Ashwaubenon trickery helps earn win
By Greg Bates
DE PERE – It’s a play Brian Ryczkowski implemented into the playbook early in his tenure as the Ashwaubenon football coach.
But the Jaguar players didn’t know if it would ever be called in a game.
The perfect opportunity arose right before halftime of Ashwaubenon’s game against De Pere, and the Jaguars pulled the trigger with a little trickery via the hook and ladder.
With the game tied at 13-13 and about 20 seconds left on the clock, Ashwaubenon quarterback Cadian Vang connected on a pass with Luke Jacobs.
The senior wide receiver gained a few yards, turned around and pitched the ball to teammate Luke Schroeder at the De Pere 40-yard line.
The speedster then outran the defensive players to the end zone with 9.6 seconds remaining on the first-half clock.
The late touchdown turned the momentum and allowed Ashwaubenon to pull off a 31-23 victory Oct. 18.
Heading into the game, Ashwaubenon (7-2) had already punched its ticket to playoffs.
De Pere, on the other hand, was most likely in, but not guaranteed.
The Redbirds (4-5) did, in fact, earn a playoff berth from the WIAA.
“You have a series of goals every single year and the first one is to qualify for the playoffs and then you have sequential goals after that,” De Pere coach Chad Michalkiewicz said. “If we get the call tonight that we’re in, I think we’re going to, a tip of the cap. Football’s a year-round sport these days and to be able to extend your season is always a really good thing.”
For Ashwaubenon, which had lost its previous two games after starting the season 6-0, it was trying to strengthen its playoff positioning.
“It’s great for our seniors because we’re pretty certain we’ll get another home game,” Ryczkowski. “What they had to do to put up with me, trying to do things a certain way that I thought would help us have a great season and they earned the 7-2 record they got.”
Ashwaubenon quarterback Cadian Vang had a similar take.
“We came off two losses and we wanted to get a win coming in, and we felt like this was the start of the playoffs,” Vang said. “We needed to win this one, get rolling.”
One big reason Ashwaubenon got the victory was because of its play-calling at the end of the half.
De Pere had scored on an Adam Timbrook 4-yard run with 42.4 seconds left.
With that amount of time on the clock, the Jaguars’ offense went to work.
“We kept saying we put that trick play in, and coach gave us the call,” Vang said. “At first, Luke Jacobs got sandwiched and we thought it wasn’t going to work, but he squeezed it out of there and we took it home. Luke made a great play by staying on his feet, stiff-arming a guy and scoring.”
Said Schroeder: “Perfect pitch by Luke Jacobs, I got the ball, took off and I was able to score. It was a perfectly executed play.”
Just 9.6 seconds were remaining on the clock.
It was a backbreaker for the De Pere players.
“You could feel the momentum switch,” Ryczkowski said. “You knew De Pere on their senior night with their playoff hopes on the line, they were going to play us tough and they did.”
Ashwaubenon took the lead in the seesaw first half as Vang hit Sam Nooyen in stride for a 40-yard touchdown.
De Pere came right back on a Christian Bocik strike to Maddax Shinners, who raced 82 yards for a scored.
That knotted the game at 6-6 as both teams had their point-after kicks blocked.
The Jaguars’ next drive was about as odd of one anyone will witness in high school football.
Ashwaubenon got down to the 6, but a holding call negated a touchdown.
Two plays later, the Jaguars scored again, but another hold took a touchdown off the board.
Another penalty pushed the ball back to the 36, and the Jags faced a third-and-goal.
Back-to-back De Pere penalties – a face mask and 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct – brought Ashwaubenon to the 12.
Vang then hit Nooyen for his second touchdown of the night to give the Jaguars the lead back, 13-6.
Later in the game, with Ashwaubenon up eight points, Schroeder took an end-around and found the end zone from 20 yards out to make it 28-20.
Ashwaubenon tacked on a 23-yard field with 1:46 left in the game.
De Pere quickly worked its way down the field and got to the Jaguars’ 9; however, they had to settle for a Joyce field goal to make it a one-score game.
Still needing a touchdown, De Pere couldn’t recover an onside kick.
Michalkiewicz was confident his team would earn an at-large bid for the WIAA playoffs and be seeded either 7 or 8.
“There’s probably not going to be many teams that want to see us as a first-round game,” Michalkiewicz said. “We’re going to be a tough out.”
Following his team’s victory over De Pere, coach Ryczkowski feels like his program is primed and ready to go in their “new season.”
“We’re playing to survive because it’s a different type of football in the playoffs,” Ryczkowski said. “Somebody’s going to cry every week, somebody’s season will be over and we’re trying to survive. That’s what Jaguars do – they find opportunities to make it one more round, and that’s what we’re looking to do is advance.”