By RICK SOLEM
If Pepin/Alma coach Mike Olson could take it back, maybe he would.
In the end, his high school football team ends up losing the WIAA Division 7 state championship, 17-12 to Owen-Withee at Camp Randall on Thursday.
What happened? The Eagles (13-1) stopped the Blackhawks on their first possession. They then took over and went backwards in three plays, including two false-start penalties.
Backed up on their own 23 yard line, on fourth-and-14, Olson elected to go with a fake punt. Quarterback Sam Mueller is the team’s punter and capable passer, but the fake didn’t fool the Blackhawks and his pass fell incomplete.
Two plays later, Owen-Withee running back Austin Milliren scores from 10 yards out and that ends up being the difference.
“On our fake punt early, we had seen something on tape that we thought we could take advantage of,” Olson said. “We try to play aggressive at all times. We thought we had a mismatch, but it didn’t work out in our favor, obviously. It put our defense back to the hole. It ended up costing us.”
It was a defensive battle and, along with the fake punt, one could point to a costly fumble that gave the Blackhawks (13-1) the edge needed to win.
Down just 9-0 minutes into the fourth quarter, P/A all-everything running back Trevor Heit – who was the main cog in getting the team this far – fumbled on a second-and-1 near midfield.
The Blackhawks recovered and turned it into eight points nine plays later.
Pepin/Alma’s offense clicked after that, scoring back-to-back touchdowns – forcing the Blackhawks to punt in between – as Mueller hit Ronnie Engstrand for touchdowns from 6 and 10 yards out. The last of those touchdowns came with 2:50 remaining in the game.
The Eagles went for the onside kick after that, but didn’t get it and, with only one timeout, coudln’t stop Owen-Withee as it ran out the clock in eight plays to win the title.
The Blackhawks dominated the rushing game 240 yards to 83. P/A countered with its aerial attack, as Mueller was 10-for-16 for 163 yards, but when it was all said and done, a failed fake punt, a turnover that led to a touchdown and eight penalties for 64 yards were the difference.