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Grafton running back too much for Jags

By Greg Bates

ASHWAUBENON – The No. 4-seeded Ashwaubenon football team ran into a good Grafton squad in a WIAA Division 2, Level 1 playoff game Oct. 25.

No. 5 Grafton, which features one of the top running backs in the state in Joey Giorgi, went on the road and earned a 49-25 victory.

“They are a good football team, and good football teams have an answer,” Ashwaubenon head coach Brian Ryczkowski said. “We didn’t execute enough on offense, and our defense ran up against a really good back and group there. I’m really proud of our guys being able to earn a home playoff game and what they were able to do this year.”

Giorgi rushed for 259 yards on 41 carries and added 39 receiving yards and four total touchdowns.

Grafton scored on four of its five first-half drives and seven of its first eight possessions of the game.

Ashwaubenon didn’t have an answer for the Blackhawks’ potent offense, led by Giorgi, who rushed for a state-best 2,108 yards and 26 touchdowns during his team’s nine, regular-season games.

“It starts with the offensive line – they’re very good up front, well-coached and the back runs hard,” Ryczkowski said. “When you get him off schedule, a long down and distance, you’ve got to get off the field and a couple of times they made plays and we didn’t.”

Giorgi has received multiple scholarship offers at smaller schools, including preferred walk-on status at Northern Illinois University.

“He’s the real deal,” Grafton head coach Jim Norris said. “I’m shocked he doesn’t have a Division I offer at this point.”

Ashwaubenon (7-3) kicked a field goal on its first drive of the game, and Grafton (7-3) tallied a touchdown – it looked as though it would be a shootout.

However, the Blackhawks’ defense stiffened.

Ashwaubenon was stopped on four straight series while Giorgi began to heat up.

He had touchdown runs of 33 and 9 yards before quarterback Zach Weir hit Joe Birch for a 39-yard score to put Grafton up 28-3.

Getting the ball with 1:11 remaining in the opening half, the Ashwaubenon offense pushed the ball down the field.

Ashwaubenon quarterback Cadian Vang had an 11-yard scramble down to the Grafton 31-yard line before calling a timeout with 1 second left on the clock.

Vang threw up a prayer into a crowded end zone that was hauled in by Antjuan Polk for a touchdown to close the deficit to 28-10.

Grafton’s first two drives to start the second half were a Giorgi touchdown run of 3 yards and a catch and run by Giorgi from 12 yards out.

The Jaguars’ ensuing possession was a Vang to Martin Kiernan 4-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-goal.

After recovering an onside kick, two plays later, Connor Ramage scored from 5 yards out to make it 42-24.

Giorgi put Ashwaubenon’s comeback on ice, rushing nine straight times that ended in a Weir 5-yard touchdown run.

Vang loved to see the fight in his teammates to never back down until the final whistle blew.

“As a team, we’re growing, and we love football,” Vang said. “Looking around on the sidelines, our seniors were crying and it hurts me. We wanted to do everything we could for our guys.”

Ashwaubenon finished its first season under Ryczkowski with seven wins, the most in the program in five years.

Ryczkowski is proud of the way his players competed in his first year.

“It helps send a shockwave through the football program, trying to get numbers up,” Ryczkowski said. “I’m pleased with seven wins. I think we’re ahead of where I thought we’d be. Talk to me after the season next year, and I’ll let you know if where we need to be. Whenever you lose, it’s got to sting, and it’s got to send a shockwave through the underclassmen to get in the weight room and know this isn’t how we want to end.”

Ashwaubenon loses 18 seniors off of this year’s squad, but next year is already appealing for those who cover the program.

The offense will be stacked with a strong junior class led by Vang, Ramage and Luke Schroeder.

“We’re building a culture I really like, and we’re all coming together,” Vang said. “We really grew. We’re going to hit the weight room a lot, be together and we can’t stop.”

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