knot the game at 14 all.

Glenwood City’s own 2,000-plus yard rusher, Isaac Tuttle, needed just ten seconds to redeem himself on the Toppers very next possession. The senior took the first-down handoff from Nick Mrdutt at the 32 and broke through the Black Hawk defense untouched and out ran his pursuit for a 68 yard touchdown at 1:29. Tuttle would finish with a game-high 151 yards rushing.

Glenwood City would force Black Hawk to punt on its next two possessions.

Then midway through the second quarter, the Hilltoppers’ would assemble its best sustained offensive effort of the game. Glenwood City had 10 runs and one well timed throw to Jeff Kopacz for a first down to drive 60 yards with Nick Mrdutt taking it the final yard with just 54 seconds left in the half. Tuttle would add the conversion run to tie the game at 14.

The deadlock, however, would not last long.

Tanner Sweeney returned Donovan Fornal’s kickoff 38 yards to the Toppers’ 37. The remaining 45 seconds of the half proved to be more than enough time for the Warriors to find the end zone. Warriors’ QB Heath Butler tossed a 12-yard completion to Seth Butler. The quarterback then picked up a yard on first down.

After a Black Hawk timeout, Butler found a wide open Tyler Peterson, who dove to make the 24-yard touchdown reception with just 21 ticks on the first-half clock. Heath Butler then used his feet to carry the ball across the goal line for a 22-14 lead.

Glenwood City tried to answer. Nick Mrdutt found Todd Petersen for a 19-yard pass reception that took the Toppers to midfield. But two plays later Mrdutt’s down field heave was picked off by Tyler Peterson  to end the half.

“We felt that we had the momentum, we had put together a nice drive to tie the ball game up,” said Coach Strong.

“We have to step up and play defense at that point,” Strong continued. “I thought we did for a couple of plays in a row and then they made a great play in the end zone for a touchdown. The momentum shifted.”

“Going into halftime 14-14 would have big for us,” said Strong. “That was a big turning point for us.”

Black Hawk would strike quickly in the second half and put the Toppers in a deep hole.

The Warriors needed just two plays to score a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter. They also made good on both two-point conversion tries to take a 38-14 lead.

Black Hawk took the second-half kick and started at it own 35. One play is all Tanner Sweeney needed to change the complexion of the game in the Warriors favor. The senior busted through the line and cut outside and was gone for a 65-yard score just 17 second into the third quarter of play.

Glenwood City had the ball just three plays and had to punt.

On the first play, the Warriors once again found the end zone. This time Heath Butler tossed the play action pass to a wide open Brett Lovelace who raced untouched for the 65-yard aerial score.

“Then they come back and run a play action pass on us when we were trying to come up and stop the run, “said Strong. “It’s balance in their offense and it put us in a bind. We can either stop the run or do the play action.”

Just like that the Black Hawks were ahead by 22 points with more than nine minutes left in the third quarter.

The next two Topper drives ended with Nick Mrdutt being intercepted. The later lick would lead to Black Hawk’s final touchdown, a 16-yard Heath Butler run to pay dirt with 7:48 left in the D7 championship game.

Glenwood City would put up the final score as its junior varsity found the end zone with just under a minute to play. Nick Schone tossed a 25-yard pass to freshman Jake Logghe for the touchdown. Nate Mrdutt added the two-point run for the 44-22 final tally.

“It would have been huge if we had come out in the second half and we got a stop and got the ball back,” Strong said after the game. “But giving up a touchdown right away and going down by two scores it just kind of deflated us a little bit. And we were not able to rally.”

“We hadn’t been in that situation before either,” added Strong. “They were a good team and they beat us and that is about all there is to it.”

“Our goal was to win a state championship today,” Strong said. “We had talked about it all year, it was just one game at a time. We lost the game and I have to look at it, we lost to Mondovi too, and it hurt, but we moved on.”

Thursday’s loss can not din the accomplishments that this team, especially its 15 seniors, have achieved. It has won 23 games the past two seasons and made the school’s first-ever, back-to-back state championship appearances with a gold and now silver ball to stand as a testament and legacy.