The past decade of football contests between Whitnall and New Berlin Eisenhower have primarily gone in one direction. Friday night in New Berlin, the game between the two Woodland Conference rivals took more wild turns than Christopher Columbus did before discovering America.
A history lesson would tell you that Eisenhower had defeated the Falcons seven of the last eight times dating back to 2002. This time, history was not meant to repeat itself as the Falcons completed a thrilling 36-28 comeback win over the Lions in the season opener for both schools.
Whitnall took advantage of three Eisenhower lost fumbles that proved to be the difference in a game between contrasting offensive mindsets. The Falcons and senior quarterback Zach Sutton spent the entire night peppering the air with an efficient passing attack, while the Lions opted for a running attack led by junior Nick Taylor.
Both offenses looked unstoppable at times and inept at others, but it was the passing game of Whitnall that dominated the fourth quarter. The Falcons finally took the lead with less than six minutes left in the game on a 30-yard field goal by senior Nick Stemo and sealed the win a few minutes later on a 33-yard touchdown pass from Sutton to fellow senior Patrick Wyrowski with 20 seconds left in the game.
“It was just the energy, everyone just brought the energy,” Sutton said. “We knew we had the momentum going into the half and we knew we could beat them.
“We had all the confidence in the world that we could beat them.”
Sutton finished the game 30 of 48 passing for 261 yards and five touchdowns, with Wyrowski accounting for 105 of those yards on nine catches. Taylor averaged nine yards per carry for the Lions, 162 yards on 18 attempts and also played most of the defensive downs as a cornerback trying to defend the Whitnall passing attack.
“Our receivers are phenomenal both with speed and great hands,” Sutton said. “The lineman gave me so much time to get the ball to them and it was just incredible.”
In the first quarter, it seemed as though it would be another Eisenhower victory in the series, as the defense didn't allow Whitnall past midfield. When the Lions offense took the ball, they promptly ripped off huge running plays, including a 76-yard touchdown run by Taylor to open the scoring. When Taylor scored for the second time early in the second quarter, the Lions led 14-0.
Down 21-6 and punting the ball back to Eisenhower with fewer than 2 minutes to go, Whitnall recovered a muffed punt inside the Eisenhower 20-yard line. A minute later, Sutton found senior Sam Mentkowski for a touchdown, bringing the score to 21-14 at the break.
After another Taylor touchdown gave New Berlin Eisenhower a 28-20 late third quarter lead, the defense once again forced Whitnall to punt, and the Lions muffed it again right back to the Falcons. Another quick score followed.
“We made a lot of mistakes and have a lot of things to correct; there is no doubt about that," Lions coach Jeff Setz said. "I just think we had too many turnovers and gave up a lot of field position as a result of that. Those were situations where they got the momentum and they played well to comeback and win the game.
“We have a lot to learn with being able to get a lead and concentrating on not making mistakes when we have one.”
It wasn't all bad news for the home fans. At halftime, the football field at Eisenhower was dedicated to longtime Lions coach Frank Granger.
Granger, who passed away last fall, was head coach from 1969 to 1990, racking up 15 winning seasons, nine conference titles and two state-title game appearances. He won five conference titles in a row and had three undefeated seasons. The turf was named Frank Granger Memorial Field.
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