For everything that the relatively young Bancroft-Rosalie/Lyons-Decatur athletic co-op had accomplished — a state championship last season in boys basketball, for example — one thing the Wolverines had not yet owned was what coach Dan Maresh viewed as a signature football win.
That is, until Class C No. 2 BRLD came to Memorial Field and exited with a 40-32 victory over Norfolk Catholic on Friday night.
“Anytime you can beat a name like that, it just makes your kids rise and stand extra tall, so we're excited,” Maresh said. “This gets that confidence going into district play, and it's the kind of win that I think we haven't had in this program.”
To him and the Wolverines, it didn't matter that the Knights fell to 0-4 on the season.
“Everybody around here knows that Norfolk Catholic is a good team no matter what,” senior quarterback Will Gatzemeyer said. “Coming out of here with this 'W' is what we wanted to do, obviously.”
BRLD came out of Norfolk with the win in no small part because of Gatzemeyer. He accounted for 443 yards of total offense, including 16 of 24 passing for 316 yards and three touchdowns, and he rushed 24 times for 127 yards and another touchdown.
“He's special,” Maresh said. “He just gets us in good situations. That last touchdown, that was all him. He saw the box, he pulled it out and he threw it, and the next thing you know, we're up two scores. That was exciting.”
Seven of Gatzemeyer's eight incompletions came in the second quarter, when BRLD tried stretching the field vertically after scoring on its first two drives.
Norfolk Catholic took advantage behind junior Cayden Cunningham, who played the entire game at quarterback. He finished 12 of 21 passing for 185 yards and four touchdowns to help the Knights rally from an early 12-0 deficit. Riley Carlson booted a 35-yard field goal with 1 minute, 1 second until halftime that put the Knights within 18-17 at the break.
“I'm disappointed,” Norfolk Catholic coach Jeff Bellar said. “I think we played a good football team. We played well — better tonight offensively than we've been — but we couldn't get enough stops when we needed them.”
It seemed that the game turned early in the third quarter.
Norfolk Catholic opened the second half by marching 52 yards in nine plays. On third-and-goal at the 2, it initially appeared Jackson Clausen had stretched across the goal line for the lead-changing touchdown. However, he was spotted just inches away.
On fourth down, the Knights tried another inside run, but this time BRLD defensive end Jaxon Johnson blew the play up in the backfield. Two plays later, Johnson caught a Gatzemeyer pass and lumbered inside the Norfolk Catholic 25 for a 68-yard play.
“They were able to run inside on us a little bit and they thought they could again, but he came crashing down from his defensive end position and just stuck the kid,” Maresh said. “That was great, and then watching him turn around and make a big play on offense, those are plays where you just know a kid is special.”
That was one of several highlights for the BRLD receiving corps. Lucas Vogt led all players with seven catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns, and Johnson finished with four catches for 113 yards.
Three plays after that, Dylan Beutler snagged a Gatzemeyer pass in the corner of the end zone. Just like that, the Wolverines were up 24-17 instead of the Knights taking the lead. BRLD also scored on its next possession, a drive keyed by pass plays of 22 and 47 yards, both from Gatzemeyer to Vogt.
Gatzemeyer hit all six of his pass attempts in the third quarter, and he was 9 of 10 passing for 211 yards in the second half alone. Gatzemeyer also had 14 of the team's 18 rushing attempts after halftime.
The Knights never went away. Cunningham found Wyatt Smydra breaking free on a crossing route, and Smydra did the rest for a 37-yard touchdown play to put the Knights within 32-24 midway through the fourth quarter.
The Wolverines answered, and it seemed to put the game away.
Gatzemeyer picked up a grounder of a snap and darted upfield to convert on third-and-2 and two plays later found Johnson for a 22-yard play. Three plays after that — on third-and-4 — Gatzemeyer swung it out to Vogt along the Norfolk Catholic sideline, who picked up a block and then did the rest for a 24-yard touchdown, and Gatzemeyer's two-point run made it 40-24 with 2:46 left.
Norfolk Catholic got on the board again when Cunningham found Alex Lammers on a fade route in the corner of the end zone with 58 seconds left — the second time they connected for a touchdown — and the two hooked up again on the opposite side for the two-point conversion that put the Knights within a possession. But Lyons recovered the onside kick, and BRLD ran it three times to finish the contest.
“We just asked our kids all week to just not give up the fight,” Bellar said. “Fight for 48 minutes. And I thought they did that.”
BRLD 12 6 14 8 — 40
NC 7 10 0 15 — 32
BRLD: Kobe Lyons 2 run (PAT failed), 8:15.
BRLD: Lyons 1 run (PAT failed), 4:01.
NC: Alex Lammers 5 pass from Cayden Cunningham (Riley Carlson kick), 0:11.
BRLD: Lucas Vogt 41 pass from Will Gatzemeyer (PAT failed), 9:49.
NC: Tristen Schlecht 31 pass from Cunningham (Carlson kick), 6:55.
NC: Carlson 35 field goal, 1:01.
BRLD: Dylan Beutler 22 pass from Gatzemeyer (PAT failed), 6:16.
BRLD: Gatzemeyer 1 run (Gatzemeyer run), 0:59.
NC: Wyatt Smydra 37 pass from Cunningham (Carlson kick), 6:51.
BRLD: Vogt 24 pass from Gatzemeyer (Gatzemeyer run), 2:46.
NC: Lammers 8 pass from Cunningham (Lammers pass from Cunningham), 0:58.