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A Newspaper Rant


About 100-years ago most newspapers began to dedicate more news space for high school football. As I’ve mentioned before, the coverage was gradual with some game stats, box scores, season stats, some career stats, player profiles and expanded team stories. Looking back at older newspapers before 2012 the local teams got plenty of coverage in the papers. Because of the downturn in readership newspapers have moved more and more of their content to the internet. The size of the newspaper dwindled as more and more advertising went online so the newspaper companies streamlined their services.


Take a look at the Wisconsin newspapers acquired by Gannet. If you look at the Saturday editions of the Fond du Lac Reporter, the Stevens Point Journal or the Green Bay Press Gazette you will find almost the same content. A story about the upcoming Packer game and a feature on that day’s Wisconsin Badger game. Nowhere in the sports page will you find a story on the local football games from Friday night. To get that you have to go online and maybe it would be a short story with very little box score info.


Do I blame the newspapers for not recording history in print? Since the first newspaper was printed in 1609 in Germany and the Low Countries, people have relied on the newspaper for news, advertising, society and woman’s interest as well as sports. Now, much of that has gone away from these papers. For many people to find an obituary or a sports story you have to go online. When I was a young boy, living in southwestern Michigan my family didn’t get just one newspaper on a daily basis. We had three!! The local Niles paper as well as the South Bend Tribune and the Chicago Tribune. I got the Niles Daily Star and the South Bend newspapers when I attended St. John’s Military Academy and later, Arizona State. Moving back to Wisconsin I narrowed things down to the Milwaukee Journal. The point is that until five years ago, I received on my doorstep a daily paper. So, am I part of the problem for the downturn in readership? How about my three children who are now college graduates and never once looked at the Journal when they lived in my home? That seems to be the same thing for many families. The internet became their source for news. To them it just seemed easier because they can get the latest information now and not later. The problem I have is that for prep football information gathering moving forward it is/will be hard to get older information without that paper. Without having a good archive it is hard to get the older facts that I and others need. Newspapers.com has provided a great source of news gathering during the pandemic. Since last March I’ve only been able to visit two libraries to look at microfilm and I had to drive 70-80 miles one way to view the papers. Thank goodness for Newspapers.com. However, not all newspapers are part of that file. I just wish that the Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel and the old community newspapers were part of the Newspapers.com program.


Record Setting Games


As you may know there are thousands of games played each year and most of the time a record isn’t set in those games. While doing some research I ran across three games that stood out for setting records in a single game. These are all from the 1990s. The first was the 1995 Division 5 championship game between Darlington and Hurley, a 63-6 win for Darlington who set ten Division 5 records, eight of which are still listed as #1 in those categories:


TEAM RECORDS INDIVIDUAL RECORDS

Most points in a game…63 Most touchdowns…Doug McGowan…5

Most points by two teams…69 Longest punt return…by McGowan…82 yards

Largest margin…57 Most points in a game…by McGowan…30

Most total yards…406

Most yards rushing…387

Most touchdowns…9


The next game was the 1998 shoot-out between D.C. Everest and Wisconsin Rapids which was a thriller. Everest won 70-63 as there were nine Wisconsin Valley Conference records set or tied on September 4. All appear to still be current conference records. I have a future story concerning this game.


TEAM RECORDS

Most points scored by two teams…133

Most points by two teams in a half…70…D.C. Everest 41, Wis. Rapids 29 (First Half)

Most first downs by two teams…56

Most points by a losing team…Wis. Rapids…63

Most net yards gained…by Wis. Rapids…660

Most net yards gained by two teams…1,311


INDIVIDUAL RECORDS

Most points…Nathan Dahl…44

Most touchdowns…Nathan Dahl…7

Most touchdown receptions (Tied)…Derek Abney…3


Next up is the 1999 Division 6 state title game, a 54-6 win by Owen-Withee over Mineral Point. O-W posted 13 divisional records with nine still leading in a stats category set during the romp. They were:


TEAM RECORDS

Most points in a game…54

Most touchdowns by one team…8

Most points by two teams…60

Most points in a half…41

Most points in a quarter…21

Fewest rushing yards allowed…0 (Zero)

Largest margin of victory…48


INDIVIDUAL RECORDS

Most touchdowns by one player (Tied)…by Jeff Tolzmann…4

Most conversions kicked…by Jason Laube…7

Longest punt…by Jeff Tolzmann…72 yards

Best punting average by Jeff Tolzmann…44.8 (Tolzmann had a 29.2 average coming into the game) on four punts

Longest kickoff return…Jeff Tolzmann…80 yards

Longest punt return…Jeff Tolzmann…22 yards (Not super long but still a record)


I point these records out because they are remarkable individual and team performances and even though they took place 20+ years ago they need to be recognized. It is remarkable that 24 of the 32 records have stood the test of time.

