STOUGHTON — Football might be measured in yards, but on Friday night in the first round of the WIAA Division 3 playoffs many fans discovered that it still is a game of inches.
With the contest still in doubt in the third quarter, Stoughton senior quarterback Adam Hobson threw a fourth-down pass to the near sideline.
Stoughton junior receiver Jack Rilling was there for the catch. Sauk Prairie senior Jay Liedtke was there for the possible pick-six.
The pass zipped just to the receiver, and Rilling caught it, spun around and took it 14 yards for the sealing score in the Vikings’ 26-13 victory.
“It was close,” Rilling said of the touchdown that put Stoughton ahead by two scores. “I saw him out of the corner of my eye and when he missed, I just turned it upfield and took it to the end zone.”
Stoughton (8-2), which advanced to play Monroe in next week’s second round, won its second playoff game in school history by overcoming a scrappy bunch from Sauk Prairie (6-4) and 135 yards in penalties.
So is this the team that takes the Vikings’ program to the next level?
“Absolutely we can take it to the next level,” Rilling said. “Discipline is key. If we execute and play hard all four quarters we can get the ‘W’ and keep moving on. I think we can take it to state, all the way. I feel like we can put a trophy in the glass window in our school.”
Sauk Prairie, a program that entered 2019 with 11 straight losing seasons, was playing in its first playoff game in 12 years. The Eagles fought the good fight, but two turnovers and two touchdowns allowed to open the second half effectively ended their season.
“I’m proud of these guys,” first-year Sauk Prairie coach Clay Iverson said. “These guys are the ones who did it when a lot of other people couldn’t. These guys didn’t quit when a lot of other guys did. And these are the guys that when they come back and watch Sauk Prairie football, they can say they started this.”
The Vikings rallied with a pair of touchdowns to take a 12-7 lead at the half, overcoming eight penalties for 90 yards in the process.
After Sauk Prairie took an early lead on senior Dayton Goette’s leaping touchdown grab — Eagles senior Parker Breunig forced a fumble to set up the possession — Stoughton answered right back with a 55-yard scoring drive that ended with junior Brooks Empey’s 1-yard TD plunge on fourth down.
The Vikings then forced a turnover on downs and drove down the field again, this time for 86 yards. Hobson hit senior Nathan Hutcherson for 26 yards on the drive and Rilling made the first of his two touchdown catches in the corner of the end zone to put Stoughton ahead.
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Making the drive even more remarkable was the fact that Hobson — who finished 14-for-23 for 216 yards and three touchdowns — was sacked for a 9-yard loss on the first play, essentially meaning the Vikings navigated 95 yards for the score.
Stoughton’s Owen Chase intercepted a pass at the 2-yard line in the half’s final seconds to preserve the lead.
Sauk Prairie 7 0 0 6 — 13
Stoughton 0 12 14 0 — 26
SP — Goette 24 pass from Breunig (Vasquez kick)
S — Empey 1 run (kick blocked)
S — Rilling 14 pass from Hobson (run failed)
S — Rilling 14 pass from Hobson (Hutcherson pass from Hobson)
S — Knauf 49 pass from Hobson (run failed)
SP — Hertzfeldt 26 run (kick blocked)
First downs — SP 12, S 13. Rushes-yards — SP 37-123, S 33-117. Passing yards — SP 156, S 216. Comp-Att-Int — SP 8-19-1, S 14-23-1. Total yards — SP 279, S 333. Fumbles-lost — SP 2-2, S 2-1. Penalties-yards — SP 9-95, S 11-135.
Rushing: SP, Hertzfeldt 18-104. S, Empey 28-110. Passing: SP, Breunig 8-19-156-1. S, Hobson 14-23-216-1. Receiving: SP, Goette 1-24. S, Hutcherson 5-81, Knauf 3-74.