Nobody said winning a conference championship would be easy.
It took all four quarters for the Ashwaubenon football team to hold off Green Bay Notre Dame in a 17-14 win on Friday night at Notre Dame, but by the end the Jaguars were outright champions in the Fox River Classic Conference with a perfect regular season to go along with the title.
It is the second time since 2010 Ashwaubenon has won the FRCC, both times going undefeated in league play.
“It feels fantastic,” Ashwaubenon senior defensive end Nathan Jarvis said. “We dug deep, had a great offseason and pulled it together this year.”
They also pulled it together at the end of this one when it looked like Notre Dame might complete a dramatic comeback after entering the fourth quarter down 17-0.
The Tritons scored two touchdowns to get to within a field goal, and then had a huge defensive stand in the final minutes to give themselves a chance to complete the comeback when they took over at the Ashwaubenon 45 with 3 minutes, 5 seconds remaining.
Notre Dame quarterback Charlie Rotherham completed a pass to Zach Devroy for 13 yards on the first play before scrambling for 9 yards to the Ashwaubenon 23.
A few moments later, Rotherham completed a pass to Devroy down to the Ashwaubenon 3.
The only problem?
Notre Dame was called for holding, pushing it all the way back to the Ashwaubenon 30.
It would get no closer. Facing a fourth-and-20 at the Ashwaubenon 32 and out of field-goal range, Mason Ross intercepted a Rotherham pass in the end zone to end the threat and deliver the title to the Jaguars.
They finally could breathe a sigh of relief.
“I probably will about midnight,” Ashwaubenon coach Mark Jonas said. “Notre Dame is an awfully good football team, and we knew they weren’t going to quit.
“We just told our kids we had to try to finish the game.”
Ashwaubenon junior quarterback James Morgan threw for 270 yards and a touchdown, while running back Jake Zills had 145 combined yards and a TD.
It was a defensive battle throughout the first half, which shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise considering Notre Dame entered with the No. 3-ranked defense in the FRCC and Ashwaubenon the fourth.
The Jaguars went up 3-0 with 53 seconds remaining in the first quarter on a 25-yard field goal by senior kicker Emmit Carpenter.
It was set up on a nice screen pass from Morgan to Zills, who knocked a few Notre Dame defenders down on his way to a 62-yard gain that put Ashwaubenon at the Notre Dame 9.
The Tritons limited the damage after the big gain, holding Zills to a 2-yard gain on first down and then forcing two incomplete passes.
Notre Dame had an opportunity to take the lead a quarter later, when Rotherham found senior wideout Joel Krawczyk in the middle of the field for 76 yards. Krawczyk tried his best to sprint to the end zone but was caught from behind at the Jaguars’ 8 by defensive back Jack Messenger.
Fellow defensive back Dane Syed intercepted a Rotherham pass in the back of the end zone three plays later to keep the Tritons off the board entering halftime.
The Jaguars got things going in the third quarter, scoring on the opening drive of the second half after slot receiver Jake Monroe caught a pass from Morgan on third-and-15 and ran 62 yards down to the Notre Dame 1. Zills scored on the next play to put Ashwaubenon up 10-0.
The Jaguars went on an 11-play, 43-yard drive the next time it had the ball, which was capped with a 3-yard TD pass from Morgan to Jarvis with 4:04 left in the third quarter.
It looked like they were cruising to a victory at that point, but had to survive quite a scare in the end.
“I don’t care what anyone says,” Jonas said. “Going to the playoffs is great, but going to the playoffs on a win and this kind of high really gives you some momentum going into it.”