The Milwaukee Brewers weren’t the only team playing a must-win game Friday night.
The South Milwaukee Rockets also had their backs against the wall, but they disposed of Whitnall a little more easily than the local baseball team. The Rockets wore down the host Falcons, 28-14, to improve to 5-3 overall and 4-3 in the Woodland Conference Black Division and clinch a playoff berth.
“It was absolutely a must-win game if we’re going to get to where we want to be,” South Milwaukee head coach John Galewski said. “I was really pleased with the way we played tonight. We were really physical, and I’m just extremely proud of our performance.”
With 2:48 left in the first half, South Milwaukee broke a scoreless tie with a 7-yard run from senior running back Mat Tagye. But the killer for Whitnall came just a minute later, when Tagye scored again on a 41-yard screen pass that exploited an overaggressive defense. A defensive battle was suddenly a 14-0 South Milwaukee advantage at halftime.
“The screen pass broke our back,” Whitnall head coach Rob Leboeuf said. “We had a blitz on, we should have checked out of it, we didn’t, and they easily scored. If we don’t give that up, things could have been a lot more interesting than they were.”
The Rockets stopped the Falcons again to start the third quarter and gained a 21-0 edge on senior running back Trevor Stauner’s 5-yard touchdown run.
Stauner, who also plays linebacker, said it was the biggest game of the Rockets’ season.
“It was fantastic,” Stauner said. “Yeah, you get a little tired (playing two ways), but who cares? You have to have heart. I felt like tonight was the turning point in our season. There was a little extra pressure, but I thought going into the half up two touchdowns was big. The score before half was a turning point.”
On its next possession, Whitnall drove 63 yards to the South Milwaukee 2-yard line, where it faced a critical fourth down. A bad snap sailed over senior quarterback Luke Mentkowski’s head and the Rockets took over on downs.
“We have three offensive linemen get hurt tonight,” Leboeuf said. “That’s a backup center we had in there. God bless him, he fights his butt off. But we’re undersized. We’re not deep on the line to begin with, and we don’t have big kids at this school.”
Whitnall scored its first points in the final quarter when the Rockets were forced to punt from their own 19-yard line. The Falcons blocked the punt, and junior Zach Sutton recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown.
However, any hope of a comeback was dashed when Stauner rumbled into the end zone again just two minutes later from 10 yards out. In the waning minutes, Whitnall scored again on a 2-yard run from senior Travis Karweik, but a failed onside kick allowed the Rockets to run out the clock.
“I give all the credit to the teams we’ve played,” Leboeuf said. “They’ve been more physical than us, they’re more talented than us in some areas, but we play on with the kids we have. Sometimes we’re just not good enough, but I’ll tell you this; it’s not for a lack of trying.”
Tagye and Stauner towed most of the load for South Milwaukee, combining for 228 all-purpose yards on 35 touches and four touchdowns. Whitnall’s aerial attack was impressive in a losing effort. Junior Sam Mentkowski had a game-high 10 catches for 105 yards, while senior Stephen Pelkofer added eight catches for 76 yards. Luke Mentkowski finished 22-of-33 for 183 yards for Whitnall.
South Milwaukee wraps up its regular season next Friday when it hosts winless Thomas More. Stauner said the Rockets aren’t overlooking anyone and want to the end the regular season strong.
“We have to go hard from the first play of the game,” Stauner said. “When we’re hitting our blocks and playing the way we’re capable of, I feel like we’re unstoppable.”
Despite falling to 3-5 and 3-4 in conference play, Whitnall can qualify for the playoffs with a win at home against Pewaukee (6-2, 6-1 Woodland-Blue) on Friday.
“We will bounce back, I promise you that,” Leboeuf said. “And we will give Pewaukee everything they can handle.”