Sussex - For two quarters Friday night, Sussex Hamilton followed its familiar formula for success, riding the powerful running of junior Drew Patterson to a 28-21 lead at the half.
Three turnovers later - the final one coming when Patterson couldn't control a pitch on fourth and 2 from Verona's seven-yard line with 32 seconds left to play - and the Chargers' hopes of returning to the quarterfinals of the WIAA Division 1 football playoffs were dashed with a 35-28 loss to the Wildcats.
"When you're going back and forth with that kind of offense and our offense, it makes it exciting for fans," said Hamilton coach John Damato. "Everything's escalated in the playoffs. When you have two good football teams, you talk about field position, you talk about big plays, you talk about critical penalties at critical times. That's just how it goes. Everything is magnified."
The play was the culmination of a back-and-forth thriller featuring two outstanding talents in Patterson and Verona senior running back Dom Wise, who seemed to turn the game into a contest of who could top who.
Patterson finished with 150 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries and added two receptions for 36 yards and a 99-yard kickoff return for another score in the second quarter.
Wise, meanwhile, gave the Chargers fits all night, running for 278 yards on 33 carries, including touchdowns of 27, 1, 57 and 17 yards.
"He's the best back we faced all year, easily," Damato said of Wise. "His balance and his vision and his determination there at the end were second to none. He was definitely an outstanding back."
A masterful 10-play drive that began with 2:23 left in the quarter and ended with Patterson going 4 yards gave Hamilton a 28-21 at the break.
But in the third quarter, Wise needed all of four plays to knot it up again, with his 57-yard explosion on a toss around left end tying the game at 28.
From that point on, Verona's defense began to swarm Patterson - he managed just 49 yards on 14 second-half carries - and the Chargers started to hurt themselves with turnovers. A botched snap ended Hamilton's ensuing possession at Verona's 22, and Verona senior Jordan King picked off Hamilton quarterback Mark Gryszkiewicz on the next one.
"I thought we really had momentum coming in" to the second half, Damato said. "But they came out in the third quarter and did an outstanding job and kept us on our heels on defense."
Hamilton managed to keep Wise and Verona out of the end zone, but after a three-and-out, Wise again went to work, picking his way through the Chargers' defense on third and 1 from Hamilton's 17 and bursting into the end zone to give Verona its first lead of the game with 5:36 left to play.
Hamilton then steadily drove the field, eating clock and setting up a first down at Verona's 15 with less than 2 minutes to play. Three Patterson runs set up fourth and 2. Hamilton called a toss to Patterson around the left side, but the junior couldn't handle the pitch and Verona fell on the ball to end it.
"I just kind of bobbled it around a little and couldn't pull it in," Patterson said.
Added Damato: "That's our play, we practice it, we knew what we were doing. It's just one of those things. Drew's our guy, and you can never look at one play in games like this. You can never do that, and we're not going to do that to Drew."
Paulson caps season at state
Hamilton junior Ashlyn Paulson finished 82nd at this year's WIAA Division 1 State cross country meet at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids.
Paulson's time was 15:45.74.
Baraboo senior McKaela Christenson won the race at 14:12.65. Aubrey Roberts of Eau Claire Memorial finished second at 14:16.24.
Arrowhead scored 41 points to win the team competition, recording the second-lowest total since Neenah recorded 37 in 1981. It was Neenah that took second, scoring 70 points.
The last Hamilton athlete to appear in the state meet was Theresa Selestow, who took 22nd in 15:21 during the 2009 race. Selestow also appeared at state as a sophomore.
Kellyn Johnson ran in 2003 and took sixth place as a senior, finishing in 14:39. She also placed second as a junior, 22nd as a sophomore and fifth as a freshman.
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