By Eric Rogers
KENOSHA, Wis. -- For the fifth time in six years, the Madison Mustangs were crowned league champions Saturday night, defeating the Chicago Mustangs 18-7 in the MidStates Football League championship.
"It was an up-and-down whirlwind all year," Mustangs owner Bob Gingras said. "We started out 1-3 as you know, and to come back like this is amazing."
Lower 40 degree temperatures and occasional flurries were present at the start of the contest. Neither team was able to score in the opening 15 minutes of play, but both teams received big plays from their defensive leaders. Chicago's Lorenzo Hood sacked Dave Pietrowiak on the Madison one-yard line, and on the ensuing Chicago possession, Noah Williams forced a fumble as David Skowronski was scrambling out of the pocket.
Chicago had the game's first scoring opportunity in the second quarter, but Peter Grasso, a 2013 1st Team All-Star selection, missed a 47-yard field goal attempt. It was his second miss of the night, missing a 53-yard attempt in the first quarter.
Madison started to find its rhythm offensively, as Pietrowiak hit Reggie Davis on a 27-yard strike. On 3rd and eight, Petro found Will Thomsen for 21 yards, putting the Mustangs just outside the red zone. A Lorenzo Hood sack would force Madison to punt, and Will Smith pinned Chicago on its own nine. Madison would score the first points in the championship game after defensive end Ryan Aschaker forced Skowronski to throw the ball away in the end zone. Because Skowronski was still in the pocket and the penalty occurred in the end zone, Madison was awarded two points.
The Mustangs were unable to capitalize and gave the ball back to Chicago. Their offense woke up on the ensuing drive, as Skowronski fired a pass in to Bryant Pascascio who dodged a couple tackles and took it 85 yards for the score. Madison's veteran safety Will Smith left the game after that play with a torn achilles tendon.
As he was carted off the field, the Mustang bench took a moment to let Smith know they'd finish what they started. Pietrowiak delivered on the very next drive, heaving the football into double coverage for Will Thomsen. The 44-yard strike resulted in a touchdown and Madison reclaimed the lead. The halftime score read 9-7 in favor of Madison.
Chicago would receive the second half kickoff, but give it right back after Skowronski threw an ill-advised pass in the area of George Randolph. Although Madison controlled the tempo of the game after the pick, they could not turn the takeaway into points. Chicago, however, went back to looking stagnant on offense, eventually giving Madison the ball back.
Running back Kyle Brodd got into a rhythm, breaking the century mark on the ground with a 35-yard dash to the Chicago 20. That drive would result in a 39-yard field goal attempt, which Jordan Brown knocked through despite the blustery conditions. After 45 minutes, Madison had a 12-7 advantage.
Chicago found an identity on the ground, using the committee of running backs Ricky Emery and Jonathan Finch. The drive stalled out, but Grasso would attempt his third field goal of the night. From 38 yards out, the kick sailed to the right of the uprights. The holder, Jake Giblin, was spotted on the sideline practicing for future field goal attempts.
They would get another shot at it though, as Pietrowiak was sacked on the next possession, losing the fumble on the Madison 37-yard line. With 8:03 left, Skowronski went to Chris Walter, who made the catch and took it down to the 16. Madison's defense forced Chicago into a 4th down situation, and instead of attempting a 26-yard field goal, they elected to throw for the end zone. The pass was intercepted at the two-yard line by Will Smith's replacement, Dan Tkach.
The Madison offense found difficulty moving the ball in an obvious running situation and had to punt it away. With 6:12 left and the ball near midfield, there was plenty of time left for a Chicago comeback. Down by five, Skowronski wanted to heave the ball towards the end zone, but he left it hanging in the air and LaRon Ragsdale came up with Madison's third interception of the night.
Again, Chicago's defense would force Madison to punt. In fact, they would do that once more to get the ball back for their offense down by five with 1:22 to play. On its own 43, Chicago seemed to have trouble getting the call in from the coach to the field, as the Mustangs took 40 seconds off the clock and only moved 20 yards downfield. With no timeouts and little time, Skowronski looked desperate. On the final play of the game, the pocket broke down and Alex Bodin knocked the ball out of Skowronski's hands. Defensive end Craig Bollig scooped up the loose ball and took it 55 yards for the score and the nail in the coffin. His teammates flocked to him in the end zone, celebrating an 18-7 MSFL Championship.
"What a fitting way for our defense to score; for Craig Bollig to pick up that fumble that Alex Bodin caused," Mustangs Head Coach Adam Smith said. "That's just the perfect exclamation point."
When asked what his future plans were, Pietrowiak said "This is it. This is a great way to go out. The guys have been great. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears out there. A lot of hard work. I feel great for all the guys; the entire team and all the work we put in."