KAUKAUNA — Appleton West hasn’t experienced playoff football since 2004.
That enormously frustrating 11-year drought is about to end.
The Terrors became playoff eligible Friday night, putting together a 29-point fourth-quarter explosion which lifted them to a 49-35 Valley Football Association-North win over Kaukauna in the final high school game to be played at Bayorgeon Field.
West (4-4, 4-3) can officially lock up the long-sought playoff berth by beating Wausau West next Friday. But even if the Terrors lose, they would still finish .500 in conference play and have a good chance of making the postseason field. Appleton East was among the teams that reached the WIAA playoffs last year with a 4-4 conference record.
“I think we’ll be fine,” said West coach Brent Engen. “We’re a playoff team as far as I’m concerned. We’re not finished yet. We’re just getting started.”
An opportunity to play in the postseason would be extremely satisfying to a West program that had won just three games combined in the three previous years.
“It would mean a lot to the whole school,” said Terrors running back Patrick Ourada. “This season has been a blast. I love playing with this team. We’ve had a great year and we never stop fighting. It’s great to see all the seniors, who hadn’t had a lot of success in the past, be able to experience it.”
Ourada, a speedy sophomore, ran for 207 yards and four touchdowns to trigger a West offense that piled up 432 total yards.
“He’s just a sophomore, but boy, he’s a heck of a football player,” said Engen. “We kind of put the offense on his shoulders tonight.”
West’s other playmakers, quarterback Ethan Herbst and wide receiver Bryce Gehl, also had big games. Herbst threw for 131 yards and three touchdowns, hitting Gehl with touchdown strikes of 4 and 49 yards. Gehl had 92 receiving yards on five catches.
“In games like this your best players have to play well, and that’s what happened,” said Engen.
Kaukauna (1-7, 1-5) was led by the passing for senior quarterback Coy Coffey, who threw for 276 yards and five touchdowns. His top target was receiver Adam Smith, who had nine receptions for 141 yards and two TDs.
The Ghosts trailed 20-14 at the half, but took a 21-20 lead midway through the third quarter on a perfectly thrown 38-yard touchdown pass from Coffey to Smith.
That set the stage for West’s big finish. Herbst tossed a 1-yard scoring pass to Jake Dahl in the opening minute of the fourth quarter to get the comeback started and then hit Gehl over the middle with a 49-yard touchdown strike two minutes later.
A 1-yard Ourada scoring run gave West a 42-21 cushion, but the Ghosts fought back on consecutive touchdown receptions by Marcus Moreau to slash the margin to 42-35 with 2:54 remaining.
Any chance of a miraculous comeback in the football finale at Bayorgeon was crushed when Ourada busted off tackle and raced 50 yards for a game-sealing touchdown with just over a minute remaining.
“That’s the way we’ve been all year,” said Engen. “We make things hard on ourselves and on our opponent. But this is a very resilient bunch. I’m proud of these kids.”
K: Adam Smith 38 pass from Coy Coffey (Isaac Bustamante kick)
AW: Bryce Gehl 4 pass from Ethan Herbst (kick failed)
AW: Patrick Ourada 1 run (Charlie Mead kick)
AW: Ourada 2 run (Mead kick)
K: Brant Sanderfoot 3 pass from Coffey (Bustamante kick)
K: Smith 38 pass from Coffey (Bustamante kick)
AW: Jake Dahl 1 pass from Herbst (Dahl pass from Herbst)
AW: Gehl 49 pass from Herbst (Mead kick)
AW: Ourada 10 run (Mead kick)
K: Marcus Moreau 9 pass from Coffey (Bustamante kick)
K: Moreau 28 pass from Coffey (Bustamante kick)
AW: Ourada 50 run (Mead kick)
Total net yards
Rushing — Appleton West: Patrick Ourada 27-207. Kaukauna: Brant Sanderfoot 8-29.
Passing — Appleton West: Ethan Herbst 13-21-131-1. Kaukauna: Coy Coffey 24-42-276-1; Zach Kenney 0-1-0-0.
Receiving — Appleton West: Bryce Gehl 5-92. Kaukauna: Adam Smith 9-141.
Tim Froberg: 920-993-1000, ext. 423, or email@example.com; on Twitter @twfroberg