Polar Bears suffer heartbreaking 21-20 playoff defeat
A close game came down to the final seconds as the fourth-seeded Hortonville Polar Bear football team took on the top-seeded Menasha Blue Jays at Calder Stadium on Friday, Oct. 31. The back-and-forth affair saw the Blue Jays come out on top, 21-20, after the Polar Bears failed to complete a two-point conversion with 27 seconds remaining in the game that would have given Hortonville a win in the WIAA Division 2 Level 2 playoff game.
The game started on a sour note for Hortonville as Menasha attempted an onsides kick that the Blue Jays recovered at Hortonville’s 35-yard line.
On fourth and 11 from Hortonville’s 25-yard line, the Polar Bear defense stepped up and stopped the Blue Jays on an incomplete pass play. Hortonville’s offense took over at the 25-yard line with 8:08 remaining in the first quarter.
The Polar Bear offense couldn’t find a rhythm early, going three-and-out on their first possession. Menasha fielded Hortonville’s punt and returned it for a small gain, but the Blue Jays drew their first personal foul of the night on the play and the ball was backed up to the 13-yard line.
On fourth and six from the Hortonville 33-yard line, the Polar Bear defense again stopped the Blue Jays, and the offense took over at the 27-yard line.
On the first play of the second quarter, Mitch Gerhartz broke free for a 66-yard touchdown run. Anders Carlson tacked on the extra point, and Hortonville led 7-0 with 11:50 remaining in the second quarter.
Menasha wasted little time in answering Hortonville’s scoring drive as their quarterback ran for 62 yards and a score just 65 seconds after Hortonville found the end zone. The Blue Jays converted the extra point kick, and the score was tied, 7-7.
Hortonville had a golden opportunity to score later in the quarter, as it appeared they would have first and goal from the five yard line after Jake Sommers completed a pass to Carter Beaudoin. Unfortunately, the play was called back due to an illegal procedure penalty against the Polar Bears. On the next play, a pass from Sommers was intercepted by the Blue Jays and the Polar Bears were flagged for a personal foul-facemask penalty on the return.
Menasha moved the ball to the Hortonville 27-yard line with 24 seconds left in the first half, but a holding penalty backed them up to the 36-yard line. The Blue Jays then gained a pass completion to the four-yard line, but again drew a holding penalty to back them up to the 30-yard line with 2 seconds remaining in the half. On the last play of the half, Dylan Krivoshein sacked Menasha’s quarterback and the Blue Jays were again flagged for holding.
Hortonville declined the penalty and the quarter ended with the score tied, 7-7.
Menasha received the kick to start the second half and drove to Hortonville’s 14-yard line. Facing fourth down and five, the Blue Jays threw a fade to the corner of the end zone that was knocked away by Sommers.
Hortonville took over on downs but couldn’t get the offense going, punting the ball back to Menasha. The Blue Jays took over at Hortonville’s 45-yard line with 6:32 remaining in the game.
Menasha drew another holding penalty to back them up later in the drive, but Hortonville was flagged for holding on the next play, advancing the ball for Menasha.
On fourth down and three from Hortonville’s 7-yard line, Menasha’s quarterback ran for a touchdown. The clock showed 2:30 remaining in the third quarter after Menasha’s kicker missed the extra point attempt. The Blue Jays led, 13-7.
Menasha kicked off and Hortonville returned the kick to their own 33-yard line, but a holding penalty against the Polar Bears moved the ball back to the 23-yard line.
On the next play, Sommers connected with Kyle Witthuhn for a 56-yard gain. The Blue Jays were flagged for their second personal foul of the game on a facemask penalty at the end of the run as Witthuhn appeared ready to break away from the defender and race into the end zone.
The Polar Bears were set up with first down and 10 from Menasha’s 11-yard line. They moved the ball to the three yard line, facing a third down and two yards to go. Gerhartz took a handoff from Sommers and punched the ball into the end zone for his second score of the night, and Carlson added the extra point to give Hortonville a 14-13 lead.
On the ensuing kick, Menasha returned the ball to Hortonville’s 37-yard line. Carlson made a touchdown-saving tackle on the play, and Menasha’s offense took over just before the third quarter came to an end.
On fourth down and nine, Menasha was forced to punt. They kicked the ball through the end zone for a touchback, and Hortonville took over at their own 20-yard line with 10:54 remaining in the game. The Polar Bears couldn’t pick up a first down and had to punt the ball away. Menasha returned the ball to Hortonville’s 27-yard line, but the Blue Jays were flagged for an illegal block on the return, moving the ball back to their own 49-yard line.
The Blue Jays drove to Hortonville’s 25-yard line before being flagged for holding on a first down play. Despite being moved back, the Blue Jay offense found a way to pick up a first down. They moved the ball to Hortonville’s 13-yard line and scored on a running play with 5:06 remaining. The Blue Jays went for a two-point conversion after the touchdown and were successful in the attempt, taking a 21-14 lead.
Hortonville received the ensuing kick and started their drive at their own 32-yard line with 5:00 remaining in the game. The offense struggled and could not pick up a first down, so the Polar Bears punted the ball away. Menasha took over at their own 36-yard line.
Menasha picked up a first down at the 46-yard line, but the Blue Jays were flagged for illegal procedure, backing them up to their own 41-yard line.
The Polar Bear defense forced Menasha into a fourth down and four play from the Hortonville 48-yard line with 1:50 remaining on the clock. The Blue Jays elected to punt, but the Polar Bears blocked the punt and the ball went out of bounds at their own 41-yard line.
On third and five from their own 46-yard line, Sommers found Joe Cliver for a first down at Menasha’s 37-yard line with 45 seconds remaining.
Sommers connected with Witthuhn on the next play, moving the ball to Menasha’s 16-yard line with 37 seconds left in the game.
Sommers again threw the ball in Witthuhn’s direction on the next play, but the ball fell incomplete. A pass interference penalty was called against the Blue Jays, giving Hortonville a first and goal from the Menasha five-yard line with 32 seconds remaining.
On the next play, Sommers threw a dart to Beaudoin in the front of the end zone for a touchdown with 27 seconds left to play.
The Polar Bears elected to go for the win, lining up for a two-point conversion rather than trying an extra point kick that would have tied the game at 21-21.
Sommers took the snap and rolled out to his right, scrambling away from Blue Jay defenders. Nearing the sideline, he threw a pass into the end zone as Witthuhn flashed open. Witthuhn jumped and reached to his right as the ball sailed towards him, but the ball glanced off his hands and fell incomplete. Menasha’s players and fans erupted in celebration while several Hortonville players fell to their knees in disbelief.
Hortonville’s last chance was on the ensuing kick. The Polar Bears attempted an onside kick, but Menasha recovered the ball. The Blue Jays took a knee on the next play to run out the clock and preserve a 21-20 victory, advancing to WIAA Division 2 Level 3 playoff game against either Ashwaubenon or Superior on Friday, Nov. 7.