Reid Muellenbach tackles a Dominican rusher during the Hilltoppers’ Oct. 4 Metro Classic Conference game at the Topper Bowl (Mike Ramczyk/Standard Press).

Toppers overcome eight fumbles to stay in playoff hunt

By Mike Ramczyk

Eight total fumbles.

Six lost.

That’s right, six, count ‘em, SIX turnovers.

Have you ever heard of a team winning under those circumstances?

Not often, but Friday night was a different story.

Catholic Central overcame a rough first half, persevering for a dramatic overtime victory, 34-28, over visiting Whitefish Bay Dominican.

The Homecoming victory kept Central’s playoff destiny in its own hands, as the Toppers need to win one of their final two games to qualify for the WIAA football postseason for the first time since 2015.

“We struggled, but the kids really persevered,” said Catholic Central head coach Tom Aldrich. “I’m proud of that effort. We wanted to win badly and stuck together.”

A 72-yard touchdown run from Reid Muellenbach seemed to put the Knights away late in the fourth quarter, but Catholic Central gave Dominican a short field on the its final fourth quarter drive.

Dominican scored to make it 28-26 with 1:19 to play, setting up a bizarre two-point conversion.

An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty left the Knights up against it, with a two-point try to send the game to overtime at the 18-yard line.

A deep pass into the end zone was up for grabs, but the football ricocheted off a Catholic Central defender’s hands and somehow landed into the hands of a diving Dominican receiver, and suddenly things were tied at 28-28.

Toppers dominate OT
After stuffing the Knights twice, Dominican’s quarterback tossed an interception to Catholic Central sophomore Henry Amborn.

On the Toppers’ possession, it only took five plays to win the game, when quarterback Brandon Pum punched it in from seven yards and sent the rowdy Homecoming crowd home with smiles.

“The INT broke their spirits a bit, and we made them pay,” Aldrich said.

Catholic Central outgained Dominican, 367-284, but the Toppers turned the ball over six times.

Luckily for CC, Dominican returned the favor with five turnovers.

The Toppers picked off the Knights five times.

Pum finished with an efficient night of passing, completing 5-for-12 for 157 yards and two touchdowns.

Muellenbach ran for 128 yards on 10 carries, and Neal McCourt added 65 yards on 14 carries.

David Doerflinger caught three balls for 107 yards and a score.

Defensively, Chas Miles was unstoppable for the Toppers, racking up 14 tackles, six for loss.

Friday’s matchup could clinch playoff berth
Aldrich can’t wait for his boys to strap on their helmets Friday night at Carthage College, where Kenosha St. Joe’s (3-2 Metro Classic) awaits in a season-changing game.

A win clinches a playoff spot, but a loss means the Toppers would need to beat undefeated Racine Lutheran, last year’s Division 4 state runner-up, to make the playoffs.

“I’m excited about Friday night,” Aldrich said. “It’s nice to control our destiny.”

“They are physical and big up front, and running back Jake Gessert is a very good run-receiving threat. It will be a great challenge.”

The chance to return to prominence, namely a postseason berth for the first time since 2015, has this group of Toppers hungry for not only a spot in the dance, but potentially a deep run considering it would be against Division 7 competition.

During the Metro Classic Conference slate, the Toppers play up to the competition, as all seven teams are at least Division 5 schools or bigger.

“Our kids are hungry,” Aldrich said. “It’s the elephant in the room, except they’re talking about it (playoffs). They’ve done a fantastic job keeping focused on the next game and nothing else.”

“We are playing our best football of the year.”