Senior lineman Nathan Miller took time to pause.
It was difficult to fathom Roncalli’s stellar season had just come to an end at Watertown, instead of next week Madison. The Jets came up one victory short of a historic WIAA Division 4 state championship berth, suffering a 22-15 setback to Platteville.
But to wrap up at 12-1 season, wherever it happened, was worthy of reflection.
“It’s tough, really tough,” said Miller, a two-way starter and captain. “But I couldn’t be prouder of what we did this season. It was a heck of a senior year.
“This team had more heart than any team I’ve ever seen,” said Miller.
Twenty-four year head coach Ray Baranczyk echoed those thoughts. He called this year’s team, and senior class, one of the best and most rewarding he’s had to fortune to be around.
That said, tears were shed following the loss. Roncalli (12-1) wanted to conclude the 2013 season at Camp Randall Stadium, and finished agonizingly close.
From the start, it was clear the Platteville defense was keying on Roncalli star senior running back Joey Macdonald, calling out his number, where he was or even if he wasn’t on the field.
Fellow back Jon Paul Ruether took advantage. The senior scored Roncalli’s lone first-half touchdown on a 33-yard toss to the left.
Ruether led the Jets in rushing and receiving, with 61 yards on the ground and four catches for 62 yards through the air.
Meanwhile, Roncalli held Platteville star back William Cooley in check until Platteville’s final play of the opening half, when he barreled through the Jets’ defense for a 14-yard touchdown with 37 seconds remaining.
Platteville scored on the opening drive of the game, when quarterback Logan Butson found Derek Schambow for a 22-yard fade into the end zone on 4th-and-9.
The Hillmen led 14-7 at halftime.
“Football was a game of inches, and I feel like we were on the losing end of those inches in the first half,” said Miller.
Before that run, Cooley — who amassed 1,730 yards and 22 TDs this season — had only 15 yards on 12 carries. He had just one second-half carry before suffering an injury and sitting out the rest of the way.
The Jets hadn’t been in a lot of close games, and they weren’t going down without a fight.
They came out firing in the second half. Their first play was a 35-yard bomb to Macdonald from senior quarterback Jared Patek. A pass interference call put Roncalli inside the 20, but the drive ended on an interception on the 1-yard line.
But the Jets’ defense held, and the offense regrouped in a big way.
After being forced into a 3rd-and-19 attempt, Roncalli brought in sophomore backup quarterback Brett Bahrs, who converted a 25-yard completion to Macdonald. Patek came back in and threw a 17-yard completion to Josh Erickson.
Ruether got the ball to the 1-yard line, where Macdonald punched it in.
Roncalli then went for a 15-14 lead instead of the tie, and the risk paid off when Patek found Nick Stelzer, who made a juke move at the goal line for the two-point conversion.
“We came to win a ballgame,” said Baranczyk. “We thought if we could take a lead, that would put the pressure on the opponent.”
Platteville would eventually answer and retake the lead. Schambow again out-jumped a Roncalli defender for a 20-yard, jump-ball touchdown reception with 7:12 to go.
After a series that ended with a punt, then a defensive stop, the Jets got the ball back with 1:58 to go, down 22-15 with 74 yards in front of them.
Patek found Alec Salutz for a 32-yard reception on second down. Then on a 3rd-and-12, he connected with Macdonald on a 28-yard reception. Another pass to Salutz put the ball at the 4-yard line with 32 seconds to go.
But on second down, a pass in the end zone was thrown into a four-play scrum, two for each side. The referee did not hesitate — interception, touchback.
Platteville, which started the season 1-3, advances to State with a 9-4 record. It will face another Cinderella, Winneconne, at just 8-5.
Roncalli out-gained Platteville 319-226, and held the Hillmen to 10 first downs, only three in the second half. The Jets had 17.
But it is Roncalli going home, with the memories of a spectacular season that lasted one week shorter than hoped.
“This was a tough loss, but we have nothing to be ashamed of,” said Baranczyk. “It’s been a good journey.”
Roncalli…7 0 8 0 — 17
Platteville…7 7 0 8 — 22
P — Derek Schambow 22 pass from Logan Butson (James Bailie kick)
R — R — Jon Paul Ruether 33 run (Zach Jacquart kick)
P — William Cooley 14 run (Bailie kick)
R — Joey Macdonald 1 run (Nick Stelzer pass from Jared Patek)
P — Schambow 20 pass from Butson (Schambow pass from Butson)
First downs 17 10
Rushing 29-117 30-62
Yards passing 202 164
Comp.-Att-Int 11-31-2 10-18-0
Fumbles 0-0 0-0
— Jon Paul Ruether 11-61; Joey Macdonald 11-40 P — William Cooley 14-31
— Jared Patek 9-28-2-150; Joey Macdonald 1-1-0-27; Brett Bahrs 1-2-0-25 P — Logan Butson 10-18-0-164.
–Jon Paul Ruether 4-62; Alex Salutz 3-56; Josh Erickson 2-27 P — Derek Schambow 4-73; Mitch Knockel 3-42.