By Mitchell A. Skurzewski 

For Wausau Pilot & Review 

Wausau West’s Reed Napiwocki had one thing on his mind when he intercepted Stevens Point Area Senior High quarterback Riley Warzynski on the first play of the fourth quarter: brisket. 

“Our (defensive backs) coach has a smoker and he told us if we returned an interception for a touchdown he would make (all the defensive backs) brisket. That’s all that was on my mind, I was on a mission for brisket,” Napiwocki said with a smile.

It was all smiles for the Warriors on Friday night as Napiwocki raced 70 yards for a touchdown on his game-changing INT, as the Warriors defeated SPASH 41-22 on Friday night at Thom Field.

The win puts Wausau West into a three-way tie atop the Valley Football Association Conference with SPASH and Wisconsin Rapids at 4-1 in the conference. 

The win was a big one for West, who still had a sour taste in their mouth from losing to Rapids two weeks ago.

SPASH falls to Wausau West on Oct. 1, 2021. Photo: Mitch Skurzewski for Wausau Pilot & Review

“The way that game went, I think we learned a lot,” West head coach Jason Foster said. “We kind of psyched ourselves out and got out of who we are. I thought tonight, we stayed true to who we are and played Warrior football.”

Added Napiwocki: “We were pissed. It made us want this one even more.”  

The atmosphere was pretty special at Thom Field and built into the fourth quarter. West hadn’t beaten SPASH since 2010 and this win was pivotal in the Fox Valley Association standings. 

“You try to say it’s just another game, but this one had a different feel,” Foster said. “This win means everything. Now all of our goals are still on the table for us, a home playoff game, conference championship. So this is a big win for us. We talk all the time and are learning there is a difference between being a program of winners and just winning games. We made too many mistakes a couple weeks ago, but we had a great week of practice and I am just really proud and happy for our players.”

Despite the 19-point final margin, it was a back-and-forth battle for three quarters. After the team’s exchanged touchdowns and the score tied at 22-22, Joe Berens scampered 39 yards on a counter to put West up 29-22. As the third quarter ended, SPASH came out to start the fourth quarter facing a 4th-and-9. 

Warzynski rolled to his left, he let out a sideline throw. But, Napiwocki stepped in front and raced down the sideline for a pick-six, changing the complexion of the game. It was one of three interceptions of Warzynski – Braden Kapitz had the other two – including two in the second half.

“We mixed our coverages up a bit in the second half,” Foster said. “We played pretty vanilla in the first half, but changed our drops and where guys were in the second half. We got after him with our pass rush tonight, too, which helps and goes hand-in-hand. It was big to get those interceptions tonight off of a very good quarterback.” 

“I never had two interceptions in a game,” Kapitz added. “We were just trying to read his eyes and make plays.”

West started out the game up 15-0 after two turnovers from SPASH set up Warriors touchdowns. Kapitz had his first interception lead to a Berens touchdown run and Colton Guerink scored from 1-yard out after a fumble recovery. 

SPASH responded with two scores to tie the game at 15 heading into halftime. Jaybreal Palbrach got the Panthers on the board with a touchdown run and Warzynski found his big 6-8 tight end Danny Zdroik for the second touchdown. After a West offsides on the extra point, SPASH went for and converted the 2-point conversion. 

West stopped SPASH on the Panthers’ first drive of the second half and Napiwocki scored on an 8-yard run. The Panthers tied the game up quickly on a 32-yard strike by Warynski to Tommy Drohner. Drohner then snared an interception but the Panthers couldn’t do anything with the ball and had to punt back to West, which went down and took the lead on the Berens touchdown run. They never relinquished that lead thanks to Napiwocki, who was everywhere on Friday.

“Our 3 backs are so unselfish,” Foster said, as all three had two touchdowns apiece. “They don’t care who gets the yards or score. Joe, Colton or Reed. You watch the film when they don’t have it they are blocking and blocking hard. I am just so happy for Reed to have the game he had tonight.”

And so is Napiwocki, who will be getting all-you-can-eat brisket.

Warriors 41, Panthers 22

Stevens Point   0   15   7   0   –   22

Wausau West   15   0   14   12   –   41

First Quarter

WW – Joe Berens 17 run (Colton Geurink run).

WW – Geurink 1 run (Jackson Albee kick).

Second Quarter

SP – Jaybreal Palbrach run (Cam Saeger kick).

SP – Danny Zdroik 18 pass from Riley Warzynski (Palbrach run).

Third Quarter

WW – Reed Napiwocki 7 run (Albee kick).

SP – Tommy Drohner 33 pass from Warzynski (Saeger kick).

WW – Berens 35 run (Albee kick).

Fourth Quarter

WW – Napiwocki 70 interception return (kick failed).

WW – Geurink 8 run (pass failed).

Team Statistics

First downs: Stevens Point 19; Wausau West 15.

Rushing (att-yards): SP 28-9; WW 41-259.

Passing (comp-att-yards-int): SP 27-49-324-3; WW 6-9-46-1.

Total yards: SP 333; WW 301.

Fumbles (total-lost): SP 2-2; WW 3-1.

Penalties (no.-avg.): SP 10-89; WW 9-73.

Individual Statistics

Rushing: SP, Jaybreal Palbrach 18-54, Peyton Pumper 2-minus 6, Riley Warzynski 8-minus 39. WW, Colton Geurink 25-150, Reed Napiowocki 7-61, Joe Berens 3-56, Landon Parlier 2-8, Jack Berens 3-7, Team 1-minus 23.

Passing: SP: Warzynski 27-49-324-3. WW, Ja. Berens 6-9-46-1.

Receiving: SP, Pumper 11-124, Tommy Drohner 5-75, Quinton Martin 4-59, Jayden Zelinski 4-37, Danny Zdroik 1-18, Ben Raczek 1-6, Palbrach 1-5. WW, Parlier 4-16, Gage Monpas 1-18, Daniel Allen 1-12.

Interceptions (defense): SP: Drohner.

Records: Stevens Point 5-2, 4-1 Valley Football Association; Wausau West 5-1, 3-1 VFA.