Tywan Ramsey had blinders on.
"All I know is, the ball was in my hands," the senior lineman for Messmer/Shorewood said. "I kid you not, my peripheral vision was shut off. I was looking forward to the end zone and went straight for it. My senior goal this year was to make a defensive score, and I accomplished that."
You can forgive him for shutting out everything else when he picked up a botched Lake Country Lutheran punt and rumbled in from 23 yards away for a game-tying touchdown in the final minute of the first half Saturday. This was, after all, the biggest game on the co-op program's schedule – maybe including the playoffs.
The score tied the game, and Messwood never trailed again. A 21-12 victory at Lake Country Lutheran meant the Greyhounds walked away with the inside track on a Midwest Classic Conference title.
"It's been a battle for three years straight and we really wanted to get this one," quarterback Taylor Dennis said. "I can't tell you how much it means to me and the program. … When I took that last kneel, I looked down at my arms and I just had goose bumps."
Messmer/Shorewood took advantage of a short field twice in the second half. Rodney Neely simply seized the ball from an LCL ball carrier on back-to-back drives, with the first turnover putting the Greyhounds inside the Lightning 10-yard line. Ben Grabowski ran in from 10 yards out to give the Greyhounds their first lead at 13-6.
The Lightning put together a 15-play drive that ended in the first minute of the fourth quarter, when quarterback Ben Wilkins snuck in. When LCL faked the point-after kick, the ball was overthrown beyond a wide-open receiver, and Messwood kept a 13-12 lead.
The second dropped LCL punt snap of the game once again gave Messwood the ball in the red zone, and a clever 4th and 15 play call from the 25 resulted in a touchdown with 3:11 to play.
"I gave Jonathan a decoy signal and saw the big hole there," said Dennis, who handed the ball to Riley Sellinger after behemoth tight end Jonathan Carson had lined up wide. "It was a perfect play call by coach (Drake) Zortman."
Carson caught another faked extra-point kick for two points, and Lake Country Lutheran's 15-game regular season winning streak came to an end.
"That team is scoring more than 40 a night, and most of the time in the first half," Zortman said. "We had an extra day (to prepare) and needed every minute of it because Lake Country is an awesome offense to defend. I had a sneaky feeling. I told our defensive coordinator (Friday) that it was going to be low scoring tomorrow. Everyone's expecting 50-52, and it's not going to happen."
Last year, it did. Lake Country Lutheran's 43-40 win over the Greyhounds in 2012 was the biggest obstacle in the Lightning path as they ran the table in the Midwest Classic. This time around, LCL fell to 5-1 overall and 3-1 in conference, while Messwood improved to 4-2 overall and 4-0 in league play.
"It's way harder to do it in his situation than my situation," LCL coach Greg Brazgel said. "I know this is definitely a goal for them. Sometimes you have to be somebody else's story. I actually thoroughly enjoyed watching him celebrate this, and that's not lip service.
Drake and I are pretty close, and I have the last four (in the rivalry)," he added with a smile. "The Lutheran in me says it's OK to share."
With Zortman fashioning the program into a conference-title contender, the annual meeting has become a unique rivalry. While LCL competes in the state's smallest division – Division 7 – during the WIAA playoffs and remains a legitimate contender to work deep into November, Messmer/Shorewood has more of an uphill battle in the postseason as a Division 1 program.
"We all guaranteed ourselves we would play hard and leave it on the field," said Ramsey, who teamed with Carson to shore up the defensive end spot and make it so difficult for LCL to march the football. "This means so much. This is the biggest victory. I want to cry right now, but my tear ducts are swollen up."
LCL struck as quickly as it could, when Justin Prostinak grabbed the opening kickoff and surged 88 yards to paydirt. The point-after attempt was wide, thanks in part to a swirling wind that also impacted Messwood's first extra-point attempt and the LCL passing game.
"We're multi-dimensional," Brazgel said. "When we can't pass anymore because the ball was taking curveballs and sliders, we become one dimensional. We're going to be worse running the ball than Messmer running the ball. I can't say the weather was a factor in the game, though. We did enough bad things to not win. If you can't catch a punt snap twice, you're going to lose the game."
Said Zortman, "We hired a new guy to coach our D-backs, and they didn't hit one deep shot. That's the first time in three years of watching film on Lake Country that they didn't hit a deep shot. Lenny Carter coached up those d-backs."
LCL quarterback Ben Wilkins completed 11 of 25 passes for 76 yards, and the team rushed for 121. Prostinak finished with 62 before leaving the game with injury for much of the second half.
Brazgel was still happy with his team's defense, which bottled up Messmer/Shorewood running backs Louis Williams and DeAngelo Stewart for the most part.
"Defensively I felt like we did everything we could to shut them down," he said. "I can't ask our defense to do too much more than that. We matched them physically, which I didn't think we could do. Their defensive ends are so good."
Messmer/Shorewood still needs wins over Kenosha Christian Life, Brookfield Academy and Living Word Lutheran to secure its first outright league title, though none of those programs figure to provide the same challenge as LCL.
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