Tied at 13-13 with and under eight minutes remaining in the game, University School of Milwaukee took over on downs at Martin Luther’s 22-yard line after an 18-yard punt, looking for the points that would secure a WIAA Division 4, Level 1 playoff victory.
USM stuck to what it does best and ran the ball. On 3rd and 4 from the 6-yard line, Justin Tremmel received the handoff and scurried up the middle through numerous Martin Luther arm tackles for a touchdown, giving the Wildcats a 20-13 lead with 3:37 left.
Martin Luther was in position to potentially tie the game with under a minute remaining, but a fumble on USM’s 11-yard line, which the Wildcats recovered, sealed the 20-13 win for third-seeded University School (8-2).
“It just shows you that these kids can come over a lot of adversity and they did,” USM head coach Brian Sommers said. “I don’t know if in the past we’ve done that. They’re starting to believe in our philosophy, and it’s awesome to just see their faces.
“That’s a heck of a team. Our conference compared to their conference has always been looked at maybe in a negative light, and we’re starting to turn that corner a little bit.”
This was the first WIAA playoff game University School hosted on its campus and is just the second WIAA playoff win in program history.
“It means the whole world to us, especially the players who’ve been here for four years,” USM junior quarterback David Hutton said. “Finally, getting that playoff win. We’ve been fighting for this the whole time, and it’s absolutely amazing.”
On the other sideline, this was Martin Luther’s first playoff appearance since 2012. But lack of offensive execution is a major reason why the sixth-seeded Spartans (6-4) failed to advance in the playoffs.
“Their defensive front made things difficult for us,” Martin Luther head coach Rick Hoppert said. “In the trenches is where they won the game.
“I told my team I’m proud of them. Despite the hurt from this game, when they reflect on this season, they will remember we accomplished some good things this season.”
In the first half, both teams struggled to finish drives offensively. After USM missed a 25-yard field goal, its defense stepped up.
On a 2nd and 22 from its own 18-yard line, Martin Luther attempted a screen pass up the middle. But, QB Nick Mueller overthrew his receiver, and the ball landed in the hands of USM linebacker Will Kennedy, who returned it for TD as time expired in the first quarter. The Wildcats missed the PAT, but led after one quarter of play, 6-0.
“That’s Will Kennedy for you,” Sommers said. “He just makes plays. It takes all 11, and he just happen to be in the right place at the right time. He made a great one.”
Following a three-and-out by Martin Luther, USM had a chance to tack on to its lead. However, Martin Luther’s Travis Guehlstorg stepped in front of a short comeback route and returned the interception for a 43-yard touchdown, tying the game at 6-6 with 7:38 left in the first half.
At halftime, the game was tied at 6.
Early in the second half, it was Guehlstorg once again, as he recorded another pick-six, putting the Spartans ahead 13-6 with 8:23 remaining in quarter No. 3.
“He was outstanding,” Hoppert said of Guehlstorg. “He is a one-year senior player, and we are just thrilled to have him. He did a great job.”
University School tied the game at 13 on a QB sneak by Hutton from 5 yards out with 1:10 left in the third. The touchdown run was a confidence booster for Hutton, who threw three interceptions earlier in the game.
“He was really hard on himself after the second interception,” Sommers said. “He was like, ‘I can’t believe this. This is all on me.’ I said to him, 'Listen, the only way we win this game is with you.’ It is that mental hurdle, and he came back and got the tying touchdown. You just got to believe, and he did.”
Now, University School hits the road to face second-seeded Two Rivers (8-2) on Oct. 28. If USM can correct its mistakes that hurt it against Martin Luther, Sommers is confident in his team’s ability to go on the road and pick up a win.
“We had a lot of mental mistakes,” Sommers said. “The execution was not very good. We need to sustain our blocks longer. We need to continue to rally to the ball. We will look at the film and will work on those things.”