It was only fitting that Cedarburg’s homecoming football game served as a microcosm for its season: turbulent, exciting and a test of resilience.
After a seesaw battle, Cedarburg (3-4, 3-2) emerged a 35-28 victor over Germantown (2-5, 2-3) and gained some much-needed traction for a potential WIAA playoff berth. For the Warhawks, it was another gut-wrenching defeat that might cost them the postseason.
“We talked all week about this being a must-win for the playoffs,” Bulldogs senior running back Clayton Van Tassel said. “We’re aware that if we don’t get this one, it’s going to be tough moving on.”
In addition to two scores on the ground, Van Tassel also filled in at quarterback when regular Jack Meyer went out with an injury.
“Clayton’s a gamer,” Cedarburg head coach Brian Leair said. “He’s an athlete. He does it all, he does everything you ask.”
On a wet, windy night full of huge plays, perhaps the biggest occurred on the first play of the final quarter.
Germantown, holding a 28-21 lead and fresh off three unanswered touchdowns, attempted converting a 4th and inches from inside Cedarburg’s 30-yard line. A gutsy defensive stand denied the Warhawks’ rush up the middle, giving Cedarburg possession, but more importantly, stopping Germantown’s seemingly endless momentum.
“That was it,” Leair said. “It was probably fourth and two inches, and we stuck ‘em. If we don’t get the stop there, and they go up two scores in the fourth, I don’t see us coming back from that.”
“It was tough at that point,” Van Tassel said. “We’re down, they’re driving, and it started to look like it might slip away from us. But we don’t quit. They don’t get much better than this one.”
The Bulldogs would go on to tie the game on that possession, courtesy of a 19-yard run by Meyer, his third score of the night. Van Tassel would give them the decisive 35-28 lead later on a 7-yard run with 2:36 to play, but it was hardly smooth sailing from there.
Germantown nearly forced overtime on the final possession, mostly by way of a 34-yard run from senior tailback Austin Mozdzen that placed the ball on Cedarburg’s 11.
Despite strong winds and a downpour that both seemed to get worse precisely when Germantown went back on offense, Germantown relied on the passing game for the following play, and three of the next four.
“We had a game plan going in and we wanted to stick to that,” Germantown head coach Jake Davis said. “I don’t really know if (passing) wasn’t the right call or not. I haven’t seen the film. I’ll have to look at that. I don’t know what to say right now.”
Germantown entered Friday’s game with four losses, but its opponents in those games had gone a combined 23-5. Last week against Whitefish Bay, the Warhawks squandered a 9-point lead with five minutes left to play.
“We’ve had too many of them this year,” Davis said. “We need to stick together. For whatever reason, we’ve let too many opportunities get away from us.”
It surely isn’t for lack of trying. After Mozden gave the Warhawks a 7-0 lead on a 3-yard touchdown run on the third series of the game, Cedarburg dominated the first half.
Meyer rushed for two scores in the second quarter, and Van Tassel added another to open the second half.
Trailing 21-7, Germantown got the wakeup call it badly needed when senior Waymon McNeal took the ensuing kickoff back 84 yards for a touchdown. The Germantown sideline erupted, and the Warhawks were just getting started.
After forcing a punt, Germantown tied the game at 21 when senior quarterback Collin Sathe rattled off two long keeper runs. Germantown forced another punt, and Sathe found junior tight end Colten Thomas for a 29-yard strike and a 28-21 lead. The drive made it three Germantown touchdowns in seven minutes.
Davis agreed the fourth-down stop was a decisive moment in the game.
“There was a lot of game left to be played at that point, but it sure didn’t help,” he said. “Those were yards we had to get, and we didn’t get it done. We didn’t finish.”
Cedarburg visits Grafton (1-6, 1-4) next week. The Warhawks play their final home game with Port Washington (4-3, 3-2).
“We have two wins ahead of us,” Davis said. “We need to figure things out. We need to stick together.”