Defense comes up big as Goslings down Edgewood
Watertown settled this game on defense.
Let that sink in for a minute.
Head football coach Benji Kamrath’s last seven playoff teams outscored opponents with high octane offense and aggressive play-calling. The defense just needed to hold up early and the rest would usually take care of itself.
The 2018 model continues to run in fits and starts on offense, resulting in missed red zone opportunities and some ill-timed three-and-outs. But that defense has come to play, and had a huge role in the team’s 23-14 victory over Edgewood on Friday.
“Our defense this whole season has been stepping up quite a bit,” Watertown senior two-way lineman Alex Nachtigall said. “We’ve got a powerful offense, but sometimes we’re not clicking and not on the right page and we’ve got to rely on our defense. Our defense steps it up every time. It’s awesome.”
Case in point: the Goslings opened their first home conference game with a lengthy drive to the Crusaders 3-yard line, only to have the drive stall on downs.
But that gave the defense a chance to play downhill at the goal line. Senior linebacker Brian Katzenberger stuffed a running back for 1-yard loss, and senior lineman Tyler Bartz broke through the line and sacked Edgewood senior quarterback Thomas Hartlieb for a safety on the next play.
“The safety was pretty awesome,” Bartz said. “That was the first time I scored points, so that was pretty great.”
Despite facing an offense that mirrors its own in terms of scheme and talent, the defense was pretty great most of the night when it had to be.
There were a few lapses.
Edgewood took its only lead of the game on its second possession when senior running back Mitchell Wendler hit the second level clean and sprinted to a 55-yard touchdown to give his team a 7-2 lead with 5 minutes, 33 seconds left in the opening quarter.
“Inside zone,” Kamrath said. “I think we just overran it. We were just not gap responsible. They never got a big one after that. Whatever we didn’t do, we corrected it. I think our inside backer overran it or used the wrong gap.”
Wendler finished with 15 carries for 90 yards, so most of his production came on the one big play.
The defense racked up multiple tackles for losses on this night, including two on Edgewood’s next series to force a short punt.
Watertown finally found the end zone on its fourth possession with a short drive of 41 yards.
Junior quarterback Ethan Pauly labored through another inconsistent night in the passing game, completing 13 of 29 attempts for 200 yards and a score.
But he continues to be money in the run game, this time rushing 15 times for 111 yards.
Pauly began the team’s first scoring drive with a designed run for 19 yards. Four more running plays moved the Goslings to the 3-yard line, but they faced fourth-and-goal once again.
This time, Kamrath had a good play call at the ready. Katzenberger took a direct snap and fired a 3-yard scoring pass to Pauly, who caught it at the goal line and extended the ball across the plane near the pylon for the score.
Senior kicker Paul Kuwjaski, who has had his struggles with low kicks and spotty protection up front, drilled all three of his point after attempts on this night. The first one put the Goslings up 9-7 with 1:11 left in the first quarter.
“It was pretty fun,” Pauly said. “We were going to run outside zone, (and) throw back to me. I was supposed to go back to the end zone, but the outside linebacker saw me coming and he came back. Brian just had an amazing play and came back and dumped it back to me near the end zone. Just an amazing play.”
“We got some really big plays on fourth down,” he said. “We ended up running an outside zone to Brian Katzenberger with a throw back to the quarterback. Initially, it was covered, but the outside backer came up and great play by Brian, great catch by Ethan.”
The Goslings forced another punt and the offense quickly reached Edgewood’s 32 on Katzenberger’s best run of the night for 19 yards. But Pauly lost the handle on a designed run and the Crusaders pounced on the fumble.
Again, the defense held when senior linebacker Isaac Bohlman batted down a third down pass. This time, the Goslings took over at their own 39 yard line and put up their second score of the night.
Junior Jacob Crogan ran for nine yards and Pauly moved the chains with a 7-yard keeper. Facing fourth-and-6 at the Edgewood 41, Kamrath dialed up another big play and Watertown hit paydirt again with Pauly finding Oiler for a 41-yard touchdown to make it a 16-7 game with 8:33 left in the half.
“On our slip screen wheel to Cade on fourth down, Ethan made a fantastic throw, about 40 yards in front of the end zone,” Kamrath said. “Great play.”
Pauly has had his struggles hitting receivers on certain routes, but the touch throws with air under them like this one have usually been on target.
“Coach wanted to go through and get us some run plays to get the offense going, then throw a couple dinky little passes and then we take some deep shots,” Pauly said. “That wheel route to Cade, that was awesome. It felt so good. Cade went out to fake the block on a slip screen.”
That’s the second time Oiler has scored on that play this season, making some of those overthrown incompletions a little easier to move on from. He had five catches for 68 yards.
“Fake wheel,” Oiler said of the scoring play. “Evan (Pauly) looks like he’s going to get the ball and I just run right by the cornerback. Ethan has looked great out there. Sometimes, I get a little frustrated out there, but he’s playing just as hard as anyone else and he’s doing great.”
Hartlieb did some pretty great things on the other side, finishing 20-of-37 for 209 yards. Senior receiver Charlie Corcoran caught 13 of those passes for 125 yards, and broke some tackles to help the Crusaders convert on long third and fourth down plays.
