Amherst holds off Chilton for berth in State Semifinals
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
The second-ranked Amherst High School football team will play for a trip to the WIAA Division 5 State Championship Game, after it held on to beat ninth-ranked Chilton in a Level 3 Playoff Game at Heartland Farms Field Friday, Nov. 8.
Chilton (9-3) used a touchdown late in the third quarter to pull within 24-19, but the Falcons (11-0) went on to close out a 24-19 win in the State Quarterfinals to advance to take on top-ranked Stratford (12-0) in a WIAA Division 5 Level 4 Playoff Game at Stiehm Stadium in Schofield at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15.
“We obviously had a close one here, but we’ll come out pounding next week, and go into it with high hopes next week,” said Amherst senior offensive lineman/linebacker Nic Dombrowski. “Stratford’s going to be a good team.”
“We did what we needed to do, and I’ll take the victory,” said Amherst football head coach Mark Lusic. “We’re one of four, and now we want to be one of two.
“Now you can actually say what you’re playing for, that you have a chance to go to Madison,” he said. “And we’re going to have a hard-fought game with Stratford; they’ve got a helluva program.”
In Amherst’s ninth consecutive appearance in the State Quarterfinals Friday night, third-seeded Chilton took an early lead, as it scored on a 33-yard touchdown pass with 5:35 left in the first quarter and led 6-0 after Amherst junior Bryan Groshek blocked the extra-point kick.
The top-seeded Falcons answered just over a minute later, as senior quarterback Lincoln Cullen found sophomore wide receiver Ian Hall open all alone down the right sideline, and they connected on a 52-yard touchdown pass that gave the team a 7-6 lead with 4:24 to go in the first quarter following the extra-point kick from senior Mason Czech.
“On that play, he’s wide open,” said Cullen. “You’ve just got to throw it up and not miss.”
“We saw that on film, and we actually ran an audible on that play, and we checked out of something, and we ran whatever we ran,” said Lusic. “In your mind it’s supposed to work just that way, and it did.”
Czech kicked a 23-yard field goal with 6:56 remaining in the second quarter to increase the lead to 10-6, and on the ensuing possession for Chilton, senior linebacker Ethan Dombrowski intercepted a pass and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown to give the Falcons a 17-6 lead with 5:21 to play in the second quarter.
“I just dropped to my coverage, and saw Aidan Elwood, my linebacker, smoking the (quarterback),” said Ethan Dombrowski. “The ball came right to me, and I knew I had to score.”
Chilton came back later in the half, as it scored on a 15-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds left in the second quarter, and went into halftime down 17-12 after the two-point conversion run was no good.
Amherst struck again early in the second half, as Cullen threw a 63-yar touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Carmelo Aleman with 10:27 to go in the third quarter to increase the lead to 24-12, but Chilton used a 13-yard touchdown pass with 3:48 remaining in the third quarter to close within 24-19.
The Falcons lost a fumble on their next possession and again in the fourth quarter, but maintained a 24-19 lead late, when Chilton decided to punt from its own 18-yard line on fourth and 15 with 2:57 left in the game.
On the ensuing possession, senior running back Aidan Elwood and senior running back/wide receiver Chris Andersen both had first down runs, as Amherst was able to run out the rest of the clock to advance to the State Semifinals for the seventh time in eight years with a 24-19 victory.
“We survived,” said Lusic. “Two fumbles in the (second half), usually you don’t survive those, they usually comes back to haunt you, and our defense stepped up.
“They kind of went away from their base offense in the fourth quarter, and they threw the ball more and more,” he said. “But it’s a lot easier to defend the pass when you know they’re going to throw it, and we made the plays we had to make.”
Elwood finished with 10 tackles and one sack, junior safety Tristan Schelvan had nine tackles, and Ethan Dombrowski ended up with six tackles to go along with his interception for a touchdown to lead the Amherst defense, which limited Chilton senior running back Gaven Lisowe to 45 yards rushing on nine carries, after he finished with 334 total yards and five touchdowns in a 41-26 win over 10th-ranked Kewaunee a week earlier.
Hall caught four passes for 138 yards and one touchdown, Aleman had two catches for 72 yards and one touchdown, Groshek rushed for 45 yards on nine carries, Elwood had 44 yards rushing on 10 carries, and Cullen rushed for 25 yards on 11 carries and completed 7-of-8 passes for 216 yards, with two touchdowns and zero interceptions, to lead the Amherst offense.
The win sent Amherst to the State Semifinals to play Stratford, which lost to Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Springs 20-17 in the Division 5 State Championship Game last year to finish 11-3.
Stratford won 35-0 at Northwestern (11-1) in Level 3 last week to advance to Level 4 and set a state record with its 12th consecutive shutout this season, as it has outscored its opponents by a 630-0 margin.
Amherst is 4-0 against Stratford in the playoffs under Lusic, as the Falcons won 52-15 in the 2017 State Quarterfinals, 41-6 in Level 2 in 2014, 21-7 in the 2013 State Quarterfinals, and 21-14 in the 2012 State Quarterfinals.
“We’re excited, and we’re playing a tremendous team in Stratford,” said Lusic. “We’ve had some success in the last couple games against them, but that’s not going to make a difference.
“It’s going to be a whole, brand-new ballgame; we haven’t played them since 2017,” he said. “They’re big up front, they’ve got D1 players, they’ll be bigger than us everywhere on the field, but we’re used to that.”
The winner will advance to the WIAA Division 5 State Championship Game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison at 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, to take on either fourth-ranked Lake Country Lutheran (11-1) or unranked Prairie du Chien (11-1).
“We know they’re going to come out hot, they obviously haven’t let anybody score this year, but we’re planning to change that,” said Nic Dombrowski. “We’ll put in the work this week, and see what happens on Friday.”
“We’re going to have to be able to make plays, and we’re going to have to move the ball,” said Lusic. “And defensively, we’re going to have to stop what they do best, and go from there.
“Because if they just start running what they want to run, it’s going to be a long night for us,” he said.