Gridders stun unbeaten Cardinals
Mukwonago junior Nate Essman pulls down an interception as junior Darrick Schiferl (3) and fans react in the second half of the game against Sun Prairie on Nov. 1. Photo by: Carol
When the Mukwonago football team needed a big play in its WIAA Division 1 Level 2 home playoff game Friday, senior Dominic Cizauskas made one.
And then he made another. And another. And another.
When he was finally through, he had propelled his Indians to a 35-30 upset victory over previously undefeated Sun Prairie (10-1) and to the third round of the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
"The whole community is behind us and I've never had that many little kids come up to me and say congratulations," the University of Wisconsin recruit said. "All our hard work is paying off."
Cizauskas scored three touchdowns – two on offense and one on defense – forced two turnovers and registered more than a dozen tackles as the Indians improved to 8-3.
Cizauskas scored on a pair of second-half touchdown runs to help the Indians rally from a 23-22 halftime deficit. His first TD was a 37-yard burst through the middle with 6 minutes, 39 seconds left in the third quarter that gave Mukwonago a 28-23 advantage.
About three minutes later, he scored from 11 yards out as the Indians boosted their lead to 35-23.
"That's probably the most offense I've played, but coach (Clay) Iverson said, 'We're going to have to use you the entire game. Be ready to play every snap,'" said Cizauskas, who finished with 57 yards on seven carries, including 54 yards after intermission.
His 89-yard interception return for a touchdown with just more than 3 minutes left in the second half gave Mukwonago a 22-16 lead.
Sun Prairie responded and scored just before the half when quarterback Ryan Curran's pass was tipped and fell into fullback Aaron Fischer's arms with less than a minute to go in the second quarter.
Sun Prairie looked like it was going to build on that momentum with its first drive of the second half. Curran connected with receiver Tripp Soma for a long gain that looked like it had the potential to turn into a 47-yard TD score that would have upped Sun Prairie's lead to 30-22. But as Soma raced toward the end zone, Cizauskas tracked him down at Mukwonago's 16 and took the ball away as the two players fell to the ground.
One week earlier, Cizauskas made a similar play to steal away the ball on the 1-yard line as Madison La Follette appeared headed for an easy touchdown.
"Anytime you can score on defense is huge, but the play he made – they have a fantastic, fast receiver – and when Dominic came in and stripped the ball, this is a game of tremendous momentum," Iverson said. "When you have a guy that can change momentum like that … everyone is so aware of where he is, he impacts plays he doesn't make."
Cizauskas' favorite play of the night? One the casual fan might have missed.
"Both of those (the interception and forced fumble) were pretty big plays, but there was one other play, when their sideline said '47 is getting tired,' and sure enough they ran the ball to my side and I just decked the kid, which was pretty cool," Cizauskas said.
Iverson, who has coached plenty of big-name players in the past, including NFL star J.J. Watt, said he'd never seen a player take over like Cizauskas did Friday.
"No, I haven't," he said. "It's very, very rare when you get to this level of football, the final 16 teams, and it's a team victory, but for a kid to take over a football game; it happens in other sports, but in football, it's very, very difficult."
Mukwonago quarterback Aaron Nixon accounted for a pair of first-half touchdowns: a 38-yard scamper three plays into the game and later a 9-yard pass to wide receiver Ryan Wagner in the second quarter.
On Sun Prairie's final possession, junior linebacker Brent Groubert picked up a key sack one play before junior defensive back Nathaniel Essman intercepted Curran's final pass from midfield with 1:15 left and his team down five.
"One thing I'll say about this group is they are resilient," Iverson said. "They've been resilient all year, and they were resilient tonight. When they needed to execute plays, they did.
"It's a great program win, a great community win."
Mukwonago travels to meet Oconomowoc (11-0) next weekend in Level 3 with a berth in the state semifinal to the winner.
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