Oct. 25, 2019

By Scott Williams

APPLETON – Delton Zuleger found the end zone three times in Friday night. Chances are he forgot every single one of the touchdowns within minutes.

One play on the defensive side of the ball, however, will likely be etched in the memory banks of Zuleger for the rest of his life.

With the outcome hanging in the balance, someone from D.C. Everest needed to make a game-changing defensive play in the waning seconds against Appleton East.

Zuleger stepped up and got the job done for the Evergreens, sacking East quarterback Bennett Peterson on fourth down with 30 seconds left and DCE to hold on for a mind-numbing 47-41 win at Pickett Field.

Next up for the Evergreens (6-4) is a date with Appleton North, a 59-20 winner over Eau Claire Memorial, in the second round. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday.

“The coaches trusted me to go make a play, and all glory to God for letting him let me make the play,” Zuleger said. “Coach looked at me and said ‘Go get him.’

“Our defense kind of got stuck in the mud a little bit (in the second half).”

Not only did he prevent the Patriots from picking up a first down but Zuleger forced Peterson to fumble – the sixth of the game for East. Zuleger also recovered the ball.

The Evergreens were hanging on for their playoff lives. A seemingly comfortable 41-13 halftime lead had all but vanished.

Get a stop on the Patriots’ potential game-winning drive, and live to play another day.

Come up short and a gut-wrenching loss could linger throughout a brutally tough offseason, and perhaps longer.

“I’m proud of the defense stepping up,” Evergreens coach Tim Strehlow said. “I’m proud of our kids for hanging in there. The first week of the season we were up and it was almost the same thing. In the fourth quarter they came back and beat us. This time around we had the defensive stop.”

The intense emotions of finding a way to pull the game out was epitomized by injured senior Alex Stumpner.

A solitary figure, Stumpner kneeled in the end zone prior to the postgame talk. He was overcome by the moment, half-laughing and half-crying with joy.

“By no means are we going to give in to anyone,” Zuleger said. “We’re fighting. A lot of guys were not willing to give it up or give in.”

His game-clinching play turned out to be one of the few times the Evergreens were able to stop East, especially in the second half.

For the most part, the Patriots (6-4) were extremely effective at stopping themselves, turning the ball over a total of seven times.

Five of those turnovers came in the first half – four fumbles and an interception. The Evergreens converted four of those miscues into touchdowns and a 41-13 halftime lead.

All signs suggested DCE was ready to book a spot in the second round next week. The Patriots said not so fast.

“We knew we were still in the game at halftime,” East coach Mark Krommenacker said. “It’s not like we were (in the locker room) moping around and saying this one’s over. We were planning on coming back and winning the game, and honestly we should have.”

East busted out everything in the second half to get back in the game.

There were three onside kicks, and even a hook-and-ladder play that resulted in a TD to make it a one score game.

The real impetus for the comeback was the potent 1-2 rushing attack of Nick Bouvat and Conner Kudrna.

Bouvat was the hammer gouging the interior of the DCE defense for 235 yards on 32 carries. Kudrna supplied the lightning with his speed on the edges to gain 89 yards on nine attempts.

Together they ran roughshod over the Evergreens and helped turn a blowout loss into a thriller that came down to the wire.

“We ran all of our stuff and they weren’t able to stop us,” Krommenacker said. “You’re just never going to win a game when you give them the ball that many times.”

That was even more true considering the Patriots couldn’t stop Orion Boe or Zuleger either.

Much of the reason for that was the bulldozer work up front by DCE’s offensive line. Dominic Tilton, Payton Danczyk, Brendan Harder, Rames Frisch and Aidan Chacon manhandled the Patriots in the trenches.

Boe, who also found the end zone three times, and Zuleger had huge creases to run through. Once contact was finally coming, both DCE ball carriers finished off runs on a physical manner.

Zuleger carried the ball 28 times for 172 yards while Boe churned out 86 yards on 15 attempts.

“Our offensive line is great. It makes it easy for us in the backfield,” Zuleger said. “They work every day in practice, getting better. They came together as a group.”

With the heartstopping win the Evergreens continue in playoff mode for a third consecutive week.

Strehlow viewed last week’s regular season finale against SPASH as the start of the playoffs. DCE needed a win just to play again this week.

Now this group of players will have a chance to do what they love most and that’s play football for at least another week.

“The last two years we had a couple tough seasons and I think a lot of people coming into the season didn’t think we would necessarily do much,” Zuleger. “It was a huge goal for us to make the playoffs. Now to get this first win, we’re going to take it one week at a time and keep rolling.”

D.C. Everest  20  21  0  6  –  47

Appleton East  0  13  14  14  –  41

First Quarter

DCE – Orion Boe 3 run (Bryce Morris kick), 6:59

DCE – Delton Zuleger 5 run (kick failed), 5:57

DCE – Boe 8 run (Morris kick), 1:53

Second Quarter

DCE – Boe 4 run (Morris kick), 11:54

AE – Conner Kudrna 7 run (kick blocked), 9:33

DCE – Bryan Halambeck 25 pass from Ethan Ostrowski (Morris kick), 4:43

AE – Nick Bouvat 7 run (Fernando Vera kick), 2:40

DCE – Zuleger 13 run (Morris kick), :34

Third Quarter

AE – Bennett Peterson 4 run (Vera kick), 8:28

AE – Peterson 4 run (Vera kick), 6:27

Fourth Quarter

DCE – Zuleger 5 run (kick failed), 9:47

AE – Bouvat 6 run (Vera kick), 7:55

AE – Ryan Latour 17 run (Vera kick), 5:32