October 18, 2019
By Scott Williams
WESTON – Stevens Point Area Senior High entered the final week of the high school football regular season intent on unveiling a new Marvel villain; the Spoiler.
With a win, the Panthers had a chance to end an otherwise disappointing season on a bright note by preventing D.C. Everest from qualifying for the playoffs Friday night.
Evergreens senior quarterback Ethan Ostrowski, and a gang of defenders, were ready to do whatever it took to fight off the evil Spoiler, and earn a place in the postseason.
Ostrowski accounted for three touchdowns and the DCE defense locked down the Panthers in the second half to pick up a lopsided 42-6 playoff clinching win on Steffenhagen Field.
“It means a lot (to make the playoffs). We get another opportunity to potentially make it to state,” said junior Orion Boe, who anchored the middle of the DCE defense from his inside linebacker position and added a rushing touchdown.
“We practiced hard all week. We knew we had to grind. We knew we had to win and everybody wanted to win. We just closed them out (on defense).”
The celebration took many forms in the east end zone at Stiehm Stadium. Tanner Grahm offered a back flip worthy of a score of 8.5 from the American judge.
Many of the Evergreen players waited for injured senior Chris Tilton to reach the postgame huddle to give him a warm hug.
DCE (5-4, 4-4 Valley Football Association-West) returns to the playoffs after a two-year hiatus, and for the first time under current coach Tim Strehlow.
The Evergreens will play Appleton East on October 25 at Appleton East in the WIAA Division 1 Level 1 playoff game. Everest earned the 6 seed.
At this point DCE is just happy to be back in the postseason. Even moreso after coping with a heartbreaking loss to Marshfield a week earlier with the conference title on the line.
“I talked to our kids after last week’s loss. Obviously we were down about that all week,” coach Strehlow said. “We talked about how we were starting the playoffs this week. Our motivation all week was to stay alive.”
DCE left little doubt in the second half the playoffs would be in their future.
Clinging to a 7-6 lead at the break, the Evergreens came out and put together a dominating performance on both sides of the ball over the final 24 minutes.
SPASH (1-8, 1-7 VFA-West) was limited to just 35 yards of total offense in the second half. Meanwhile, the Evergreen offense put up 35 unanswered second-half points to take command.
An injury to hard-nosed running back Cooper Behnke, who is considered the team’s emotional leader according to its coach, late in the opening half deflated the Panthers.
“There was no doubt our kids were fired up (to keep DCE out of the playoffs),” SPASH coach Pete McAdams said. “We just couldn’t get the points we needed to put them behind. No team likes to come from behind, especially a team that likes to run the ball.
“Hats off to D.C. Everest. They put it together in the second half and were physical, and that was the difference tonight.”
A pair of special teams plays would ultimately provide the Evergreens playoff train with the spark needed to propel them into the playoffs.
After the Panthers jumped out to a 6-0 lead early in the second quarter, DCE’s Ty Strehlow returned the ensuing kickoff 48 yards to set up a short field for the offense.
The Evergreens capitalized with a scoring strike from Ostrowski to Jesse Rombalski to give them the lead for good.
“That (kickoff return) was definitely huge. When we’ve gotten a long return on the year, I think we’ve taken them down and scored just about every time,” coach Strehlow said.
The lead grew to 14-6 when DCE marched down the field on the opening drive of the second half.
On the next kickoff SPASH fumbled and Alec Schuster recovered for the Evergreens. Three plays later, Ostrowski hooked with Bryan Halambeck on a 51-yard touchdown connection.
With a 15-point cushion and the defense playing lights out, the Evergreens could begin to entertain the thought of what it’ll feel like to be part of the WIAA playoffs again.
“No. 1 it’s Senior Night and I’m super proud of our seniors and the effort they put forth all year long,” Tim Strehlow said. “To give them a win their last time on the (Steffenhagen) turf is great to see.”
SPASH 6 0 0 0 – 6
D.C. Everest 0 7 14 21 – 42
SPASH – Colton Engle 1 pass from Brandon Vlcko (kick failed), :53
DCE – Ethan Ostrowski 2 run (Bryce Morris kick), 8:24
DCE – Jesse Rombalski 4 pass from Ostrowski (Morris kick), 6:14
DCE – Bryan Halambeck 51 pass from Ostrowski (Morris kick), 5:05
DCE – Orion Boe 5 run (Morris kick), 7:35
DCE – Payton Peterson 40 run (Morris kick), 5:43
DCE – Peterson 32 run (Morris kick), 2:44