Gridders flex offensive muscles, top Horlick
Mukwonago junior Alex Straszewski charges past the Racine Horlick defense on Aug. 23. Photo by: Carol
Dominic Cizauskas wants to ensure it isn't just offensive coordinators who will see No. 47 in their nightmares.
The Mukwonago senior, who will play linebacker on scholarship at the University of Wisconsin next fall, opened his final varsity season making his presence felt on defense, as always. He also returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, took a handoff 76 yards to the house and caught a score as Mukwonago knocked off Racine Horlick on Friday, 43-33, in a battle between two of the area's top football teams.
Horlick made it interesting by recovering two onside kicks in the game, including one in the final quarter sandwiched between two touchdowns that brought the Rebels within 10, but the Indians authored too many big plays in the kickoff to the 2013 season.
"We knew there would be big plays both ways just because of the athletes on the field," Mukwonago second-year coach Clay Iverson said. "The team that ultimately made the most plays would win. Even a game like this, you could circle four or five different times that probably change the game. Out of those four, maybe we caught three of them, and that was probably the difference, because Horlick is awfully good."
Led by 6-2, 205-pound playmaking virtuoso Rickey Neal Jr., Horlick's offense showed it could engineer long, productive drives. Neal finished with three touchdowns and 138 yards on the ground, but he also threw two interceptions and an errant lateral that led to Mukwonago's second touchdown in 30 seconds.
Both of those scores came from Cizauskas. After Horlick struck first for a 6-0 lead, Cizauskas bobbled the kickoff, then picked it up and ran 94 yards for a touchdown, pulling away from his pursuers in the final 20 yards.
"When I dropped it, I thought, 'oh no,'" Cizauskas said. "I picked it up and saw a gap to my right and just took it. I took it to the house for a touchdown. It's fun playing both ways. I love playing fullback. Aaron (Nixon, senior quarterback) told me on my touchdown run that you're going to get it, you're getting it right up the gut. I got it, did a spin move and was gone."
That touchdown was a 76-yard scamper up the middle in the second half, one that spotted the Indians a comfortable 36-19 lead. But first, he caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from Nixon after Horlick's first possession following the kickoff return yielded two penalties and the botched lateral, recovered by Dylan Ulrich.
Cizauskas was back in his more-traditional role after Horlick scored and recovered an onside kick, forcing a fumble that Max Greenwald returned to the 10-yard line, two plays ahead of an Alex Straszewski touchdown. In all, the Indians picked up four turnovers in the game and scored on each. Ulrich also had an interception. Meanwhile, Mukwonago did what it could to get a handle on Neal.
"We watched some film on him from last year, and we knew he'd be keeping it the majority of the time," Cizauskas said. "We set our outside linebackers on the edge to make sure he comes back in towards the inside linebacker coming to crack on him. He's a good player; he keeps his feet moving and broke a lot of tackles tonight."
Nate Essman cut in front of his man on a Neale pass down the middle for an interception in the red zone after the long scamper by Cizauskas. Two plays after Nixon found Ryan Wagner for a wide-open pass play that netted 83 of the necessary 84 yards to the end zone, Nixon kept it for a 2-yard touchdown to make it 43-19.
"They knew we wanted to establish the triple option," Nixon said." Linebackers were floating super hard, so we knew late in the game we could get a play-action pass right over the top, and we ended up getting that 83-yard pass. We knew we needed some big plays against them; that's a very good team."
After Horlick scored twice to pull within two scores — falling short on a 2-point conversion on the latter play to prevent it from becoming a one-score game — Mukwonago elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 from its own 34 with 3:45 to play. Zach Timmers, who also had a touchdown in the game, got more than enough when he rumbled for 44 yards to essentially ice the outcome.
"All I was thinking was 'just get that yard,' and it turned out that I got more," Timmers said. "I just read my blocks, I was just focused on getting that extra yard, always falling forward, and it just happened."
Said Nixon, "We were ready to power the ball. The offensive line, they were excited. They actually called it. Our offensive coordinator asked us what play we wanted, and they asked for it and just got a great push. We ended up getting a 40-yard run out of it."
On a night when MHS inducted five new members into its Athletics Hall of Fame, Mukwonago was able to avoid duplicating the heartbreaking loss it endured in last year's season opener against Brookfield Central on the same MHS turf.
"We put in a lot of conditioning in the offseason," Timmers said. "We've been working since January just for this season. It was a fight to the end. They did well, we did well. It was fun."
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