Football: Bonduel rallies for wild win over Witt-Birn

Bears clinch playoff berth
Morgan Rode
Sports Editor

BONDUEL — The Bonduel High School football team was playing its final Central Wisconsin Conference-Large Division game ever. The Bears made it a memorable one, rallying from a 19-point halftime deficit for a wild 21-19 victory over Wittenberg-Birnamwood on Friday.

Bonduel coach James Westrich wasn’t pleased with the performance of the offense in the first half, crediting Witt-Birn’s defense. “We went into halftime and adjusted some things. We did a little gut check, and our kids really responded in the third quarter. They came out and played really good football, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

On a cold night where a strong wind made moving the football difficult, Bonduel took advantage with the wind in its favor in the third quarter.

The Bears opened the second half at their own 41-yard line, leaning on the running game and a timely pass to put together a scoring drive.

Senior Cole Letter and juniors Max Marohl, Max Sokolski and Isaac Banker all had carries for the Bears on the drive, with Letter connecting on a pass with Banker on third down to extend the drive. After a Letter run and Witt-Birn penalty put Bonduel at the 1, Sokolski scored to make it 19-7.

Bonduel’s defense then rose to the challenge, stuffing three W-B runs to force a punt. Starting from midfield, Bonduel needed just four plays to get back in the end zone.

The big play was a 25-yard pass from Letter to Banker, before a 12-yard Marohl run set up Sokolski’s 11-yard touchdown run.

“We knew we played our worst half of football there at the start, and then we came back and played our best half of football,” said Sokolski. “We just had to stick together.”

The Bears tried to kick another extra point, but after a bobbled snap, the team had to improvise. Junior Cole Anderson found junior Carson Robaidek in the back left corner of the end zone to make it 19-15.

After forcing Witt-Birn into a third-and-long, Bonduel senior Dylan Springborn intercepted a pass and returned it to the Witt-Birn 25.

With the home crowd in a frenzy, Marohl ripped off a touchdown run on the next play to give the hosts their first lead of the contest.

“We knew we weren’t playing our type of football (in the first half), that’s not the team we’re supposed to be. But we came out in the second half and played like the team we are,” said Marohl.

Bonduel’s defense kept Witt-Birn out of the end zone the rest of the game to preserve the win, which clinched a postseason berth for the team. The Bears were also playing in their final CWC-Large game, with the team, like many others, moving to a new conference in 2020.

After taking the lead, Bonduel forced Witt-Birn into a three-and-out.

The Chargers’ next drive was a promising one, relying on the running attack of junior Austin Gibson, senior Logan Balliett and freshman David Gauderman to work deep into Bonduel territory. Facing a fourth-and-11, Balliett broke free on a scramble, but came up just short of the first down marker.

Bonduel ran out the rest of the clock from there, with first-down runs from Banker and Letter sealing the comeback win.

Sokolski finished with 114 rushing yards, while Marohl had 46. Letter passed for 79 yards and Banker caught three passes for 46 yards. Banker and Sokolski finished with seven tackles each.

The Bears improved to 6-2 overall and finished 4-2 in CWC-Large play. Bonduel ends the regular season hosting Southern Door on Friday.

The Chargers are also 6-2 on the season, with a 3-2 mark in conference play. To clinch a playoff spot, Witt-Birn, which is already eligible for postseason play, must take down Manawa on Friday.

The Chargers hope to put the tough road loss to Bonduel behind them and end the year on a positive note.

“My message to the team was that we’re a good football team, that we couldn’t hang our heads and that one loss doesn’t define our season,” said Witt-Birn coach Bernard Holsey. “We had an opportunity, but couldn’t take advantage of it.”

Witt-Birn looked to be on its way to the playoff-clinching win Friday, especially after Gibson got the team off to a fast start, returning the opening kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown.

The Chargers kept the Bears off the scoreboard on the ensuing possession, with sophomore Kaden Schmidt intercepting a fourth-down pass in the end zone. Sophomore Ben Wesolowski also intercepted a pass in the first half.

Witt-Birn wasn’t able to extend its lead until late in the first half, punting on its first two offensive possessions before missing a field goal on the third.

The team’s fourth drive started at the W-B 44, with runs from Balliett and Gibson moving the ball into Bonduel territory before a pass from Balliett to senior Simon Stewart got the ball down to the 24.

After a spike stopped the clock, Balliett lofted a touchdown pass to sophomore Jack Fraaza with 20 seconds left in the half.

Bonduel fumbled on the kickoff, giving Witt-Birn the ball at the host’s 29 with 13 seconds to go. The next play, Balliett hit Gibson for another touchdown pass.

“In the first half, we were fortunate to get great field position and we capitalized on it,” said Balliett. “We were struggling to move the ball on the ground, so we went to the air and made a couple big plays to boost our lead going into halftime.”

Wittenberg-Birnamwood 7 12 0 0

Bonduel 0 0 21 0

First quarter

WB: Austin Gibson 84-yard kickoff return (Simon Stewart kick), 11:46

Second quarter

WB: Jack Fraaza 24-yard pass from Logan Balliett (kick blocked), 0:20

WB: Gibson 29-yard pass from Balliett (run failed), 0:03

Third quarter

B: Max Sokolski 1-yard run (Logan Guenterberg kick), 7:01

B: Sokolski 11-yard run (Carson Robaidek pass from Cole Anderson), 3:37

B: Max Marohl 25-yard run (kick failed), 1:59