Columnist remembers Clintonville in first state playoffs
By Roger Pitt
Bob Krueger worked on a crossword next to the End Stool when the morning news centered on the American League playoff.
“Do you know Mike Jirschele? he asked, alluding to the third base coach of the Kansas City Royals. “I used to play ball with him.”
“With the Clintonville A’s?”
Krueger, a former baseball coach at New London, said he did for a few years.
His question gave me a good lead in to something that has bothered me for some time about the high school football playoffs.
Too many teams make up the current field of qualifying teams, which leads to issues like practice beginning in early August, two games before Labor Day, and the final playoffs ending in late November.
This year the title games at Camp Randall in Madison will be played Nov. 19 and 20.
Krueger’s question went unanswered. There is a long relationship with the Jirschele family. I was fortunate to witness his high school athletic accomplishments in the regular season and in state playoffs for football and basketball.
The first state playoff in 1976 had four divisions and 16 teams.
I covered the WIAA Class A playoff where the Jirschele-led Clintonville Truckers lost in the final 28 seconds of the title game to Menomonee East Falls, 12-7. This column cites my stories about that playoff.
Leg injuries hurt the Truckers both on offense and defense. A broken bone in his foot knocked Duane Knaack, their top defensive end out of the playoffs. Jirschele, a triple threat, played much of the season with bad ankles.
Clintonville beat Wisconsin Dells 19-0 in the single game playoff to qualify for the championship game Nov. 13. Excerpts about that game:
“…it was the gusting wind which whipped diagonally across the frozen, rock hard turf, that played a vital role in the game’s strategy and outcome,” acknowledged by both coaches. Punts into the wind had about a third the distance and a 39-yard field goal attempt by Jirschele was dead on, but “hit an imaginary net two-thirds of the way and fell short.”
Two possessions later Falls, which seldom passed, threw, which stunned Clintonville with a 53-yard touchdown pass to lead 6-0 at the half.
A controversial “no touchdown” call in the third quarter would be critical in the bid for victory.
On its second possession in the third quarter, Clintonville moved from its own 37 yard line to the Falls goal line, on passes of 9 and 15 yards for first downs and a 15-yard penalty to the Falls 20.
“In succession, Jirschele scrambled to the 12; picked up a low center snap and ran to the five. He then handed off to sophomore Gerry O’Connor who bolted to the two.
Jirschele carried to the goal line on the first play. Falls held on the next two runs, with the ball about an inch from pay dirt.
“…on fourth-and-goal the officials, on a disputed call, ruled Clintonville failed to score. Jirschele ran to the goal line and then extended the ball at arm’s length into the end zone. None of the officials saw the play and Falls had the ball at its own goal.”
“I extended my arm into the end zone. I thought we scored,” Jirschele would say.
That is the way I saw it, looking down the goal line with a referee on the opposite side of the field.
Jirschele dominated my stories about the Truckers in football and basketball, an all-state player in both. He was also an outstanding baseball player, which he chose as his profession, leading to Krueger’s query.
He also had a choice of going to the University of Wisconsin, slotted as a defensive back, runner and kicker. The Badgers had recently dropped baseball, undoubtedly influencing his option for professional baseball.
In a story, ‘Another Jirschele disappointment,’ he said, “I was down to watch Northwestern play, but it wasn’t one of my six visits. I drove down to see Bill Schmidt (a teammate last season).
“If I play college ball I’d prefer to play in the south so I can continue playing baseball.”
Mike led Carl Bruggink’s Trucker basketball team to back-to-back state finals, capping his career with a state championship after placing second the prior year.
Chet Jurkovac would win Clintonville’s only football championship in 1978 beating Oregon, 21-6. That team included O’Connor, Ted Jarvais and Dave Kruzicki, who were sophomores on the 1976 team.
The playoff in 1976 with four divisions and 16 teams was too exclusive. It grew incrementally to five divisions and 20 teams in 1978-79 and expanded the small schools to eight teams in 1980 for total 24 schools.
This may have been the ideal number for a timely playoff.
In 1981 the field was increased to six divisions and 48 schools and from 1987-1996 to qualify conference champions and runner-ups. In 2002, the field was set at seven divisions and 224 teams.
Level 1 games are mostly one-sided because of the obvious difference in talent between the seeds. Level 2 is slightly better as teams become more equal. The best competition is at levels 3 and 4, the quarter and semi-final games leading to state.
The mention about the field conditions is significant in that it was mid-November and the conditions were nearly unplayable. Rain also affected the opening round of games last week. Luckily the wind and temperature had little effect.
The level 4 games last year were also impacted by weather.
Amherst eked out a 30-14 win over Stanley-Boyd on an ice-coated field, Nov. 14, and even getting into the bleachers at D.C. Everest was perilous for fans.