Facing a team that had been running wild for much of the night, Ashwaubenon found itself having to defend the pass to earn victory.
That the Jaguars were successful is due in no small part to Quinton Hammer and Kyle Mrozinski, two defenders who came through on fourth down late in the fourth quarter.
Their efforts and an offense that finally found the end zone after going cold in the second half allowed Ashwaubenon to slip past Manitowoc 27-24 Friday night at Goelz Field in a Fox Valley Classic Conference opener for both teams. The Jaguars (2-0) escaped despite permitting the Ships to rush for 260 yards on 58 carries.
The Ships attempted just four passes. The most critical came on fourth-and-eight from the Jaguars’ 31-yard line with 1 minute, 59 seconds remaining.
At the snap, Hammer made a beeline for Brennan Mrotek and had him all but sacked. But the Ships quarterback flipped a short pass to Drew Dixon.
Not to worry. The running back who had piled up 130 yards rushing on 26 carries, gained but a yard before getting tackled by Mrozinski, a senior linebacker.
“We knew he (Mrotek) was going to the middle screen because that’s the only time they go in shotgun is when it’s going to be a middle screen, so that I kind of knew where we were going,” Mrozinski said. “I saw the running back come and switch around, so then I just followed him.”
And Hammer who had been alternating at defensive end with Collin Herdt?
“All I was trying to do was get him (Mrotek) to the ground as soon as possible, that’s all.”
The Jaguars ran out the clock after taking over on downs. A 16-yard pass from James Morgan to tight end Zak Imig allowed them to do so.
“This was a disappointment,” said Manitowoc Lincoln coach John Dixon. “We played well enough to win.”
Dixon added his players could have hung their heads after surrendering two quick touchdowns, but showed great resolve to fight back.
“We played exceptionally on defense in the second half, we just couldn’t hold on,” Dixons said.
In the first half, Morgan looked like the quarterback who picked apart Preble with three first-half TD passes. The junior did the same against Manitowoc by firing two scores to Sam Wisneski and one to Jake Monroe as Ashwaubenon went up 20-10 at halftime.
Morgan was particularly effective on third down. In the first half, he was 6-for-7 for 96 yards and two TDs.
But the Jaguars offense stalled during the first 17 minutes of the second half. A three-and-out was followed by back-to-back drives that ended in interceptions.
Ashwaubenon rallied midway through the fourth quarter. Morgan completed a 5-yard pass to Monroe, then followed with two to Imig.
With Manitowoc expecting more of the same, running back Jake Zills scooted 11 yards before cashing in from 10 yards out for a 27-24 lead with 4:52 to go.
“I was really, really scared coming into the game because the way we had practiced this week was really poor,” Ashwaubenon coach Mark Jonas said. “I think the kids listened to all this hype out there about how good they were beating Preble (40-7). They looked at the score from Manitowoc and Southwest and the combination of, I think they kind of took things for granted.”
Morgan completed 22 of 34 passes for 232 yards. Ethan Just chipped in 93 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 24 carries for the Ships.