Franklin threw itself a party when it dedicated the brand-new Sullivan Stadium Friday night in front of an overflow house.
But it was the visiting Greendale football team that was doing the celebrating, as the Panthers scored 21 points off of four second half Saber turnovers and turned a sleepy 3-0 halftime lead into a resounding 31-14 victory.
An exuberent Panther coach Rob Stoltz told his team "That they should get excited" about what they accomplished tonight and then happily asked his players one by one "How ya feel?, How ya feel?"
Every answer was "good" or "great", as well it should have been as the 2-0 returning WIAA State D3 runner-ups knocked off the host Sabers (1-1), who were WIAA state D1 runner-ups last season themselves.
Stoltz noted that when most people think of Greendale football, they think of returning all-state quarterback Josh Ringelberg and the high-powered Panther offense, but he was pleased as punch with the four turnovers his defense created.
"Without question, everyone talks about our offense first," he said, "but they also need to talk about the defense in the same breath. Our defensive coordinator Gary Jagodzinski is as good as it gets in the business.
Meanwhile, Sabers' coach Louis Brown was flummoxed at the somewhat flat effort of his squad on this most important night. The Panthers had belted the Sabers last season too and it was the only loss for Franklin until its state finals defeat to Arrowhead.
Brown felt the team should have been more motivated than it was.
"We wanted a better effort," he said quietly, "and it comes down to practice. It wasn't a terrible week, but we could have practiced harder. It was not a great week, and we were facing a team that beat us last year. You'd have thought we would have had a better week."
The stadium project, part of a $3 million-plus public-private athletic facilities renovation, brought artificial turf and a shiny new field to Franklin (see separate story later this week).
But the teams didn't take advantage of the fast surface in the first half, as both stumbled and lost out on opportunities until the Panthers put together an 11-play drive at the end of the first half that ended with a 32-yard Josh Michaels' field goal that gave Greendale a 3-0 lead going into the break.
"No doubt both staffs would say they made mistakes and left points on the field," said Stoltz.
The mistakes multiplied in the third quarter for the Sabers.
They fumbled on the second play of the period with Greendale defensive tackle Braxton Joehnik jumping on it on the Franklin 37. Six plays later, Ringelberg dropped a perfect 16-yard over-the-shoulder sideliner pass to Tristan Popp for the game's first TD at the 8:52 mark of the third.
It was 10-0 at that point.
Things got worse for the Sabers. They went three and out and then a bad snap to the punter resulted in a partially blocked kick leaving the Panthers in business on the Franklin 16.
Three plays later, Ringelberg called his own number and powered his way into the end zone on a 5-yard run for a 17-0 lead with 6:40 left in the third.
"Those turnovers just killed us," said Brown.
To their credit, the Sabers did not quit.
On the next series, due to a series of missteps, they found themselves with a second and 32, but remarkably, they were able to convert it on fourth down, largely due to the legs of running back Gavin Boeck, who eventually powered his was way in from 16 yards to cut the margin to 17-7 with 3:21 left in the period.
Boeck would have an impressive night, finishing with 162 yards on 24 carries.
But the Sabers momentum was short-lived as on the very next play from scrimmage, Ringelberg hit end David Johnson on a little bubble screen and he was off to the races for an 84-yard TD jaunt that made it 24-7.
"Josh gets the ball to David Johnson, who is probably the fastest man on our team, on a little slip screen and then he's gone," said Stoltz. "We got a lot of big plays from a lot of big playmakers."
Franklin wasn't finished quite yet. Sophomore quarterback Marcus Lee, who took over for starter Josh Frank early on, hit a wide open Ben Wachter on a 45-yard TD pass still with 1:45 left in the third quarter and cut the deficit down to 24-14.
But that would be the high-water mark for the Sabers.
They got a stop, and then Lee moved the team 13 plays to the Greendale 12, but he was pressured on a second and eight play from the 12 and lofted an ill-advised pass into a pride of Panther defenders. Jack Ringelberg grabbed it at the 15 with nothing but shiny new artificial turf in front of him.
85 yards later he was in the end zone, Greendale was up 31-14 and the game was effectively over.
Lee would finish 20 of 31 passing for 193 yards with a TD and two picks.
"We wanted to find out what Marcus could do early on," said Brown. "He made some good plays and then he made some not-so-good plays.
"...They have some pretty athletes on that team, especially on the outside. They made the tackles when they needed to and they broke the tackles when they needed to."
Wachter finished with six catches for 88 yards to lead the Franklin receiving corps.
Josh Ringelberg finished a solid night with 17 completions in 27 attempts with two TDs and one pick. Johnson had five catches for 124 yards while Jack Ringelberg had four grabs for 50 yards.
"It was an interesting game between two extremely athletic teams who played tough all night," said Stoltz, "but our coaches put together a great game plan and our kids made a whole heck of a lot of plays."
Then he looked ahead to the Panthers' criticial showdown with Woodland archrival Pewaukee next Friday.
"We'll get after it right away," he said with a smile. "No rest for the wicked."
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