A close game at the end of one quarter turned into a blowout win for the fourth-seeded Polar Bear varsity football team as they topped the fifth-seeded Merrill Blue Jays, 42-20, in a WIAA Division 2 Level 1 playoff game at Akin Field on Friday, Oct. 24.
The Polar Bears faced fourth-and-five from Merrill’s 43-yard line on their opening drive, but Hortonville faked the punt and ran for a first down. A penalty against Merrill on the play gave Hortonville a first down at the Blue Jays’ 29-yard line.
The Polar Bears moved the ball to Merrill’s 1-yard line and Mitch Gerhartz bulled into the end zone for his first touchdown of the evening with 7:08 remaining in the first quarter. The extra point kick by Anders Carlson was good, and the Polar Bears led 7-0.
Merrill wasted little time in answering the Polar Bear touchdown, as an option play resulted in an 11-yard touchdown run with 4:08 left in the quarter. After the extra point, the game was tied, 7-7.
Merrill was moving the ball well to start the second quarter and decided to go for it on fourth-and-six from their own 40-yard line, but the Polar Bear defense held.
Hortonville’s offense moved the ball towards the end zone on several nice runs by Gerhartz. The Polar Bears then drew a pass interference call against the Blue Jays, giving the home team a first-and-four from the 7-yard line. Gerhartz ran the ball to the 1-yard line and found the end zone on the next play for his second touchdown. Carlson tacked on the extra point, and Hortonville led 14-7.
On the ensuing Merrill possession, the Blue Jays fumbled and the Polar Bears recovered at their own 39-yard line. Hortonville quarterback Jake Sommers then broke off a 22-yard run to put the ball on Merrill’s 39-yard line.
Facing third-and-eight later in the drive, Sommers connected with Carter Beaudoin for a first down pass play. Gerhartz ran for a 10-yard touchdown on the next play, and Carlson added the extra point. Hortonville led 21-7 with 4:07 left.
The Blue Jays’ sense of urgency grew with each Polar Bear touchdown, and they converted a fourth-and-one play from their own 41 yard line with 2:28 remaining in the first half. Unfortunately for Merrill, the drive stalled four plays later, forcing them to punt.
Hortonville tried to move the ball down the field quickly through the air, but the Blue Jay defense held, forcing the Polar Bears to punt. Merrill took over at their own 49-yard line with 45 seconds remaining in the half.
The Blue Jays took to the air to try to find a quick score before halftime, but Hortonville’s Austin O’Brien came up with an interception, giving the Polar Bear offense another chance to score with 28 seconds remaining.
On second-and-10 from Merrill’s 43-yard line, Sommers threw a deep pass to Beaudoin, who had gotten behind the Blue Jay defense. Beaudoin snagged the throw and charged into the end zone with 12 seconds remaining in the half. Carlson’s extra point kick made the score 28-7.
Merrill received the kickoff and took a knee to run out the clock, ending the first half.
The Blue Jays received the kick to start the second half, but the Polar Bear defense forced them to punt.
Hortonville’s offense took over at their own 25-yard line, but Gerhartz ripped off a 24-yard run on first down to move the ball to the 49-yard line. Max Flunker followed with a 22-yard run to put the ball on Merrill’s 27-yard line.
After a holding penalty against the Polar Bears that moved them back to Merrill’s 35-yard line, Sommers tried to pass for a touchdown. The ball was slightly underthrown, and Merrill intercepted the ball in the end zone.
Merrill started from their own 20-yard line and moved the ball out to their own 44-yard line before Hortonville’s Kyle Witthuhn intercepted a pass and returned it to the Blue Jays’ 11-yard line. On the next play, Gerhartz found the end zone for the fourth time. Carlson’s extra point pushed the score to 35-7 with 5:11 remaining in the third quarter.
Merrill’s offense stalled again on their next possession, and the Hortonville defense stopped the Blue Jays on fourth-and-one from their own 43-yard line. The offense took the field and Gerhartz scampered 43 yards for his fifth touchdown of the game. Carlson’s extra point made the score 42-7 with 3:11 remaining in the quarter.
The clock began to run continuously after Hortonville had established a 35-point lead.
Merrill finally found the end zone on a 23-yard touchdown pass with 11:50 remaining in the fourth quarter, but the extra point kick failed, leaving the score at 42-13.
Braden Stoeger came in to relieve Sommers at quarterback and Brad Conger stepped in for Gerhartz as the Polar Bears enjoyed a 29-point lead.
Merrill added a 54-yard touchdown pass with 5:19 remaining in the game and converted the extra point to make the score 42-20. The Blue Jays then attempted and recovered an onside kick with 5:10 remaining in the game, but the Merrill offense turned the ball over on downs a few plays later.
Hortonville ran the ball a few times to run out the clock, preserving the 42-20 win.
Level 2 Playoff Game
With the win, the Polar Bears advance to a WIAA Division 2 Level 2 playoff game against the top-seeded, undefeated Menasha Blue Jays on Friday, Oct. 31. That game will be played at 7 p.m. in Menasha.