The joy of competing for a state football championship was abruptly tempered for Oshkosh North players and fans on Friday.
On a seemingly benign fourth-quarter punt, Spartan players Robert Phillips and Alec Goodermuth collided while making the tackle. Both players remained on the ground following the play and both would be taken by ambulance to University Hospital in Madison.
“It was a violent collision,” head coach Chris Kujawa said after the game. “Those two have been the heart and soul of our defense all year long and I’m just praying for them.”
Later Friday night, the news was much better.
According to Kujawa, Goodermuth — who had his leg placed in an inflatable brace on the field –suffered a bad contusion in his thigh and was still in the hospital as a precaution because of possible blood clots from the injury.
Phillips, who appeared to suffer a head and neck injury on the play and was placed on backboard for transfer to the hospital, had feeling and movement in all extremities as of Friday night but was being kept for precautionary tests.
The play that the duo was injured on appeared to be a run-of-the-mill punt by the Spartans.
Phillips and Goodermuth, two of the top tacklers for the Spartans, converged on Kimberly’s Brady Townsend near midfield and collided as much with each other as with the Papermaker returner.
The aftermath was anything but run-of-the-mill.
As trainers and medical personnel attended to both players, who were laying on the turf right next to each other, players from both teams took a knee on their respective sidelines while the usually racous Camp Randall Stadium fell eerily silent.
“It was tough. I was bawling like a baby,” senior Zach Zangl said. “It’s tough to see two brothers of mine go down like that, especially when you see them go off on a stretcher.”
Originally one ambulance was brought onto the field but shortly after a second arrived and each player was placed in a separate one for transfer.
The game was delayed about 30 minutes and teams were given a chance to warm-up when play resumed.
When this group of seniors were just freshmen at Oshkosh North, the Spartans struggled through a 1-8 season.
Four years later, they played for a state championship.
So even though North came out on the short end of things in Friday’s WIAA Division 2 state title game, there was still a silver lining to being there.
“We started from the bottom and now we are here and made it to state,” Zangl said. “We came a far way.”
That knowledge didn’t take the immediate sting away from the 51-10 loss to the Papermakers, however, it wasn’t something completely lost on the Spartans either.
“We have a lot of tears right now and we worked hard all season and it’s disappointing to come up a little short,” senior Nate Neveau said. “But we were 1-8 four years ago and to make this big of a turnaround it just feels great for our program.”
Neveau finished with more yards of total offense than Oshkosh North had as a team, throwing for 192 yards while leading the team in rushing with 55 yards on the ground.
Kimberly’s Scott Schreiber ran for 100 yards and four touchdowns and threw for another score.
All in all, it was a pretty good day for the quarterbacks.
And while Schreiber did get some help in the ground game and only threw 12 times — completing nine for 154 yards — Neveau was just about all the offense North could muster on Friday. He finished with 247 yards of total offense, while North had just 238 as a team, and scored the team’s lone touchdown on a 6-yard run in the first quarter.
“He’s the ultimate competitor,” Kujawa said of Neveau, the Offensive Player of the Year in the VFA South. “He is as special of a kid as they come.”