Most of the 17 seniors on the Manitowoc Lincoln football roster were, at one time, just like some of those little kids in the stands on Friday night.
They’d cheer on the Ships between the nachos and hot dogs, excited for the day when they could get out on the big field and butt helmets at the high school varsity level.
Another group of seniors came full circle with the journey from youth player to varsity teammate on Friday, and they finished their final home game in style.
Manitowoc rolled past Milwaukee King 56-22 in the opening round of the WIAA Division 1 playoffs.
Up next is perennial powerhouse Hartland Arrowhead, the defending state champion and No. 1 seed in the eight-team regional. Even with a victory next week, Friday night likely marked the final home game for this group of seniors.
“Knowing it was our last game here, and playing one of the best teams in the state next week, we went out with a lot of emotion,” said senior quarterback Brennan Mrotek. “We used to be those little kids (in the stands).”
“You always want to be a good role model to the kids,” added senior offensive lineman Collin Saubert.
Coach John Dixon, who celebrated a birthday on Friday, beamed with pride about this senior class, who showed mettle after opening the season with a pair of tough losses only to rebound in a big way, which Dixon called “a tribute to their character.”
“Each week, the kids have improved,” he said. “They weren’t the perfect class, but I’m extremely proud of this group of kids.”
Lincoln (7-3) took control against King (7-3) early and didn’t allow the Generals back in it. While the Ships’ defense was holding King to three straight three-and-outs to open the game, their offense scored three straight touchdowns and led 21-0 after one quarter.
Manty led 42-14 by halftime and increased it to 49-14 one minute into the third quarter.
Trevor Terp scored three touchdowns in the first half and one more to begin the second. Ethan Just had 115 yards on 13 carries and Cameron Jaeger had seven carries for 78 yards and each also scored.
Mrotek was 4-for-7 for 77 yards with two scores, a 10-yarder to Terp and a middle-range throw to Jaeger that the back turned into a 45-yard TD.
“We knew we had to stop No. 2 on defense, and to score on every drive on offense,” Mrotek said.
King’s “No. 2” was tough. Senior Saquan Dowery found it difficult at times to find an open space against Manitowoc’s stout defensive line, but when he did, he was gone.
Dowery finshed with 20 carries for 219 yards, including four runs of 30-plus yards, with two touchdowns. But the Ships held King freshman quarterback Collin Sathe, who led the City Conference in passing, to 4-of-16 for 65 yards, one late touchdown and two interceptions.
While Arrowhead will provide a worthy test in the second round — Dixon compared it to David vs. Goliath — there is also the belief that anything can happen.
“You have to believe that, or else don’t show up for the game,” Dixon said. ‘We’ve run the ball on everyone we’ve played, so I’m excited for the opportunity.”
“As long as you believe,” said Saunbert, “you have a chance.”
…0 14 0 8
Man. Lincoln…21 21 7 7 — 56
ML — Ethan Just 25 run (Joel Leifer kick)
ML — Cameron Jaeger 20 run (Leifer kick)
ML — Trevor Terp 10 pass from Brennan Mrotek (Leifer kick)
MK — Saquan Dowery 16 run (run failed)
ML — Jaeger 45 pass from Mrotek (Leifer kick)
ML — Terp 2 run (run failed)
MK — Dowery 55 run (Terrance Mannery pass from Collin Sathe)
ML — Terp 1 run (Mrotek run)
ML — Terp 15 run (Leifer kick)
ML — Bailey Seidl 30 run (Leifer kick)
MK — Mannery 42 pass from Sathe (Mannery pass from Sathe)
First downs 20 8
Rushing 50-290 22-224
Yards passing 77 65
Comp.-Att-Int 4-7-0 4-16-2
Rushing: MK — Saquan Dowery 20-219. ML — Ethan Just 13-115; Cameron Jaeger 7-78; Trevor Terp 11-48; Bailey Seidl 3-44.
MK — Collin Sathe 4-16-2-65. ML — Brennan Mrotek 4-7-0-77.
MK — Terrance Mannery 2-56. ML — Cameron Jaeger 1-45; Trevor Terp 2-17.