After a scoreless first quarter, it looked like the Eastern Valley Conference matchup between Waupaca and Appleton Xavier Friday, Sept. 23, might be a low-scoring contest.
Not so fast.
The teams combined for 41 points in the fourth quarter alone and Waupaca took over first place in the EVC with a 37-31 win over the Hawks at Haberkorn Field.
Waupaca improved to 5-0 in conference play and 5-1 overall, while the Hawks are now 4-1 in league play and 5-1 overall.
Matt Siciliano put the Hawks on the board 52 seconds into the second quarter with a 39-yard field goal that just cleared the crossbar.
Waupaca responded with a pair of scores to take a 14-3 halftime lead. An illegal block in the back nullified Justin Johnson’s kickoff return for a touchdown, but Waupaca scored on Aaron Gooch’s 9-yard run with 7:11 to go in the first half. Josh Houtman picked off a Ben Jensen pass on Xavier’s next drive and Sam Menzies capped the drive with a 5-yard run with 2:00 remaining in the half.
Bjorn Asher added to the Comets’ lead with a 35-yard field goal with 7:56 to go in the third quarter, but the Hawks cut the lead to 17-10 with Jensen’s 80-yard TD pass to Siciliano with 1:56 left in the quarter.
Each team scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Menzies scored from 18 yards out 2:28 into the final period to make it 24-10, but Xavier scored three minutes later on Jack Little’s 4-yard run.
Johnson returned the Hawks’ kickoff 96 yards to make it 31-17, but a pair of face mask penalties on the Comets allowed Xavier to move down the field. Little scored from 12 yards out with 5:08 remaining to cut Waupaca’s lead to 31-24.
The scoring wasn’t over, however.
Gooch returned the kickoff 64 yards to the Xavier 24-yard line and Menzies found the end zone from a yard out with 3:05 remaining. Asher’s extra point sailed to the right to make it 37-24.
Xavier used Jensen’s passing game to march down the field and Little scored his third TD of the quarter from 3 yards out with 1:38 left in the game.
The Hawks tried an onside kick, but the Comets recovered at their own 44-yard line and ran out the clock.
“We had a hard time stopping what they were trying to do in the second half,” coach John Koronkiewicz said. “It didn’t take them a long time to score when they got into a panic situation. We put points on the board when we had to put points on the board.”
Jensen completed 19 of 32 passes for 317 yards, but also threw a pair of interceptions in the first half.
“His receivers were making some outstanding catches,” Koronkiewicz said. “It’s not like they were always wide open.”
Meanwhile, Menzies carried the ball a season-high 28 times and led the Comets in rushing with 85 yards.
Sam Menzies, 28 carries, 85 yards.
“We kind of put it under his wing and he responded the way you’d like to see a quarterback respond,” Koronkiewicz said. “He had a lot of help from the guys up front and from his running backs. We got conservative and put the ball in Sam’s hands. Our people up front did an outstanding job of moving people and picking up big yardage when we had to. We threw the ball when we needed to.”
Xavier outgained the Comets 365-298. Menzies completed five of 11 passes for 120 yards.
The win means the Comets have qualified for the state playoffs for the 21st straight year.
“It’s an accomplishment and we’re proud of that,” Koronkiewicz said. “There’s only one team in the state of Wisconsin that has more consecutive qualifying years than us. That’s Menomonie and they have us by one. You don’t realize when you start the season how hard it is to get enough wins to put you in the playoffs. Now we know we’re in and we can build on that. We can’t relax because the teams we have to play are excellent football teams.”
Up next for the Comets is Fox Valley Lutheran at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30, on the Foxes’ home field in Appleton.
“This is a great win, I’m telling you,” Koronkiewicz said. “When your team is focused, prepared the way they did and laid it on the line the way they did, it was fun to see. Great crowd, great atmosphere, great game. It was a very enjoyable game to be a part of.”