2011 was a very down year for Cadott football. In the spring of that year, coach Pat Rothbauer was replaced, after 13 seasons and a 61-67 record. The team would post a 2-7 season total under new coach Perry Myran. 2012 was even worse. With a lot of players from the previous season having graduated, low participation and injuries, the Cadott Hornets cancelled the season after starting the year 0-2. Cadott began the season with only 16 players, they were now down to only 14 healthy players on September 5…five seniors, two juniors, six sophomores and one freshman. Coach Myran and athletic director James Sekel felt they couldn’t risk putting the players in harm’s way. Cadott has not had a winning season since 2004 and since the start of 2008 they have posted a 18-51 record. However, 1999 was a different story.


Pat Rothbauer became the head coach in 1998 and directed the team to a first-year record of 6-5 and making the playoffs for the first time since 1988. The Hornets started the year with a scrimmage against Flambeau which was led by quarterback Jim Leonhard who was a future all-state player, walk-on and all-American defensive back at Wisconsin, NFL player and current defensive coordinator for the Badgers. Leonhard ran roughshod in the scrimmage and even though the Hornets thought they had a good season ahead they had some questions to clear up. The official season began with a 37-12 win over Amery. Amery returned the opening kick-off for a touchdown, one of the few times Cadott would trail this season.


After earning a 4-0 record the Hornets faced two very strong teams. First up was Osseo-Fairchild and Cadott eked out a 21-12 victory, pulling it out in the fourth-quarter. The next week they faced unbeaten Neilsville. In a summer league 7-on-7 passing league, against schools much bigger than Cadott or Neilsville the two had met in the championship. Quarterback/defensive back Luke Rykel, who had earned second team All-Chippewa County as a junior in 1998 by passing for 858 yards and nine scores, showed he was a very capable leader in the tournament. Now, several months later they faced each other for real and in sloppy conditions the Hornets prevailed 20-8 to take control of the Large Cloverbelt Conference and it would stay that way for the remainder of the regular season. Rykel was a very good defensive back. Against Mosinee he was assigned to cover All-State receiver Kyle Heckendorf and held him to three catches for 31 yards. It should be pointed out that Rykel sat out the fourth quarter with Cadott up 42-0 and Heckendorf caught three passes for 132 yards, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion in the 49-22 win.


Running back John Peterlik was coming into his own as a senior. He was picking up key yardage on the ground and by catching passes. In game after game Peterlik gained 100-plus yards and seemed to score at will. A very speedy runner who, once he hit the corner, was gone. John would go on to share All-Northwest Player of the Year honors and honorable mention all-state. In the 42-0 shutout of Auburndale Peterlik gained 176 yards on just 8 carries and scored on runs of 70, 50 and 9 yards. Against Mosinee he rushed for 164 yards on just 10 carries and 2 scores on the ground and 1 td receiving. In the 42-0 win over Altoona, he scored 5 times on the ground. As a defensive back and a kick returner he was excellent, scoring on punt returns and interceptions.


The playoffs started and trailing 7-6 the Hornets scored on their last six possessions and cruised to a 49-13 Level 1 win over Bloomer. Next up was Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau as Peterlik carried 23 timers for 241 yards and two touchdowns. Cadott romped to a 52-20 win. Level 3 was a 32-7 win over Maple Northwesternand the Hornets gained 400 yards in total offense and allowed only 170. 11-1 Pestigo would be the Hornets next victim, a 40-0 blowout. After getting a lot of ribbing from his teammates for not scoring against Northwestern, John Peterlick made up for it in the Level 4 win. While rushing for 129 yards in 14 carries but being kept from crossing the goal line the week before, John picked up 76 yards on 16 attempts and caught four passes for 70 yards and he was able to score three times. The team was now going to Madison to play Lancaster for the D4 title. Throughout the playoffs the Hornets had to play on the road despite being the #1 team in the region because they didn’t have a fence around their school field so they became 'road warriors'. The overall school athletics that fall were very strong. Beside the football team, the girls volleyball team made it to state and the cross country teams were very strong. The fans traveled very well to the away football games and to some it seemed like it was as if all the regular home fans followed them wherever they played.