He turned a third-and-11 into a 25-yard pick-up, and Hartlieb broke contain on a fourth-and-21 and hit senior tight end Murphy Penwell for 23 yards to move the sticks.
But on first-and-goal from the 4, the Crusaders coughed up the ball and Bartz pounced on it for his second big play at the goal line with four minutes left in the half.
“It was really amazing,” Bartz said. “The fumble recovery was a great stop by us.
I think the running back just dropped it. (Zach) Pleester said he pushed the quarterback into the running back, which is what caused that one. I’ll trust that one.
“We were really productive defensively. We got some bad calls that really killed us in the end, but if we can eliminate those, we can be a really good team.”
The secondary didn’t get beat deep, but that’s not to say Hartlieb and company didn’t try. Oiler, junior Kory Stas and senior Jarek Lytle all had pass break-ups deep downfield during an adventurous night on the island.
“Yeah, for real,” Oiler said. “We had a lot of work out there on both sides of the ball.”
Hartlieb and Corcoran finally beat the secondary with 4:46 left in the third quarter.
Corcoran faked a corner route, cut back to the post and turned the safety around. Hartlieb hit him for a 16-yard touchdown and senior kicker Chris Boll’s point after cut Watertown’s lead to 16-15.
The Goslings appeared to answer quickly when junior Daniel Denault scored on a 93-yard kickoff return, but a holding call placed the ball at the 50.
Still, Watertown took advantage of Denault’s return and scored four plays later when Ethan Pauly floated a high pass for Stas, who took the slip screen 41 yards to the house. He finished with three catches for 64 yards. Kujawski’s kick gave the Goslings a 23-14 lead with 3:01 left in the third.
“Ethan Pauly left it up there for me and I went up and got it and Daniel Denault made a great block, and I followed the linemen and broke three tackles and scored a touchdown,” Stas said.
Watertown’s defense got two more stops to preserve a nine-point win. Bohlman and junior lineman Klayton Kopet’s third down sack near midfield stopped Edgewood’s next drive. The Crusaders converted twice on fourth down passes on its next series, and Hartlieb appeared to bring his team back to within three when he turned a broken play into a 12 yard TD pass.
But a block in the back on the play put Edgewood in third and long. After a sack by Nachtigall and Pleester made it fourth-and-goal from the 35, Lytle broke up a desperstion pass in the end zone with 2:16 left. Ethan Pauly’s 25-yard run in the final minute sealed the win.
“Our defensive line did a great job tonight, as well as our linebackers,” Stas said. “They allowed some plays, but for the most part, we played pretty well.”
Denault led the defense with 11 tackles. Bohlman had 10. Senior defensive back Karl Stadler and Bartz each had seven. Linebackers Crogan and Katzenberger each had six.
“Our defensive line did a really good job controlling the line of scrimmage, opening holes to allow the linebackers to come in and fill,” Nachtigall said. “That was just a good solid team victory for us on D.”
The Crusaders had eight penalties for 72 yards, including a facemask that wiped out a safety when Pauly was tackled in the end zone in the first half. Watertown was flagged five times for 50 yards, including a pair of false start penalties early in the game.
“I thought we did a lot of really good things and moved the ball pretty effectively at times and then just our red zone efficiency, for whatever reason, we struggled there on the first drive putting it in,” Kamrath said.
“I felt like at times, we kind of hurt ourselves, which has kind of been our story this year. We’re working through it. I know our kids are working their tails off. Defensively, we played really well for the majority of the time. We had some tough third down and fourth down conversions that we gave up.
“They have a very athletic dual threat quarterback. We didn’t give up the big play over the top, which was huge, but he did (hurt us on) some short stuff. Other than that big run, I was really proud of what we were able to do.
“I think we’re playing so many plays well. We had some tough calls against us. They are probably thinking they didn’t get a call at the end in the end zone. I am proud of us finding a way to get to 3-0 in conference.
“I think the conference is pretty wide open. If we play the way we’re capable of and we can start executing just a little bit better, a little more efficiently and put the ball in the end zone, I think we can beat anybody.”
Watertown hosts Milton next Friday. The Goslings become playoff eligible with a win.
Watertown 23, Edgewood 14
Edgewood 7 0 7 0 — 14
Watertown 9 7 7 0 — 23
First downs 13 15
By rush 4 8
By pass 8 6
By penalty 1 1
Yards rushing (att-yds.) 30-118 31-153
Yards passing 209 206
Attempts 37 30
Completions 20 14
Had intercepted 0 0
Total yards 327 359
Penalties, yards 8-72 5-50
Fumbles, lost 4-1 1-1
W — Safety, Bartz tackled Hartleib in end zone
ME — Mitchell Wendler 55 run (Boll kick)
W — Et. Pauly 3 pass from Katzenberger (Kujawski kick)
W — Oiler 41 pass from Et. Pauly (Kujawski kick)
ME — Corcoran 16 pass from Hartleib (Boll kick)
W — Stas 36 pass from Et. Pauly (Kujawski kick)