Goal line stand sends Chargers to Level 3

Wittenberg-Birnamwood will take on Wrightstown
Dustin Riese

How fitting of an end was this? Already with one goal line stand in a 27-22 victory over Amherst during the regular season, the top-seeded Wittenberg-Birnamwood Chargers squared off with the Falcons on Oct. 27 with a spot at Level 3 on the line.

In a game that saw both offenses struggle to move the ball as a combined 310 yards were gained by both offenses, it was the Chargers defense that came through once again.

After picking up a safety early in the second half to take a 9-0 lead, W-B’s Owen Dickman came away with an interception in the fourth quarter and returned it 71 yards for the pick six to put the Chargers in front 16-8.

The Falcons put together one last drive at the end and came away with an 18-yard touchdown with 37 seconds remaining to set themselves up with a chance to force overtime.

Connor Groshek intercepted the two-point try to seal the deal for Wittenberg-Birnamwood as they took down Amherst with another goal line stand, 16-14.

“We have relied a lot on our defense all season, and we had to again tonight,” said Bryson Schmid, the Chargers running back and defensive back. “I didn’t see much of the interception, as I was on the other side of the field guarding my guy. All I know is that Connor (Groshek) came through with a big play when we needed it and helped seal the game.”

After a scoreless first quarter that saw next to nothing in terms of yards, it was Wittenberg-Birnamwood getting on the board first as they put together a drive that lasted more than nine minutes and spanned parts of the first and second quarters. The ground attack from Nathan Waupekenay, Schmid and Marshall Fraaza started to wear down the Falcons defense.

It appeared as if Fraaza scored the first points of the game by getting outside and outrunning the Falcons defense for 62 yards. However, a block in the back nullified the touchdown and forced the Chargers to go back to work offensively.

Leave it to Waupekenay and the passing game as he hooked up with Jett Rogowski three times on that drive and four times in the first half for 70 yards to move the ball inside the Amherst 10. Schmid took care of things from there and plowed into the end zone from two yards out to give the Chargers a 7-0 lead.

“It’s always nice to score first, and I was happy I was able to put us in front for good,” Schmid said. “We had our chances in this one but just couldn’t move the ball when we needed to.”

Schmid continued to do his thing on the offense late in the first half, coming away with a 19-yard run to move the chains while Waupekenay tried to connect with him on a flea flicker, only to overshoot him. The clock would run out on the first half shortly after as the Chargers took a 7-0 lead into the break.

As the second half got underway, it was the defense coming up huge once again for the Chargers as a big Waupekenay run was once again called back due to a holding call and forced the Chargers to punt it away. With the ball pinned inside their own five, Amherst went back to pass only to get hammered in the end zone for a safety, as the Chargers extended their lead to 9-0.

“We played well as a team, but our defense was exceptional tonight,” Schmid said. “I feel this was one of our better defensive performances of the year, and had it not been for their effort, we may not be standing here with a win.”

Forced into another tough position, and needing points in a hurry, Amherst finally started to put together something offensively. Luke Hoffman played a role in that after missing three games due to an injury, but it was the arm of Michael Benjamin that got things rolling as he hooked up with Cannen Hodges for a 45-yard completion to move the ball inside the Chargers red zone.

Amherst would convert on a fourth and short later in the drive before scoring a TD a few seconds into the fourth as they pulled within 9-8.

With all the momentum on their side, the Falcons defense started to make plays as they held the Chargers offense in check most of the game apart from that lengthy TD drive. Set up with great field position again after a short punt, it was the Chargers defense coming up huge again as Benjamin saw his third down pass tipped up in the air and Dickman came down with the interception as he took it 60 yards to the house for the pick six and extended the Chargers lead to 16-8.

“I am at a complete loss for words,” coach Jason Rieck said. “I’m glad we don’t have to prepare for that team anymore. They are such a well-coached team and make great adjustments.

“Our defense has come up huge all season, and they did that again tonight. They play with a bend-but-don’t-break mentality that works in our favor, but does cause some stress at times. I’m so happy for all our kids tonight as we live to see another day.”

Wittenberg-Birnamwood will advance to Level 3 to take on No. 3 seed Wrightstown Tigers.