By Brian Kalish
September 27, 2019
ROTHSCHILD– The calendar may have read September 27 on Friday night at Stiehm Stadium, but the D.C. Everest Evergreens and Wausau West Warriors provided football fans with more fireworks than one would typically see on the Fourth of July.
So it is perhaps a little ironic that all the explosive plays on offense– not to mention some sparks flying between these cross-town rivals in the form of pushing and shoving or showboating that resulted in unsportsmanlike penalties– ultimately didn’t decide the game.
One defensive series did.
Down 28-21 with just over three minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Wausau West found themselves in a fourth and goal at the five yard line.
A pass play set up for Mitchell Zahurones was broken up by Everest’s secondary, and the Evergreens held on for a hard-fought win.
“Our defense came up when we needed it to right at the end,” said Everest coach Tim Strehlow. “Our kids played hard the whole game. And that’s what it’s all about. We fought adversity, we stayed positive throughout, and we got it at the end.”
“It was a little bit like the end of the Packers game last night,” said West coach Jason Foster. “We put ourselves in a tough spot there.”
The red zone stand for the Evergreens was all the more impressive considering the way their defense struggled in the previous week against Wisconsin Rapids.
In that game, after jumping out to a 28-0 lead in the first half, Everest allowed the Red Raiders to storm back before coming away with a 35-26 win.
“We didn’t quite know how to handle success (against Rapids),” said Strehlow. “Handling success has got to be about maturity. I think we learned from last week. We tightened up our defense in the second half.”
Defense was a missing ingredient for both teams in the first half.
The Evergreens struck first when they marched 72 yards on their opening drive, which was capped off by a 30-yard touchdown pass from Ethan Ostrowski to Bryan Halambeck.
To say it was a weird play would be an understatement.
Ostrowski, under pressure, rolled to his left to avoid pressure while Halambeck stood in the end zone completely uncovered.
It may have been the easiest touchdown pass of Ostrowski’s career.
“I saw the coverage come up on our other receiver,” said Ostrowski. “That’s where it’s no Xs and Os, that’s just our quarterback and receiver relationship right there.”
West answered on the ensuing drive when Zahurones scored the first of his two touchdown receptions on the night, a 20-yard strike from Garrett Richardt.
Zahurones’ second touchdown– he finished the game with seven catches for 115 yards and two scores– came in the second quarter and was an answer to an Everest touchdown by Delton Zuleger.
Both teams’ scoring binges continued.
Halambeck snared another touchdown pass for Everest, a circus grab in the end zone only to be answered by a touchdown reception by West’s Maxwell Helke minutes later.
By the time the smoke had cleared, it was 21-21 at halftime.
The Evergreens got the go-ahead score in the third quarter on a 60-yard scamper by Zuleger, who finished the game with 22 rushing attempts for 179 yards and two touchdowns.
Zuleger’s efforts did not go unnoticed by his coach.
“Delton works hard every single day and he’s just getting better and better,” said Strehlow. “I’m proud of his effort.”
After the frenetic scoring pace of the first three quarters, things tightened up in the final frame and set the stage for Everest’s big defensive stand.
Ostrowski finished things off with a first down run that allowed the Evergreens to run out the clock.
The loss by West eliminates them from the playoffs, while Everest keeps their post-season hopes alive.
Though the playoffs are no longer part of the equation, Foster said West will continue to work hard in order to build the program.
“We have a group of seniors who have worked really, really hard and I feel horrible for them,” Foster said. “But there’s a lot of things to be positive about. There’s three good games sitting out in front of us. We can’t make the playoffs, but we’re going to work real hard and win our homecoming game against Marshfield next week and try to get back on the right track.”
Meanwhile, Everest keeps its playoff hopes alive and is also heading into a homecoming week.
“We’re in a two-game win streak right now,” Ostrowski said. “We’re trying to win out the rest of the season and make the playoffs. So this win is huge for us.”