Nov. 16, 2019

By Scott Williams
Photos and videos by Brian Kalish

CHIPPEWA FALLS – Heads dropped and shoulder pads slumped.

All the Newman Catholic football players could do was look on helplessly as Luck quarterback Bennett Jensen lined up in the “victory formation” and took a knee.

The time slowly ticked off the scoreboard clock at Dorais Field. With each passing second Newman Catholic’s dream of bringing the gold ball back to the school vanished.

Instead, the Fighting Cardinals had to settle for the silver trophy after a gut-wrenching 42-27 setback at the hands of top-ranked Luck in the 8-player state championship game Saturday afternoon.

Newman Catholic (12-1) can take some solace in knowing it earned the school’s first football gold or silver ball earmarked for the trophy case.

“There is no reason to have your heads down. No reason to feel sorry for yourselves,” said Newman Catholic coach Paul Michlig as he addressed a dejected collection of players kneeling in the south end zone.

“That’s a dream come true (to play for a state championship).”

The loss did nothing to take any of the luster off a groundbreaking season for Newman Catholic.

Every player and coach associated with the program wanted end the season with ‘W.’ The goal was to hold up a gold ball instead of silver hardware.

But the second-ranked Fighting Cardinals have every reason to be proud of what they accomplished this season. No previous Newman Catholic football team had ever played for a state football championship.

“It’s been a long ride. I loved every minute of it,” senior quarterback Ben Bates said. “I love all these guys and it’s going to be hard to say goodbye to them.”

Luck senior Levi Jensen almost single-handedly denied the Fighting Cardinals their first state football championship in school history.

The bruising running back turned in a monster performance with a whopping 432 yards on the ground and five touchdowns.

When Jensen wasn’t busy chewing up huge chunks of yards on the ground, he spent much of the afternoon stuffing the Newman Catholic rushing attack.

Luck (13-0) has watched Jensen do that all season and throughout his career.

“Being able to pop a couple big plays early, and getting our horse Levi Jensen going, that was a big, gig deal for us,” said Luck co-coach Matt Dunlap, whose team in the state title game a year ago. “We’ve been riding him all year.

“We had a lot of unfinished business from last year.”

Luck took care of business in the opening quarter and jumped out to a 22-0 lead with Jensen breaking loose for scoring runs of 65, 72 and 98 yards.

The early hole felt all too familiar for the Fighting Cardinals. A year ago, they fell behind Sevastopol and never recovered.

Newman Catholic was determined not to let history repeat itself in its bid to make school history.

“We knew we had to make something happen. We were down last year against Sevastapol and we kind of let down. We didn’t want that to happen again, so we did what we had to do and what did all season,” Newman Catholic senior wideout Joe Stephan said.

Stephan help Newman Catholic get back in the game. He finished with six receptions for 35 yards and added a 15-yard rushing TD.

The Fighting Cardinals shook off the rough start and put themselves in a position to pull the game out.

“Like our coach said, we could have laid down, but we wanted to fight; we wanted to give them some hell before we left (the field), and I think we did that,” Stephan said. “There is nothing to hang our heads about we’re still bringing home a trophy. I’m proud of what we did.”

Luck wouldn’t let the Fighting Cardinals get over the hump despite the efforts of wide receiver Charlie McCarty, Stephan and Bates.

The duo hooked up 18 times for 189 yards. Bates went 29-for-51 through the air for 272 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

When Stephan found the end zone from 15 yards out with 8:51 left in the fourth quarter Newman Catholic was within 34-27.

The frustrating part for the Fighting Cardinals is they could very easily have been ahead. Four times they entered Luck territory, including twice in the red zone, but failed to put any points on the scoreboard.

Now they’ll have the entire offseason to think about what might have been.

“I don’t think I’m upset, to be honest with you, that we lost the game, obviously we wanted to hold up the golden ball, but with this group, not going to practice Monday, that is the difficult part,” Michlig said.

“We just came up on the wrong side of the scoreboard unfortunately today.”

Newman Catholic 7 7 7 6 – 27
Luck 22 6 6 8 – 42
First Quarter

L – Levi Jensen 65 run (pass failed), 11:52
L – Jensen 72 run (Jensen run), 9:08
L – Jensen 98 run (Jensen run), 5:03
NC – Joe Stephan 29 pass from Ben Bates (Charlie McCarty kick), 1:54
Second Quarter
NC – Stephan 15 run (McCarty kick), 11:54
L – Jensen 1 run (run failed), 10:53
Third Quarter
L – Bennett Jensen 43 run (run failed), 10:13
NC – Dylan Ackermann 35 pass from Bates (McCarty kick), 3:22
Fourth Quarter
NC – Bates 1 run (kick blocked), 8:51
L – L. Jensen 38 run (L. Jensen run), 6:26
Records: Newman Catholic 12-1; Luck 13-0.