For the first time in school history, Dominican High School has qualified for the WIAA football playoffs.
Needing a win in the final game of the regular season to get there, the Knights upset Martin Luther on Thursday night at Whitefish Bay High School with a 31-25 contest.
“Before I got here, we didn’t have a varsity football team,” Dominican senior Jake Bennett said. “Being through the struggle these four years and being able to make the playoffs, it’s really not just for me, it’s for the whole school. It really means a lot, I’m really proud of everybody, and I’m glad we were able to accomplish this goal.”
The basketball powerhouse not known for its football teams, Dominican elected not to play a varsity schedule in 2012 while it attempted to recuperate its numbers. Four years later, it will play beyond the regular season.
Dominican scored on the opening drive of the game. A pair of runs from Daniel Walton brought the Knights to their own 45-yard line, and a long touchdown run from Eric Dlugopolski gave the Knights the early lead. Near the end of the first, Spartan quarterback Nik Mueller fumble the ball into the hands of Dominican’s John Hudak, who ran it down to the Spartans’ 11 yard-line. Sean Dlugopolski kicked a subsequent field goal early in the second quarter to add to that lead, putting the Knights up 10-0.
“It was awesome,” Hudak said. “A few weeks ago, I said I’m scoring a touchdown this year. Obviously, I didn’t score a touchdown, but just to get the chance to run with the ball in my hands was great.”
Martin Luther (6-3 overall, 4-3 in Metro Classic) qualified for the playoffs with a win over Shoreland Lutheran one week earlier.
“I think that initially, they were playing harder and faster than we were,” Martin Luther coach Rick Hoppert said, “and that was certainly the difference. We needed to recalibrate and try to match their intensity. They were playing for the playoffs, and I think once we did that, it turned into a little bit more of a ball game.”
The Spartans finally got on the board midway through the first quarter on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Nik Mueller to Jake Blazei to bring the Knights within 10-6, but the Knights responded on their next possession on another touchdown run from Eric Dlugopolski. The Knights took their 17-6 lead into halftime.
The Spartans made it even harder on themselves at the start of the second half, failing to gain a first down on their opening possession. Yet another touchdown run from Eric Dlugopolski almost put the game out of reach for the Spartans, but they had other ideas, responding almost immediately on two long runs from Brad Kulinski to cut the Knights lead to 24-12.
The Knights scored their final points of the night on a long run from Daniel Walton after he broke free from the scrum near the line of scrimmage and scored a 67 yard touchdown.
"I just want to thank my line, my coaches,” he said. “I just wanted to get to the playoffs. It’s been four long years, and I just had to run hard for my team. Usually I’m a bruiser, and when I saw the opening I just turned on the jets, and I was very excited about that, I finally got my long, big run.”
The Knights took that 31-12 lead into the fourth quarter, but the Spartans made that scoreline look very insecure, scoring an early touchdown on a pass from Mueller to Luke Howard to make it a 31-19 game. Howard scored another touchdown on the next possession to bring the Spartans within 31-25. With about three minutes to go, the Martin Luther sideline considered an onside kick, but the kickoff was botched and the Knights were able to all but kill the remainder of the game on their final possession. The 30 seconds Martin Luther had with the football at game's end were not enough.
“We were considering an onside kick,” Hoppert said, “and we thought that they would commit so heavily to the onside kick that we might be able to sneak it deep, and we didn’t kick it very well. Hats off to them. Offensively, they schemed very well. We got ourselves in a hole and couldn’t get out. We’re looking forward to coaching for another week, we’re looking forward for our players to get the experience (in the playoffs). We’re getting a couple of players back from injury, so we’re looking forward to playing football.”
Dominican quarterback Bo Bennett had a lot of praise for his offensive line line and runners.
“I thought they played phenomenally. Without them, we really wouldn’t be where we are."
Dominican coach Quincy LaGrant could not be more pleased.
“We had a goal coming into this season that we wanted to make it to the postseason," he said. "These seniors led this team. They’re very young, but those guys worked hard and they definitely deserve to continue their season. Martin Luther’s a great team, they’re one of the best coached teams in the Metro Classic Conference, and they’re phenomenal, so we knew it was going to be a hard game. I tried to tell our guys, even with the lead, that it’s not over yet, because these guys are explosive enough to make plays. It didn’t surprise us that they fought hard and came back, but I’m just glad that we were able to hold on and complete the assignment.”
Jake Bennett added, “The pressure’s off us right now, and I guarantee no one’s going to respect us. We’ve just got to come out and play ball, and as long as we do that, I think we’ve got a shot with anybody.”