Almond-Bancroft falls to Pittsville in Level 2 Playoffs
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
The Almond-Bancroft High School football team was unable to overcome a slow start and a number of key turnovers, as it was knocked out of the postseason with a loss at home to Pittsville Friday, Oct. 26.
The 10th-ranked and top-seeded Eagles trailed fourth-seeded Pittsville 17-7 late in the third quarter, and drove deep into Pittsville territory on the next four drives, before Pittsville (10-1) came up with four consecutive turnovers to seal a 17-7 win that ended Almond’s season at 9-2.
“We had some chances in the second half and it’s tough, we couldn’t get any running game going and they knew we had to pass,” said Almond-Bancroft football head coach Andrew Bradley. “And we made some plays, but they made some in the pass game at the end to seal it.”
Almond and Pittsville squared off Friday night for the second time this season, after the Eagles won 34-7 at then-sixth-ranked Pittsville Oct. 5 to win the Central Wisconsin Conference (CWC) Small Title.
Pittsville got out to an early lead Friday night, as senior quarterback Sam Hardinger scored on a four-yard touchdown run with 1:35 left in the first quarter to put the team ahead 7-0.
Pittsville struck again in the second quarter, as it took advantage of three personal foul penalties on Almond on the same drive, with face mask penalties and one for a late hit out of bounds, to set up a one-yard touchdown run from Hardinger to take a 14-0 lead with 6:46 to go in the second quarter.
Meanwhile, the Eagles run game was shut down in the first half, as junior running back and CWC-Small Offensive Player of the Year Jackson Beggs was limited to 19 yards rushing on 18 carries for the game, and Almond went into halftime down 14-0.
“They got after us a little bit early on, and it took us a little while to regroup and catch our breath there, and it was 14-0 before we knew what hit us,” said Bradley. “We played much better after that, I’m proud of the kids, the way they responded.”
Pittsville added a 23-yard field goal with 3:51 to go in the third quarter to build a 17-0 lead, before the Eagles finally answered on the next drive.
Senior running back Noah Kollock hauled in a 30-yard pass from senior quarterback Jon Perrin to set up an 11-yard touchdown run from Beggs on the next play to pull the Eagles within 17-7 with 2:43 remaining in the third quarter after the extra-point kick from Kollock.
“We knew no matter what the score, we’re always in it,” said Kollock. “We’ve been down before, we always just had it in us, it starts with our heart, and we just always found a way to get something done.”
On the ensuing kickoff, senior Zach Bunders recovered the onside kick at midfield for the Eagles, who drove to the Pittsville 25-yard line before they lost a fumble with 1:31 to play in the third quarter.
Almond got the ball back with 7:04 left in the fourth quarter after Pittsville turned the ball over on downs at its own 37-yard line, and the Eagles took to the air to move down to the Pittsville 23-yard line with 5:40 to go, before an interception ended the drive.
Following a Pittsville punt, Almond marched down to the Pittsville 33-yard line, but an interception ended the possession with 3:43 remaining and the Eagles still down 17-7.
Sophomore defensive lineman David Trevino gave Almond one more chance for a late rally when he recovered a fumble at the Pittsville 41-yard line with 2:02 to play, and the Eagles drove the ball to the Pittsville 21-yard line with 1:21 left.
However, Pittsville picked off a pass in front of the end zone on the next play and ran out the rest of the clock to seal its 17-7 win.
“The turnovers, with the fumbles early, were very uncharacteristic of us,” said Bradley. “The interceptions late, those are tough.
“They knew we were throwing it and we couldn’t get a run game going at all, so when you’re one dimensional, it can be tough to throw it,” he said. “We can’t turn it over early like we did, in a game like this against a good team.”
Pittsville rushed for 246 yards on 63 carries in the win, and advanced to Level 3 of the Division 7 Playoffs to take on ninth-ranked and third-seeded Reedsville (10-1), which won 31-14 at fourth-ranked and second-seeded Hilbert (9-2) Friday night.
Almond totaled 28 yards rushing on 24 carries and had five turnovers on offense in the loss, while Bunders finished with four catches for 90 yards, Kollock had four catches for 54 yards, and Perrin completed 10-of-24 passes for 167 yards, with zero touchdowns and three interceptions.
Junior defensive lineman Edward Pena finished with 11 tackles and one-and-a-half sacks, including five tackles for loss, sophomore defensive lineman Daniel Baumgartner had 10 tackles and three tackles for loss, and Bunders added 10 tackles to lead the Almond defense.
“They did nothing different (from the first game), we just weren’t able to stop them,” said Bradley. “We made a few adjustments as it went on, early in the second half, and we were able to slow down the run game.
“We just didn’t come out and match that fire that I knew they’d have, after what we did to them the first time around,” he said.
The loss ended a season that saw Almond lose 8-6 to reigning Division 7 State Semifinalist Fall River in its opener, and then win nine games in a row to claim the CWC-Small Title and advance to Level 2, where its run came to an end.
“That Conference Championship, nobody can take that away from us,” said Bunders. “Against the same team, 34-7, we knew they’d be ready to play today.
“They came ready, and we were not well prepared,” he said.
“I told them, ‘you can’t take that Conference Championship away,’” said Bradley. “They had a heck of a season and really played well (against Pittsville) that first time we got them, and they’ve got nothing to hang their heads about.
“They played very well this year and got better each week, and I’m very proud of them as a group,” he said. “And I’m very proud of our seniors, Noah, Jon, Zach (Bunders), Zach (Helmrick) and Aidan (Whitman). Great leaders on and off the field, and we’re going to miss them.”