In Madison they faced the Flying Arrows from Lancaster. John Hoch was building a dynasty down in the southwest part of the state. The Arrows won the D4 and D5 state titles in 1993, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2014 with runner-up spots in 2011 and 2012 as well as 1999. The two team’s lineups couldn’t have been more different. Cadott had eight two-way players while Lancaster had not a single one. For the Hornets it was a matter of pride to be in the game, to be out on the field and not on the sidelines. Cadott had been able to avoid an injury all season which could have cost two spots that needed to be covered.


The Flying Arrows took a 6-0 lead but with 56-seconds left in the first half Luke Rykal tossed a 70-yard touchdown to his brother, junior Nathan Rykal. The extra point kick failed and the two teams went into the locker room tied at the half. Lancaster had held the Hornets twice on downs after Cadott had driven inside the Flying Arrows' 10-yard line. The touchdown pass was the start of 27-straight points for Cadott as they went on to win 34-21. Lancaster put on a serious comeback but the rally was too late. The Hornets turned the game around in the second half as Peterlik started things off with a 22-yard touchdown run followed by an 82-yard td reception from Luke Rykal. Luke stayed hot, as he completed a 54-yard pass to his brother Nathan. All of a sudden, Cadott was up 27-6. Lancaster would score 15 points in the fourth quarter but Peterlik sealed the game with a 40-yard touchdown run. Peterlik gained 121 yards on 14 carries, Luke Rykel was only three for nine passing but all three went for touchdowns along with 206 yards. With the game over Cadott took home the gold trophy.

On the season there were many honors for the Hornets. John Peterlik earned All Northwest Co-Player of the Year as accorded by the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, All-Chippewa County and honorable All-State on the AP team. He gained 1,644 yards on only 164 carries, a 10.0 average, as well as catching a team leading 28 passes for 507 yards and seven td’s. On the season he had 35 total touchdowns and 226 points. Luke Rykel was a master quarterback earning second team All-Northwest and first team All-Chippewa County. He completed 73 of 134 passes for 1,540 yards, 24 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Sophomore Curt Bergsham played fullback and gained 958 yards on 159 attempts and 12 td;s. Nathan Rykel hauled in 23 passes for 685 yards and 10 touchdowns. Other stars were linebacker/offensive guard Brent Crank and defensive end/offensive guard Lyle Jankee who also made All County.


On October 18, 2019 the school and the former team members of the 1999 D4 championship team celebrated the 20-year anniversary of their victory in Madison. It was a grand time and a reminder of when the football program was at its heights. Maybe things are on the upturn. 2020 proved to be a good year as they posted a 5-5 season.



The 1990s had many football programs that were consistently very strong during these years. I discussed Menomonie and Monroe in my book. Some others were Stanley-Boyd (two state titles and one runner-up spot), Darlington (two state titles and four runner-up spots), Edgar (two titles and two runner-up spots), Lancaster (one title and one runner-up spot), Mayville (one title and two runner-up spots) and Hartland Arrowhead (three state titles). Several of these teams continued to be successful moving into the next century.


Another team that had great success was Columbus. Coach John Titus built a powerhouse and the players felt a strong sense of tradition. The 1990 state championship team started building the 1990s tradition and it became easy to keep it going. Tradition became a way of life.


Titus, his assistants and the players studied opponent's game film weekly. On their 4-4 defense it wasn’t uncommon for the Columbus players to recognize what the opponents play was coming and to yell out to the others what was about to happen. It amazed the opposition. They ran a I-Formation, no-huddle offense which was uncommon for the time. The offensive players had a laminated wrist chart and the play was called at the line of scrimmage. The players comradery was so strong that they had a weekly Thursday night gathering as one of the players would host in their home the entire team for a spaghetti dinner. After each game there would be a victory party at the coach’s house or another player’s home. The school didn’t have great facilities or a great weight room but the players and the people around the team were stayed very close which kept them playing hard not just for themselves but for each other.

