WILLIAMS BAY — With WIAA enrollment rules disqualifying the Williams Bay 8-man football team from participating in the playoffs, the Bulldogs instead scheduled a 10th game this season during the usual playoff weekend.
Schlarman Academy of Danville, Illinois, traveled up to face the Bay on Oct. 26 for a cold and rainy afternoon contest. While the Bulldogs were not able to wrap up the season with a win, they showed their growth in a 21-7 loss.
Both teams started off with three-and-outs as they got acclimated to the slippery conditions. But halfway through the first quarter, Schlarman Academy was able to get on the board with a passing score from quarterback Marcus Blurton to receiver Vaughn Black. The extra point was good, making it 7-0 with 5:47 left in the quarter.
Williams Bay’s offense looked sharp in its response, swiftly moving down to the red zone before the sharpness wore off and they fumbled away the possession at the 15-yard line with 2:32 left in the quarter. In an ironic twist, the Hilltoppers coughed the ball back up shortly after, and Bulldogs linebacker Sam Norton scooped the ball up and ran it back to the 15-yard line with 11:08 in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs were cool under pressure on this trip to the red zone, converting three different fourth-down attempts, including a fourth-and-goal from the two-yard line in which Norton took a pitch sweep into the end zone to tie the game 7-7 at the 8:14 mark.
On the ensuing drive, the Bay held Schlarman Academy to a punt; however, the Hilltoppers could not handle the snap on the kick, setting up Williams Bay with good field position around midfield. The Dogs moved down the field, but could not convert on 4th-and-11 from the 26-yard line, giving Schlarman the ball with 2:45 until halftime.
It only took a minute for the Hilltoppers to find the end zone, as receiver Rance Bryant hauled in a 65-yard pass from Blurton to put the visiting team back on top 13-7 after a missed extra point.
That score stood throughout the third quarter, as neither team was able to find the end zone. The closest either team got was when Williams Bay made it down to the 11 before the drive stalled and Schlarman forced a turnover on downs.
The Hilltoppers were able to score the game’s final points early in the fourth quarter when Bryant intercepted a ball at the 10-yard line and returned it 90 yards for a score. Blurton pounded in the two-point conversion run to make it a 21-7 ballgame.
Williams Bay’s offense was able to move the ball down the field well throughout the entire game, but a pair of turnover on downs, a fumble, and an interception in the red zone limited the Bulldogs to just one touchdown.
Those giveaways in prime scoring position had been an issue most games for the Bulldogs, which head coach Jon Tomaszewski thinks is just a symptom of this being the first varsity season for the program.
“It’s part of being a young team, I think, learning how to finish those drives,” Tomaszewski said. “That’s been a consistent thing that’s plagued us throughout the whole season.”
The flip side of the coin is that the offense put forth one of its best performances of the year in order to get the team down the field. Part of the success was a shift in scheme, rotating running backs Norton and Raul Rojas to complement their different running styles. Norton is more of a straightforward power back, while Rojas stays back and reads the field before making his move.
However, the running game cannot work without stout play by the linemen, whom Tomaszewski praised for their play against Schlarman.
“I really can’t speak enough about how happy I am with their improvement throughout the year,” he said. “We couldn’t even move the ball to begin the year, and they took it upon themselves. The amount of communication they have now on the O-line is unreal.”
That 10th game wrapped up the first full season of varsity football in Williams Bay since 2015. And while the team’s record was only 1-9, it was the first step in a longer journey for the fledgling eight-man football program on the west end of the lake.