Toppers rally, smash-mouth style prevails in 4th

David Doerflinger breaks away for 44 yards Friday night at the Topper Bowl in Burlington. (John Fisher/SLN)


By Mike Ramczyk

BURLINGTON – Sure, it was only nonconference, and the result won’t affect playoff hopes.

But the Catholic Central football team made a resounding statement Friday night at the Topper Bowl – we’re back.

A dynamite contest saw the Toppers jump out quick and lose the lead, but it was the discipline and mental toughness of the team’s eight seniors that prevailed in a 15-11 win over University School of Milwaukee, the team’s first win since 2016.

After an 0-6 season that ended with a forfeiture of the season’s final month, the Toppers entered this fall sports season with a stacked deck, something it hadn’t experienced in two years.

Led by eight seniors, a healthy number of 30 total varsity players and a relentless drive to succeed, Catholic Central was itching to take the field for game one, as evidenced by a quick 9-0 lead.

Senior Chas Miles, who disrupted life for University School’s quarterback and offense all night, registered a safety to open the scoring. Then, Todd Suchomel a shifty run/pass threat under center, found junior Brandon Pum deep downfield for a connection.

Pum did the rest for a 51-yard touchdown, and a small, yet amplified crowd sung its praises on the humid summer night.

For head coach Tom Aldrich, picking up that elusive win was quite satisfying.

“It’s all worth it,” he said. “To see the looks on these kids’ faces at the end of the game, and to be able to accomplish what they set out to do in the first game, it’s special.”

“I’m really happy for the guys. They worked hard, and they got a reward for it. We can savor it tonight, then we have to move on to the next week.”

Suchomel, who made his first varsity start at quarterback, added the game-winning score in the third quarter, a one-yard sneak.

He says these Toppers want to do great things and already have strong chemistry.

“It feels great,” Suchomel said after the game. “It means a lot to the entire team.”

“I’m just proud of everyone, because we all came in with a positive mindset. No matter what was going on in the game, we kept a positive outlook.”

University School stormed back with 11 straight points.

Quarterback CJ Boyd found David Mock for a 30-yard score and added a two-point pass to cut the Topper lead to 9-8.

Then, the Wildcats opened the second half scoring with a 21-yard field goal.

But Catholic Central, buoyed by a pulverizing push from its offensive line, worked the ball down the field via the run. Cade Dirksmeyer, Zack Labicki, David Doerflinger and Suchomel each topped 40 yards rushing and kept the defense guessing.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of the victory was what happened in the final 17 minutes, when there wasn’t any scoring.

The Catholic Central defense got nasty, stopping the Wildcats’ final two drives, including staying home and blowing up a fake punt attempt on fourth-and-long in the fourth quarter.

Boyd, a fast runner and dangerous passer, wasn’t easy to corral, but strategic blitzes and blanket coverage from the secondary prevailed.

A timely hit by Doerflinger broke up what would have been a first down deep in Topper territory, then a blitz forced an errant throw before a turnover on downs. Bennett Robson laid a crushing blow on Boyd to prevent a first down as well.

Starting around their own 20, the Toppers played bully ball to clinch victory.

With Suchomel in total command meticulously waiting until the last second on the play clock each play, Dirksmeyer broke through the middle on 3rd-and-4 before busting it outside for 15 yards.

On the very next play, he powered ahead for 10 more.

Finally, Payton Meinholz ripped through tacklers for the decisive first down.

After victory formation, the players erupted in elation, celebrating all the way to the team shed and locker room for a traditional listen of the song “Dust on the Bottle,” a victory tune that started with a Catholic Central squad some 20 years ago.

“Our guys came back and they battled,” Aldrich added.”The way we’re playing defense, we’re taking chances. We’re going to get better. Those kids have had to put up with a lot. It’s not an attack on their pride, but it is an attack on their pride. They wanted to answer the call.”

“I’ve been real impressed with these guys. They’ve grown and matured a lot.”

“It’s all been paying off,” Pum said. “Hopefully, this keeps happening.”

When asked how far the Toppers can go this year, Suchomel said as far as they possibly can.

“We’re going to work as hard as we possibly can. Sky’s the limit for us.”