By Rich Palzewic
ASHWAUBENON – It’s safe to say that the Ashwaubenon Jaguars football team saved its season last night.
Scoring with just 14 seconds remaining in the game, the Jags posted a 15-8 victory over De Pere in a Fox River Classic Conference game at Ashwaubenon High School.
Sophomore quarterback Cadian Vang hit Cam Wheeler from five yards out to seal the win and keep Ashwaubenon’s playoff streak of 20 consecutive seasons intact for another week.
The Jaguars (1-2 overall, 1-2 FRCC) still have games remaining against the winless Sheboygan teams and Manitowoc, but if they had lost to Redbirds (2-1, 2-1), it would have been an uphill battle to qualify for the WIAA postseason.
“I think that’s safe to say,” said Ashwaubenon head coach Mark Jonas about the importance of this game. “With games coming up against Bay Port and Green Bay Southwest, it won’t get any easier. We had talked about the playoffs before this game and pretty much said we had to get a win. We were 0-2 and De Pere was 2-0. We felt like it was going to be close – we are similar teams. Our kids never quit and I was really impressed by the integrity of our team. We run the two-minute drill two or three times per week in practice, and it paid off. Cadian made the plays – he’s a tough kid for a sophomore. I give him a lot of credit. That was a great finish. Cam is tough, too – in my mind he’s one of the best in the conference or even in all of northeastern Wisconsin.”
The Jaguars’ winning drive began at their own 23-yard line with 3:36 remaining. Vang completed three passes to receiver Sam Nooyen for 31 yards on the drive, including a fourth-and-eight play that gained eight yards with 1:27 left.
Faced with a second and 10 from the 24 with 29 seconds left, Vang found fellow sophomore Luke Schroeder with a 19-yard pass to the five. Wheeler scored on the next play.
In a fast-moving first half, Ashwaubenon got on the board first with a 96-yard drive in the second quarter. Vang connected with Nooyen on a 27-yard-pass play halfway through the second to put the Jags up 7-0.
“I’m extremely happy with the effort of the kids,” said De Pere head coach Chad Michalkiewicz. “I applaud our defense – we were shorthanded with a few guys out. My only knock against them was the 96-yard drive they gave up. Other than that drive and the one at the end, they played fantastic. I clearly didn’t do a good enough job with the offense at the beginning of the game – we had too many three-and-out series.”
The Redbirds came out in the second half and controlled the clock with the run game behind Caelan Markusen and quarterback Landon Kirby. Markusen gave De Pere the lead halfway through the third quarter when he scored on a four-yard touchdown run. Kirby added the two-point conversion for an 8-7 lead.
“We controlled the ballgame in the second half,” Michalkiewicz added. “This one stings because we know we probably were the more physical football team and probably more athletic, but Ashwaubenon made the plays and won the football game. The scoreboard is all that counts.”
The Jaguars had another opportunity late in the first half after Ashton Steinike intercepted a pass and returned it to the De Pere 16. A late-hit penalty moved the ball to the eight, but Connor VandenHeuvel intercepted a Vang pass in the end zone on fourth down to end the threat.
Like their counterparts, the Redbirds also had a chance to build on their lead late in the third.
After they had a first and goal from the eight, a Jayden Wentworth sack moved the ball back to the 13, and De Pere failed to score.
On Ashwaubenon’s next drive halfway through the fourth, Sam Hafner caused a Vang fumble, which was recovered by Daniel Youngquist at the 17. Like the possession before, the Redbirds failed to score after two penalties pushed them back.
Defensively, De Pere’s Elijah Wright had a monster game with a fumble recovery and four sacks, including a sequence in the second quarter where had three sacks on one Jaguars’ drive.
Hafner also had two sacks, while Ashwaubenon’s Riley Nissen added a fumble recovery.
The Redbirds will host Green Bay Preble (3-0, 3-0) Sept. 7, while the Jaguars will travel to Bay Port (3-0, 3-0).
De Pere: 0, 0, 8, 0 – 8
Ashwaubenon: 0, 7, 0, 8 – 15
Bay Port victorious again: The Pirates got an easy 42-0 FRCC victory over Manitowoc Lincoln on the road.
The Bay Port (3-0, 3-0) defense held the Ships to 35 total yards.
Quarterback Jake Plummer was 8-11 passing for 140 yards and three touchdowns, including two thrown to Cody Lindquist. Plummer also added 74 yards rushing.
Running back Isaiah Gash led the Pirates with 87 yards rushing and a pair of scores.
Defensively, Dylan Grosskreutz had an interception and a fumble recovery.
Bay Port: 7, 7, 21, 7 – 42
Manitowoc: 0, 0, 0, 0 – 0