The 1990 team wanted to shed the “bridesmaid” label and win the Capitol Conference title. Their last title was a shared one in 1977 (in Titus’s second season) when they tied with Waunakee. Now they wanted it all to themselves. The Cardinals marched through the season posting nine shutouts, giving up only 39 points as all-conference defensive lineman Brandy Mietzel had 18 sacks and all-conference defensive end Jeff Shilly posted another 15. On offense they scored 379 points led by three all-conference players: junior Scott Kirchberg with over 1,200 yards rushing. Senior Jeff Zittel added over 900 yards and senior quarterback Jamie Titus passed for about 1,159 yards. Other stars on the team, those that also made the All-Capitol Conference team were center/defensive lineman Joe Vole and defensive back Mark Barkow. Jeff Shilly was also all-conference as an offensive end. Their camaraderie helped build the program into a powerhouse and take home the 1990 Division 4 trophy. Since 1977 coach Titus heard the whispers that his job was in jeopardy because the team couldn’t win the conference title. Now those whispers went away with not only the conference title but the big trophy.


1991 rolled around and the Cardinals posted an 8-2 season, winning a second consecutive Capitol Conference championship and making the playoffs but losing in the first round to Mayville.


In 1992 the team roared out of the gate to an 11-0 record and a third conference title. Led by an All-State quarterback Ben McCormick who passed for 2,212 yards on 137 completions in 252 attempts and 27 touchdowns. He had only 10 interceptions on the season but five of them were in the Level 3 game against Mayville. So, the season ended with an 11-1 record, scoring 417 points and allowing only 54.


The Cards again won the championship of the Capitol Conference and swept through the 1993 regular season with a 9-0 record but lost to Viroqua to end 9-1.


In1994 the team started well and ended with a 9-2 record, winning their fifth consecutive conference championship.


In 1995 the Cardinals made it to the championship round of the playoffs losing the final game to Stanley-Boyd 21-0. After leading the Cardinals to the state title in 1990 Scott Kirchberg died in an auto accident in June 1991. He was on pace to set the school career rushing record but it was not to be. Now, four years later his brother Joe was the back-up quarterback and his team was in the finals. This team was not the high scoring 1990 team as they scored 243 points and allowed 122. Their 37-game conference winning streak ended early in the season in a 13-0 loss to Lake Mills. Junior Nate Roberts led the team with an astounding 365 carries, gaining 1,638 yards with 15 touchdowns. With the talent the team showed, even being shutout against Stanle-Boyd didn’t hold back fans from thinking 1996 would be their year.


Starting in early August, the 1996 edition Columbus Cardinals started to develop into a tough championship team. They had a chip on their shoulders and they were determined to win the title. Nate Roberts was the leader carrying the ball 380 times for 1,760 yards for 42 touchdowns. Against Westby, Roberts carried the ball 43 times for 147 yards and four scores. In one crucial drive he put the team on his shoulders and carried 13 consecutive times for 42 yards. He had 821 career carries for 3,843 yards and 57 td's. In the championship game junior linebacker Josh Burbach blocked two Stanly-Boyd punts that led to touchdowns. The Cards ended up flipping the script on Stanley-Boyd, winning 21-0 for their second state title of the decade as well as winning their seventh consecutive Capitol Conference title. Coach Titus earned AP Coach of the Year honors and Nate Roberts won honorable mention all-state.

The 1997 season brought changes to the Columbus program. Coach Titus left and Ivan Thies took over and the team posted a 9-3 record and for the first time in eight seasons the Cards finished second in the Capitol Conference. The team made it to the Level 3 round of the playoffs against Darlington. It was a strange feeling on both sidelines as the two teams had rookie coaches. Darlington’s Doug McArthur had stepped away to go into private business and left the program after posting a 13-year 117-37 record with four overall state titles and three runner-up awards. Titus posted in 21-years a 151-58 record with two state titles, one runner-up finish and eight conference titles.


In 1998 the school posted a 6-4 record and finished second in the conference.


To close out the decade the Cardinals had a 7-3 record in 1999. Over the 10 years of the 1990s the Columbus football program had a sparkling 98-18 record and made the state playoffs all 10 season. They truly had one of the best records in the state for that period.