There was a point in the 2013 season where the Manitowoc Lincoln football team was at a crossroads of sorts.
Sitting a 2-3 after the first five weeks of the season, Lincoln was in need of a solid finish to assure itself a berth in the playoffs.
To be fair, the Ships opened up with a 2-3 record during a tough five-game stretch against some of the state’s best teams. Two of the three losses came against teams currently ranked in the top-10 of their respective divisions according to the WisSports.net coaches poll.
As the latter portion of October is drawing near, and the postseason oh so close, the days of a sub-.500 record seem like a distant memory for Manitowoc.
The Ships capped a 4-0 run through the final month of the season in style with a 49-17 win over De Pere Friday night at Municipal field.
Lincoln didn’t waste any time getting to work in the final contest of the regular season.
Ethan Just scampered 55 yards to the end zone on the second play of the game to give the Ships a quick 7-0.
De Pere answered on the ensuing possession when Brandon Braun knocked in a 23-yard field goal to cut the Redbirds’ deficit to four.
That is as close as De Pere would get as the Manitowoc offense continued to function precisely and efficiently.
Drew Dixon scored on a 37-yard run on the next Ships drive to make it 14-3 Lincoln.
Minutes later, Cameron Jaeger got in on the act with a rushing touchdown of his own, the third Manty back to score in the opening half of the first quarter.
Each of the Ships’ first three scoring drives were four plays or less.
As far as Lincoln head coach John Dixon was concerned, his team set the tone for themselves before the opening whistle.
“We prepared well during the week, but we probably had our best pre-game warmup of the season tonight,” Dixon said. “I had a good feeling about things. I was very proud of the way they responded. It was nice to get rolling early, but it was nice to finish, too.
Just scored his second of the night from a yard out giving Lincoln a 28-3 advantage after one.
The Ships went to the air for their next touchdown. Quarterback Brennan Mrotek hooked up with Jaeger for a nine-yard TD pass in the early moments of the second quarter.
The Redbirds temporarily stopped the bleeding when Connor Rutherford pushed the ball across the goal line on a QB-sneak. A successful 2-point conversion pushed the score to 35-11.
Just answered for the Ships with his third touchdown of the night, this one coming on a 16-yard run.
Lincoln led 42-11 at the half.
Mrotek found David Wronkowski in the back of the end zone on a 5-yard scoring strike on the Ships’ first drive of the second half.
De Pere struck again a short time later when Rutherford found Jason Blom, who reached over the defender to make a leaping grab, for a 20-yard touchdown.
“The obvious point about this football team right now is that we’ve been extremely banged up this season. It’s not an excuse, nothing that we’re leaning on, but a matter of fact,” De Pere head coach Chad Michalkiewicz said. “We have a lot of kids out here that probably didn’t expect to play a whole year of varsity football. We had issues stopping the run and setting the edge and, really, we got out-manned tonight.”
Lincoln’s multifaceted rushing attack produced almost 400 yards on the ground for the night.
“I’ve never had a backfield — and I’ve coached in this offense for 33 years — where we’ve had three backs of this caliber,” Dixon said. “I wish we had more footballs to spread around because Drew and Cameron and Ethan are quality running backs.
“Normally, in a high school, wing-T offense, if you can have one outstanding back and another who’s adequate, you can always get by with a third. But, we have three excellent backs. It’s a joy to coach those kids.”
For the Ships, the playoff audition is over. The final statement has been made and their their future will now be decided off the field. No doubt Lincoln would like to return to Municipal Field for Level 1 of the WIAA Division 1 playoffs and, with a 6-3 overall record, the Ships stand a fighting chance at doing just that.
The WIAA assigned each playoff team into eight-team regions. Coaches will assemble this morning to determine their region’s bracket.
“We have some good wins…I think we can make a solid case, it’s just a matter of who’s in the region and that we have no control over,” Dixon said. “But we would love to stay at home for another week.”
No matter the setting of their upcoming playoff game, Dixon believes his team is hitting its peak at an ideal time.
“This team is playing well enough right now that we could make some noise in the playoffs,” Dixon said. “I feel really good about how we’re playing, but a lot of it is up to the WIAA and how they set things up and how we seed things out (Saturday). I’m anxious to get things going.
“I told our seniors during their senior walk that they have the chance to play a lot more football. It’s not just a one and done proposition if they play the way they’ve been playing.”