Clinton Township — Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (3-1) was one Hail Mary from completing a 21-point fourth quarter comeback Friday night, but a hot start from Utica Eisenhower (4-0) proved to be the difference as it escaped with a 49-42 victory on the road to remain undefeated.
On cancer awareness night, witnessing his team’s “never-say-die” attitude was particularly special for Chippewa Valley head coach Scott Merchant.
“The whole reason we do this game here is to honor people who are fighting cancer or have passed from cancer, and they’ve had a lot tougher fight than a football game,” Merchant said. “I think our kids exemplified what this game was all about in the second half.”
Eisenhower led 35-21 in the early stages of the final quarter when running back Caleb Oyster broke a 29-yard rushing touchdown to make it a three-score game, sucking the wind out of the home bleachers.
But Chippewa Valley was able to move the ball better in the fourth quarter than it had in the first three. It put together a 3-minute drive that ended with a touchdown rush from Andre Chenault, who finished with two touchdowns, to make it 42-28 with 5:43 left.
Then Chippewa Valley kept fighting, recovering an onside kick and marching into Eisenhower territory.
Quarterback Tommy Schuster’s shot at the end zone was intercepted by Jack Morris, who was a force on both sides of the ball, finding the end zone twice on offense. His interception was called a touchback, making the Chippewa Valley deficit seem nearly insurmountable.
That is, until Oyster made his first mistake of the night.
Brian Schieweck scooped up an Oyster fumble and returned it 24 yards to the end zone to put his team within striking distance.
With 4:56 remaining, the Chippewa Valley defense was asked to do what it had only done once all night — make a stop.
But once again, Oyster was the hero of the drive.
He punched in a 31-yard run on fourth and 2 for another statement touchdown. He was Eisenhower’s horse, picking up 183 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
Chippewa Valley quickly marched downfield again to cut it to 49-42, and their second onside-kick attempt landed out-of-bounds.
With 28 seconds remaining, Chippewa Valley needed a miracle. It got one in the form of another Oyster fumble.
He put the ball on the carpet for the second time, giving Chippewa Valley the ball at midfield — just within the range of Chippewa Valley quarterback Tommy Schuster.
On the final play, a throw from Schuster bounced off several players before hitting the hand of Jacob Rybicki and falling to the ground as time expired.
“I thought our kids were outstanding. We scored 49 points and played just great enough to win it right at the end there,” Eisenhower coach Chris Smith said. “You got to win the close ones like that in this league.”
The two offenses combined for just one punt, and an early Chippewa Valley fumble that was fallen on by Eisenhower defensive tackle Michael Bednarowski forced the home team to play catchup — no easy task against one of the top defenses in the state.
Eisenhower’s offense carved up Chippewa Valley on the opening drive, setting the tone for a run-heavy attack. It ran the ball all seven plays to set up an end-around touchdown from Assad Bujaidar, who finished with three touchdowns, for an early 7-0 lead.
Quarterback Max Wittwer was getting a majority of the carries early. Eisenhower repeatedly ran an option to the right side of the field that allowed Oyster to pick up one first down after another.
“We just saw that there was a spot that we could attack and we just did it until they stopped it,” Wittwer said. “I guess they just couldn’t.”
All systems were running smoothly for the Eisenhower offense, especially for those clearing the path.
“The blocking up front was unbelievable,” Smith said. “But Oyster just did a great job of getting his nose in there and running hard.
After establishing the ground game, Wittwer took advantage of an aggressive defense. He was perfect in the first half and missed just one pass all night to finish 11-for-12 for 248 yards and two touchdowns.
Wittwer attributed his success to great play calling.
Chippewa Valley made it 14-7 on a 35-yard strike from Tommy Schuster to Jon’naize Owens, who finished with three catches and a touchdown.
Two plays later, Wittwer found a wide-open Assad again for a 76-yard touchdown after a stutter step from the quarterback put Chippewa Valley’s defense on skates and extended the lead to 21-7.
Morris, Oyster, and Bujaidar caught all 11 of Wittwer’s passes. Morris was a force on both sides of the ball, picking up two touchdowns on offense and an interception.
“It’s great chemistry, they got it in practice, they come out and have fun,” Smith said. “When you have big plays to make, those guys are cool as ice.”
Schuster was the star of Chippewa Valley’s comeback attempt, finishing 19-for-27 with 224 yards and two touchdowns.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.