STEVENS POINT — For at least 8 seconds, the D.C. Everest football team was feeling pretty good about extending its season one more week.
DCE’s Nick Kohnhorst opened the night in wild fashion. He hauled in the opening kickoff and raced untouched up the middle of the field for a 95-yard return to the house.
From that point on, however, the WIAA Division 1 Level 1 playoff game belonged to the Stevens Point Area Senior High defense.
Relentless and smothering from the opening whistle, SPASH limited the Evergreens to a paltry 62 yards of total offense and secured a 24-13 win at Community Stadium.
The Panthers (8-2) earn a date with top-ranked Kimberly, a 38-7 winner over Green Bay Preble, at 7 p.m. Friday.
“We were just playing to the ball fast,” SPASH senior linebacker Nate Engle. “We game planned exceptionally well and we executed perfectly.
“I’m just proud the way we played and I’m glad we’re moving on.”
DCE had every reason to believe it was their turn to make it past the first round of the playoffs.
SPASH spent the rest of the opening half knocking that belief right out of them with a defense that smothered DCE.
Isaac Frieders, who was filling in for banged up running back Stephen Paoli, accounted for 32 of those yards on one carry on the Evergreens opening drive in the first quarter.
They were stuck in neutral, and in many case reverse, throughout the remainder of the soggy night.
“Hats off to Point, they kept their composure and played really, really good defense,” DCE coach Luke Coenen said. “We just couldn’t move the football.”
SPASH never pushed the panic button after the opening kickoff jolt.
Instead, the fourth-seeded Panthers turned to one of their big-play threat to even the score.
Senior running back Victor Kizewski busted outside and raced 83 yards down the right sideline. Joe Dorgan’s extra point made it 7-7 with 2:21 left in the opening quarter.
Kizewski pulled up nearing the end zone clutching his right hamstring. He spent the rest of the game on the sidelines.
“On the long run, he said his leg was hurting and we didn’t want to risk anything,” SPASH coach Pete McAdams said.
No need when your defense is playing lights out.
SPASH even generated a safety in the opening half to take a 12-7 lead into the break.
Adversity smacked the Panthers in the face again early in the third quarter when a fumble set up DCE in prime scoring territory.
Three plays later Paoli burst into the end zone from 10 yards out in one of his rare series to put them up 13-12 and give the Evergreens a lot of hope.
“It was a competitive game and our goal was to win a playoff game this year,” Coenen said. “We were real close. We expected a tight game, we expected the weather. It could have gone our way if we had played a little better.”
SPASH refused to let that happen by putting together a clutch drive on its next possession marching the length of the field for the go-ahead score.
Junior quarterback Beau Rosenthal handled the scoring honors, racing 23 yards for a touchdown and the Panthers were back in front to stay this time.
“Our kids have been solid all year long responding way we needed to,” McAdams said. “Beau is a competitor and do some good things built his confidence even more.”
With Kizewski missing from the Panthers attack, the Evergreens spent the rest of the night doing their best to make sure Turner-Zick didn’t hurt them.
That left some running room for quarterback Rosenthal and when his number was called, he answered. Rosenthal finished with 72 yards on nine carries.
Despite all of the attention, Turner-Zick managed to churn out 169 yards on 33 carries in a workhorse performance, including an insurance 32-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
“I can’t say enough about our defense,” McAdams said. “To be able to come out there and shut them down, it sure makes it easy for your offense when your defense is going to get stop after stop after stop. I think there were times when they went backwards more than forwards.”
DCE – Nick Kohnhorst 95 kickoff return (Brad Goetsch kick), 11:52
SPASH – Victor Kizewski 83 run (Joey Dorgan kick), 2:21
SPASH – Dorgan 20 field goal, 8:03
SPASH – Safety, Isaac Frieders recovered fumble in end zone, 5:00
DCE – Stephen Paoli 10 run (run failed), 8:57
SPASH – Beau Rosenthal 24 run (pass failed), 6:27
SPASH – Gus Turner-Zick 31 run (run failed), 11:30
Records: SPASH 8-2; D.C. Everest 5-5.
Scott A. Williams can be reached at 715-345-2282, or on email at email@example.com. Find him on Twitter as @SPJScottWill