With the football season passing its halfway point Friday night, a palpable urgency could be sensed at Wauwatosa West High School.
Both the host Trojans and visiting New Berlin Eisenhower were coming off back-to-back close Woodland Conference losses and could ill-afford a third.
Shaking off a sluggish start, the Lions roared to a 31-10 victory, evened their record in the Woodland at 2-2 and, most importantly, rediscovered their mojo in the process.
"It always helps to win a game," said Eisenhower coach Jeff Setz. "Hopefully, our guys will start believing again that we have a good team and a good future. It's those tough losses where you really start questioning yourselves and questioning what your doing, but tonight's win gets us back on track."
Early on, it seemed Eisenhower had yet to recover from its 2-point loss to Greendale the week prior. Costly penalties and turnovers kept the game scoreless for nearly the entire first quarter.
But with less than two minutes to go, senior defensive back Dylan Petre picked off West sophomore quarterback Jared Morzinski near midfield, shed the intended receiver turned would-be tackler and sprinted 55 yards to give the Lions a 7-0 lead.
"That definitely was a wake-up call for us," Setz said. "That was something that we needed because we were kind of stagnant. The penalites were holding us back, and we couldn't maintain any momentum, but that play really sparked us to get going."
"I knew it was coming my way, but I lost it in the lights actually, and (the ball) just came to me," said Petre, who finished with 4 catches for 66 yards. "Then I saw my whole team, just a line of blockers, and it was wide open to the end zone."
That pick-six proved a big blow to the Trojans, who were holding their own defensively against a bigger and deeper Eisenhower squad.
"They blitzed off the edge and we didn't give the quarterback the time he needed," said West coach Matt Good. "You never want to give up freebies like that."
Sparked by Petre's big play, the Lions began grinding out first downs and used up the bulk of the second quarter on a 19-play, 90-yard drive culminating in a 5-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback John Crowley.
A nifty two-minute drill orchestrated by Morzinksi led to West's first points, a 19-yard field goal by junior Mickey Morgan to end the first half.
But the Trojans couldn't get anything going on offense the rest of the night, while Eisenhower added a 5-yard touchdown pass from Crowley to Petre in the third quarter and a 34-yard field goal early in the fourth.
Blazing senior kick returner Reggie Cole provided some fireworks for the home fans by returning the ensuing kickoff 88 yards to paydirt, cutting the deficit to 24-10.
"The kid's a lightning bolt; you've got to get the ball in his hands and let him do what he does," Good said.
But the Lions countered right back with a 58-yard drive, capped by a 5-yard Anthony Stewart touchdown run, to seal the victory.
The Lions used a balanced ground attack to pile up 227 yards. Senior Mitch Teipner led all rushers with 96 yards on 15 carries, while bruising senior fullback Darren Lehsten mashed his way to another 49 yards.
Eisenhower's long drives combined with its substitution-limiting no-huddle offense kept West's defense on the field for long stretches, which eventually took its toll.
"That's the whole philosophy of the no-huddle, to keep the momentum going and control the speed of the game," Setz said. "There were times when we got a couple first downs and kept pounding away, and I think it finally did wear down Tosa West."
Morzinksi completed 15 of 28 passes for 143 yards for the Trojans but was intercepted three times. The Trojans fell to 1-3 in the Woodland (1-4 overall) and now have their work cut out for them to earn a playoff berth.
"We've had the effort all season," Good said. "Our defense has played great, our special teams has been good, now our offense needs to get on track. Our kids are resilient and they've had a great attitude and worked hard all year, and we as coaches need to work on putting them in good spots."
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