Pounding the rock all the way to Camp Randall

Grafton’s football team reaches state title game for first time since 1984 with 17-6 victory over Stoughton

GRAFTON’S FOOTBALL TEAM posed with its Division 3 sectional champion plaque at Waukesha West High School on Friday after beating Stoughton, 17-6, to earn a trip to the state championship game at Camp Randall in Madison. The Black Hawks play Rice Lake at 10 a.m. Friday. The game is on TV in the Milwaukee market on WCGV My24. Photo by Sam Arendt For more photos turn to the sports pages in this week's printed and online edition of Ozaukee Press, November 16, 2023.
Ozaukee Press staff

Defense has been the star of the Grafton High School football team’s season, and it came through in the clutch multiple times on Friday to procure the Black Hawks a place in the Division 3 state championship game.

The No. 4-seeded Hawks made two goal-line stands that ended with interceptions by Tyler Deer and Harrison Burke in the second quarter, and late in the fourth quarter Dalton Reindl picked off a pass and returned it 33 yards for a touchdown in a 17-6 win over No. 7 Stoughton at Waukesha West.

“This is the greatest thing I’ve ever felt,” senior Jaeden Tiegs said. “These guys have worked so hard. And it just feels so great for all the hard work to pay off.”

“It’s a dream come true,” senior Jackson Heinle said. “It’s going to hit me in the next couple hours or when I wake up. It’s a lot to take in.”

“I’m speechless. This is the craziest thing to think about,” Reindl said. “I’ve always dreamed of going to state, and being able to accomplish that goal with my brothers after fighting and practicing together all year, it’s been amazing.”

Coach Jim Norris, who has led the team to the playoffs in each of his first six seasons at the helm, said, “This is what you coach for. This is why you put the hours and work in, to have an opportunity for another 48 (minutes) at Camp Randall.”

Clinging to a 10-6 lead with five minutes to play, the Hawks tried to run out the clock, but the Vikings were up to the task. A punt gave Stoughton the ball on their own 31 with 1 minute, 52 seconds left and no timeouts.

Backup quarterback Colyn Kotlowski came in late in the third quarter after starter Drew Viney got injured and had just led the Vikings to their only touchdown, a seven-yard run by Cole Sarbacker. A 49-yard bomb to Sawyer Schipper was the key play.

Now, Kotlowski had to register another touchdown since he had bobbled the snap on the extra-point attempt.

The Hawks weren’t going to let it happen.

On first down, sophomore linebacker Tyler Heinle did his best imitation of Grafton volleyball middle blockers Avery Smith and Amelia Werner, leaping, extending his arms and smacking the ball high into the air. It landed back near the 15-yard line.

After a dropped pass on second down, Kotlowski faked a handoff on third and 10 and rolled to his right. Senior linebacker Jackson Heinle, who applied pressure for about as many times as the number on his jersey — 55 — forced a rushed throw.

The Vikings were trying to set up a screen, but the back stumbled and fell. Reindl moved up on the play and let the floating ball fall into his hands, then ran 33 yards untouched for the biggest of his three defensive touchdowns this season.

Burke’s extra point gave the Hawks a 17-6 lead with 91 seconds left, and the celebration was on.

“I knew the play. That running back was going to come out in the flat because that happened before. I missed the play earlier,” Reindl said. “When he came out, (Kotlowski) lobbed the ball up, I took it. I thought about going down, sealing the game. I kinda wanted the touchdown.”

That more than kinda sealed the win, and defensive back Nick Schiller picked off a bomb in the game’s second-last play to put a cherry on the sectional title sundae.

“Just not let anything get in front of me,” Schiller said of his approach.

The Hawks got the party started early against the Vikings. Junior quarterback Brady Hilgart hit Tiegs on a post route for a 61-yard touchdown on the game’s first play from scrimmage. Tiegs caught the ball with his back to the end zone, turned around and was never touched. The Hawks had planned the quick strike all week.

“It fired everyone in the crowd up, our whole sideline. It was amazing,” Hilgart said.

“Right as I caught it, I had it in my mind I’m not getting tackled,” Tiegs said.

The 7-0 score held up through halftime thanks to two goal-line stands that will go down in Grafton history.

