Needing a victory in its regular-season finale to become playoff eligible, Wauwatosa West left little doubt.
The Trojans completed their late-season run to the postseason with a 55-20 rout of Cudahy in a Woodland Conference crossover game on Friday night. By winning its final three games, Wauwatosa West qualified for the playoffs for the second straight season and for the eighth time in school history.
"We're proud of our kids and the adversity they have overcome," Wauwatosa West coach Matt Good said. "It is not easy to get into the playoffs. This is a group that is hungry. We expect to go win somewhere."
Sitting at 3-3 and 1-3 in the Woodland after a 16-0 loss to New Berlin West on Sept. 23, Wauwatosa West jumpstarted its season with a 39-10 victory over eventual conference champion Pewaukee on Sept. 30.
The Trojans have rolled from there, routing Brown Deer, 64-6, on Oct. 7 before easily dispatching the Packers.
"This means a whole lot to us," Wauwatosa West senior running back Paris Howell said. "We've been fighting and grinding to get to this point. A lot of people doubted us.
"When we were getting ready to play Pewaukee, a lot of people said we weren't going to get the win because they were undefeated. We won, and that meant a lot to us. After that win, we have had a whole lot of motivation to keep playing harder every game."
Led by four touchdown runs by Howell, the Trojans (6-3, 3-3 Woodland) found the end zone on each of their six first-half possessions and created a score with their defense en route to a 48-7 lead at halftime.
Wauwatosa West's first-string offense could do what it wanted against Cudahy (2-7, 1-5).
Howell scored on runs of 20 and 25 yards early in the first quarter, while quarterback Jamil Razza scored on a 13-yard run out to make it 21-0 at the end of the first quarter.
Too explosive and shifty for the Packers defense, Howell scored from 39 and 58 yards out in the second quarter to bust the game open. An interception return for a touchdown by sophomore Kyleon Parker made it 42-0, while a 22-yard touchdown pass from Razza to senior Cameron Walker put the Trojans up 48-0 with 5:23 left in the first half.
"We are doing the right things offensively right now," Good said. "We're giving the ball to the right players, and they are making plays and putting the ball in the end zone."
Cudahy got on the board 11 seconds before halftime on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Rusty Murphy to Hector Quiles.
Wauwatosa West scored on its opening drive of the second half on a 9-yard run by junior Jacob Braxton.
Despite sitting out the entire second half, Howell gained 164 yards on 11 carries to finish the regular season with 1,198 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. Braxton added 82 yards on eight carries and Razza carried five times for 79 yards.
Wauwatosa West is the eighth seed in its Division 2 region. The Trojans will travel to Brookfield Central to face the top-seeded Lancers in a Level 1 game at 7 p.m. on Oct. 21. Co-champions of the Greater Metro Conference, Brookfield Central finished the regular season at 8-1, losing 21-17 to Menomonee Falls in its regular-season finale.
"We've been playing playoff weeks since week one (of conference play) against Eisenhower," Good said. "They kind of handed it to us. We learned a lesson. We went to Greendale and learned a lesson. We kept learning and improving.
"We had goals this season. One was a conference title, and that didn't happen. But a playoff win is certainly there. We expect to go compete. Someone is going to get a helluva football game next week."
The Trojans have not won a playoff game since 1984 and have just three postseason victories in school history. Wauwatosa West fell to Waterford in a Division 2 Level 1 game in 2015, 28-0, something Howell and his teammates remember.
"Now we know what it feels like," Howell said. "We've been there before. Now we're coming to get a playoff victory."