Written by Steve Ostermann
Wednesday, 11 November 2009 18:05
Rockets can’t overcome tough foe, sweltering weather in season-ending playoff loss
The Cedar Grove-Belgium Rockets didn’t mind going into last Saturday’s football showdown against St. Mary’s Springs as an underdog.
They knew that scoring an upset on the top-seeded Ledgers’ home field would be a tough task, but that wasn’t the only problem.
The Rockets also ran into a sunny, 75-degree day at Fruth Field in Fond du Lac that played in the hosts’ favor.
After hanging close for one half, Cedar Grove-Belgium eventually succumbed to a talented foe — and the heat — in a WIAA Division 5 quarterfinal game, 34-7.
“We knew that St. Mary’s Springs was the best team in Division 5, and they certainly played like it,” said Rockets coach Chris Zablocki, whose squad trailed by only 14-7 at intermission before running out of steam in the second half.
“It was a tough, physical game, a great game, but we had a lot of kids who play both ways. St. Mary’s had 28 returning seniors and most played only one way.
“We just got tired. We couldn’t match up with them for the whole game, especially in a heat wave.”
Springs (12-0) dashed the Rockets’ dream of returning to Madison for another Division 5 title game by taking control with a blend of hard-hitting defense and crisply executed offense.
Senior quarterback Mitch Beau — who completed eight of 15 passes for 133 yards and rushed for 104 yards and three touchdowns — was the biggest bugaboo in Cedar Grove-Belgium’s nightmare.
“Beau is really talented,” Rockets linebacker Spencer Jacque said.
“He read our defense very well and knew what to do in every situation.”
After the Springs’ defense stopped the Rockets twice on three-and-out possessions to start the third quarter, Beau led a 54-yard touchdown drive that put his team firmly in charge. In addition to completing a 17-yard pass for a key first down, he rushed six times for
13 yards, including a 1-yard sneak that gave the Ledgers a 21-7 lead with less than three minutes left in the quarter.
For good measure, Beau threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Eric Steffes on the first play of the fourth quarter and capped his big day with a 1-yard scoring run.
“Beau is a phenomenal athlete, a great quarterback,” said Zablocki, whose 11-1 team hadn’t allowed more than one touchdown in any previous game this year.
“He can run with the ball and has a rocket for an arm.
“Our defense did a great job for one half against them, but it’s really tough to hold them down for a whole game.”
Wearing black uniforms on an unexpectedly hot day didn’t make the Rockets’ job any easier. Another major factor was the loss of tailback Nic Vrubley, who sustained a shoulder injury early in the second quarter.
The senior, who rushed for more than 1,500 yards this season, was unable to carry the ball the rest of the game, though he did continue to handle kicking duties.
“When you lose such an instrumental part of your game plan, it has a great effect,” Zablocki said. “Ian Evans did a good job filling in for Nic, but we still missed having him back there.
“Nic has a way of hitting the holes so quickly, and we just didn’t have that against their defense.”
Evans contributed on the Rockets’ lone scoring drive, finishing a 12-play, 76-yard march with a 1-yard touchdown run.
After Beau put Springs up, 7-0, early in the second quarter, Cedar Grove-Belgium responded with a passing attack that caught the Ledgers off guard.
Quarterback Kyle Bruggink completed three passes for gains of 18, 11 and 19 yards during the drive, as the Rockets pulled even with 4:19 left in the half.
But coach Bob Hyland’s Ledgers wasted little time stealing the momentum back. They ripped off a 10-play, 60-play drive of their own, including a crucial 20-yard keeper by Beau on a third-and-6 play near midfield.
When Beau tossed a 3-yard touchdown pass to split end Erik Martin with just 46 seconds left, Springs owned a 14-7 lead — and left the Rockets facing their first halftime deficit of the season.
“That was a really big play by them, but we still thought we were in a great position going into the second half,” Zablocki said.
“We knew we would get the ball to start the half, but we just couldn’t establish a drive after that.”
Springs’ defense stymied the Rockets at every turn after the break, holding them without a first down and just 29 offensive yards.
Cedar Grove-Belgium trailed, 21-7, when cornerback J.J. Mitchell intercepted a Bruggink pass late in the third period — a turnover that led to Beau’s second touchdown run.
With Vrubley out, the Rockets’ potent three-pronged rushing attack had to rely on Evans and Jacque, a fullback who led them with 55 yards on 15 carries.
Jacque, one of nine Cedar Grove-Belgium starters who played both ways, said not having Vrubley in the backfield forced the Rockets to work extra hard.
“We played with them for the first half, but the heat definitely wore on us,” he said. “Losing our starting tailback changed our rotation, so Ian and I had to play more without getting a break.”
The frustrating finale overshadowed another outstanding season for the Rockets — at least temporarily. But the disappointment should eventually give way to pride for a team that went 24-2 the past two years, including a state-runner-up finish in 2008.
“They’ve had another great year, and I want them all to remember that,” Zablocki said.
“This is the first group of seniors that I’ve been with for four years, and they started a tradition of excellence for Rocket football that they should be really proud of.”
Jacque, one of 12 seniors on the Cedar Grove-Belgium roster, concurred.