On the first, Vinney scrambled — he was on the run most of the night — and hit Schipper on the run for 42 yards. Tiegs made a touchdown-saving tackle that turned out to be bigger than it looked at the time.

From the 2-yard-line, Tyler Heinle filled the hole and stuffed a run up the middle on first down.

On second and goal, Viney took the shotgun snap, turned and fired to his left. Deer jumped the route in a play somewhat similar to the New England Patriots’ Malcom Butler interception of Seattle Seahawk quarterback Russell Wilson to seal Super Bowl XLIX, only on the other side of the field.

“We kinda knew it was coming because the wide receiver was signaling for it,” Deer said. “The sidelines were helping me out with that. They called ‘pass ball,’ so I turned my head and the ball’s right there.”

Deer’s momentum took him outside the end zone, and Grafton couldn’t move the ball from there. Running back Tommy Lutz barely avoided being tackled for a safety. Hilgart quickly got off a punt from the back of the end zone, but the ball caught the side of his foot. A Viking fell on it on the 11-yard line with 2:27 left in the half.

Viney threw incomplete, then got sacked by Ian Cornelius but got a break on third down when Burke was called for interference in the end zone. On third and six from the 7-yard line, Viney rolled right and threw across his body. Burke lunged forward, corralled the low throw and fell in the end zone.

“I just read the play. We saw it twice before that. I knew the second he cut back I knew that I had to step in front of it and make a play,” Burke said.

Norris said those types of plays are set up days earlier.

“It comes down to discipline. It comes down to attention to detail, film study and preparation,” he said. “That stuff doesn’t happen by accident. It’s our scout team giving a fantastic look each and every day. They do a fantastic job, so I couldn’t be more proud of these guys.”

“The biggest thing is keeping our cool,” senior linebacker Tyler Van Sluys said of the goal-line stands. “They get a big play, we keep our cool, we stop them.”

“It was dig deep or go home time. That was it,” Jackson Heinle said. “It was put up or shut up time.”

Both teams moved the ball in the second half but struggled to score. The Vikings missed a 31-yard field goal late in the third quarter, and Burke hit a 33-yarder early in the fourth, giving the Hawks a 10-0 lead.

After moving the ball mostly by air in the first 24 minutes, Grafton got its ground game going in the second half. Lutz finished with 27 carries for 127 yards.

“Our O-line got pushes and did what needed to be done. Run the clock out. We couldn’t punch it in but we got a key field goal,” he said.

“Our biggest halftime adjustment was just getting the line of scrimmage going. That’s how we were going to win the game,” lineman Thomas Petersen said.

That helped the Hawks to their fifth appearance in the state title game and their first since 1984.

“It’s just incredible. It’s the best feeling ever,” Lutz said.

“This is amazing, man, dude. I’m shocked. This is the real deal,” Petersen said. 

“I don’t know how to feel. It’s hard to feel all the emotions,” Tyler Heinle said.

“Man, it’s surreal. This is everything I’ve been working for since freshman year,” senior Garrett Bonk said. “To finally accomplish it my senior year, it’s great. Obviously, we’re not done yet, but huge accomplishment.”

Junior lineman James Nellis didn’t have words for the memorable moment minutes after the game.

“No, not really,” he laughed. “It’s just awesome.”

“We have this on our whiteboard in the locker room,” Hilgart said. “Conference champs, level 3 — we haven’t been there in a while. Now state. Now we’ve got to win it.”

Hilgart went 15-for-25 passing for 168 yards and a touchdown. Tiegs had six catches for 96 yards and a score. Lutz caught three balls for 31 yards, Carson Hildebrand two for 19 and Van Sluys one for 16.

Tyler Heine had nine tackles. Van Sluys and Schiller each had seven. Burke and Jackson Heinle each had six.

For the Vikings, Viney went 15-for-28 for 172 yards and with two picks. Kotlowski went 4-for-10 for 71 yards and two picks.

Sarbacker had 56 yards rushing and a score on seven carries. Schipper caught eight balls for 124 yards.

Joe Wahlin had 13 tackles, Sarbacker had 11 and Ben Harman had 10.

Stoughton finished 7-6. Grafton, 11-2, plays Rice Lake on Friday for the championship.



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