By Mitchell A. Skurzewski

For Wausau Pilot & Review 

Newman’s perfect season was on the brink of ending in the sectional final at Stanley-Boyd High School last Friday.

What once was a 22-point halftime lead for the Wausau Newman Catholic 8-Player football team had nearly evaporated. Gilman scored a touchdown to trim its deficit to one point and opted to go for a two-point conversion to win the game.

Newman’s twin brothers, seniors Josh and Nathan Klement, stepped up in the biggest moment, though. Josh Klement blitzed right up the middle and nearly spun down Gilman quarterback Julian Krizan, who somehow stayed on his feet. He got off a pass, but Nathan Klement broke up the pass clinching a Newman win and a trip to the WIAA 8-Player State Championship game. Newman (15-0) plays Luck (14-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday in Wisconsin Rapids. 

“We knew we had to step up and make a play,” Josh Klement said. “We just don’t want our season to end. We are always fighting for another 48 minutes. That is something we say a lot. Fight for another 48 minutes and leave everything on the field so you have no regrets.”

“(Josh) was hurt right before that play, could hardly raise his arm. Our guys were hurting, but Josh put the pressure on and really blew up the play,” Newman head coach Paul Michlig said. Nate stayed in coverage. You can’t ask for anything more as a coach, these kids stuck with it and I think that play epitomizes what these kids are all about.”

Gilman was the No. 1 ranked team in the state and despite the Pirates having all the momentum, Newman didn’t blink in a season-defining moment.

So what was being said in the defensive huddle before the defining play of the season for the Cardinals?

“This is it, this is the make or break play of the year,” senior cornerback and wide receiver Jacob Pfiffner said. “When we got that stop, I was at a loss for words. It was an incredible feeling. All the hard work paid off and now we’re playing for a gold ball.”

When the ball hit the ground, the Cardinals rushed the field, elated in what has been a challenging year despite being undefeated.

After an injury to their star player Thomas Bates (running back/inside linebacker) in Week 3, the Cardinals have had to move a number of players around to different positions. The Cardinals well disappointed one of their ‘brothers’ is out due to a torn ACL in Bates, they have embraced the challenge of playing new positions for the betterment of the team.

“These guys have really stepped up and it’s a credit to them,” Michlig said. “All of us are so excited to make it to state for him and to be on the field after that, it’s a tough moment to ever replicate.”

Josh Klement has assumed Bates’ posts, Nathan Klement despite his diminutive stature (5’6) has moved to linebacker, quarterback Conner Krach is now also playing defensive back and Eli Gustafson moved to outside linebacker among the changes.

“I have wanted to play defense all season and I enjoy it. I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win,” Krach said. 

That has been the overall attitude of the Cardinals, doing whatever it takes.

“There wasn’t a doubt we were going to practice this week,” Michlig said. “It is just pure enjoyment for me for these kids to be playing on the last week of the season and I am happy I get to spend another week with them. 

“We don’t pass the bus test compared to some other teams, but we are going to play the underdog role and love every moment we are on the field together.”

Playing in the last game of the year for 8-Player football, the Cardinals are relishing the chance to show “what Newman football is all about.”

“We just want to get the gold ball, it’s really important to us,” Nathan Klement said. “We want it for our family and friends and obviously ourselves. We have put in the work and now we just want to show everyone what kind of team we are.”

Added his brother Josh: “We have fought all year long for this. It’s time to get the gold ball.”