“I think we had a togetherness and work ethic that was special,” he said. “After losing in the state title game last year, we bonded together and wanted to take another run at it this year.
“We just came up a little short.”
In this Saturday’s Division 5 state semifinals, Springs will play Lancaster (12-0) while Arcadia (10-2) takes on Brillion (12-0). The winners will meet in the state title game Nov. 19.
QUARTERBACK KYLE BRUGGINK (12) and his Cedar Grove-Belgium teammates struggled to find consolation after their season ended with a 34-7 loss to St. Mary’s Springs in a WIAA Division 5 playoff football game in Fond du Lac. Photo by Sam Arendt
CEDAR GROVE-BELGIUM back Ian Evans broke through the line for a short gain in Saturday’s season finale. Photo by Sam Arendt
Written by Steve Ostermann
Wednesday, 11 November 2009 17:56
Grafton advances 6 girls to Div. 2 final in Madison; Jajtner, divers qualify for Port
Members of the Grafton girls’ swimming and diving squad will be on a mission this Friday in Madison.
Although the Black Hawks won’t be among the favorites for a team title, they should make several trips to the medals stand in the WIAA Division 2 state meet at the University of Wisconsin Natatorium.
“If we swim our best races, the chips will fall where they will, and we will do all right,” said Grafton coach Adan Burgos, whose team had eight individual and two relay performances qualify for state at last Saturday’s Plymouth Sectional.
“Last year, our swimmers all had their best times and did well, and we’ll take the same approach this time.”
Senior Sadie Nennig will again lead the Hawks. She qualified in two individual events — winning the 100-yard backstroke (59.53 seconds) and taking second in the 200 individual medley (2:12.53) — and will be part of both state-bound relay teams, which each finished third.
Nennig was joined by sophomore Caitlin Hanney, junior Kelsi Chesney and senior Morgan Wilkey on the 200 medley team (1:52.85) and the 400 freestyle team (3:43.71).
Grafton’s other individual state qualifiers are divers Molly McElligott (second with 382 points) and Katelyn Zarem (third with 364.3), Hanney in the individual medley (fourth in 2:15.94) and 500 freestyle (sixth in 5:25.27), Wilkey in the 50 freestyle (25.54) and
Chesney in the 100 butterfly (sixth in 1:01.88).
McElligott is a senior, and Zarem is a sophomore.
Port Washington will be represented at state by swimmer Erin Jajtner and divers Claire Kinzer and Hayley Seitz.
Jajtner, a senior, advanced in the 200 freestyle (fifth in 2:01.72) and 500 freestyle (seventh in 5:27.07).
Kinzer, a sophomore, placed fifth with 295.05 points, and Seitz, a freshman, was sixth with 284.3.
The winners of each sectional event qualify for the state level along with the next 12 top finishers from all sectionals. Although no Grafton or Port swimmers or divers are top-seeded, they are expected to be among the leaders in Madison.
“We have a lot of state-meet experience, so we should do well,” said Burgos, whose state qualifiers will all be making return trips to Madison.
“Our goal is to have them be in the top six and make the podium.”
Nennig, one of the state’s top swimmers since her freshman year, will be among the favorites in both of her individual races.
She won state backstroke titles in 2006 and 2007 and finished second last year, when she also placed fourth in the butterfly.
The Hawks also have high hopes for their divers. McElligott finished third at state last year, while Zarem was fourth.
“Diving has always been a strong point for us and gets us off to a strong start in meets,” Burgos said. “I believe we have the best diving program and coach (Dennis Hubert) in the state.”
Jajtner is the only Port qualifier with state experience, having advanced in the 500 freestyle last year.
“She had a good meet, and we’re happy to have her going in two events,” Pirates coach Maureen Jajtner said of her daughter’s sectional performance.
The Port coach also praised the efforts of her young divers, who will represent their team in Madison one year after it had a state champion in Laura VandeBoom.
“They’re young, but they are talented,” Jajtner said. “Obviously, as first-time state competitors, they’re a little green, but I think they’ll do fine.”
Jajtner praised the work of Pirates’ diving coach Dustin Kesner, a former standout diver at Port High.
Burgos and Jajtner both noted that the Plymouth Sectional had several of the team favorites for this year’s state title.
Whitefish Bay won the sectional crown with 326 points, followed closely in the next three spots by Shorewood (317), Sturgeon Bay/Sevastopol (312) and Plymouth (268).
Grafton was fifth in the 14-team field with 230 points, and Port was seventh with 156 points.
“Having that kind of sectional competition is only good because it pushes us to be better,” Burgos said.
Grafton and Port both had several other strong sectional swims that missed qualifying for state. They included Wilkey’s seventh-place finish in the 100 freestyle (55.82) and a sixth place by the Pirates’ 200 team of Tori Klotz, Alex Anderson, Sarah Wiskow and Jajtner
The Hawks’ alternates for their state-qualifying relays are Lisa Borden and Emily Fischer.
Friday’s Division 2 state meet begins with diving at 2:30 p.m., followed by swimming at 6:30 p.m.
SENIOR ERIN JAJTNER will represent the Port Washington girls’ swimming and diving team in the 200 and 500-yard freestyle events at Friday’s WIAA Division 2 state meet. Press file photo