Monroe’s football team just finished its best season since my freshman year of high school (2000). The Cheesemakers went 11-2 overall (officially, after Edgewood’s vacated win), and reached Level 4 of the WIAA Division 3 playoffs — the state semifinal.
Then came along the pesky Pirates of Pewaukee. Six seasons ago, the Cheesemakers had flipped the table on a decade of losing with an unbeaten regular season, only to be undermanned in a tight loss at home to the alma mater of JJ, TJ and Derek Watt.
In Level 4, the games are played on neutral fields. With just 14 games being played around the state, the level of officiating is higher, too. At least it should be.
I know, I know — ragging on officials isn’t the way to go. Generally speaking, I agree. I was once a certified official years ago, and I’ve spent 13 years objectively covering high school sports. I understand officiating is a tough job. I understand parents and coaches (and some players) critique every call of every game, play-by-play. I agree it shouldn’t be this way — our high school officials do it for the love of the sport. They don’t get paid superbly well, and they are human, meaning mistakes can happen.
And I understand that over the last few years, the number of those stepping to the plate to officiate high school and youth sports has dwindled because of these factors, and is not trending in the direction of recovery.
I understand all of that, and I say this next item with all of that in mind:
A singular flag, more than any other play, determined the outcome of the Nov. 12, 2021 Monroe-Pewaukee game.
Yes, the officiating determined the game.
I am in no way suggesting the game was bought and sold. I 100% am aware of the massive collapse in the third quarter that let the game get tied (I was there). But as the calls were made, time after time, the more meaningful flags went against Monroe when they simply should not have been thrown.
For those in attendance, a red flag (pun intended) should have popped up as the game began. Monroe needed to re-kick the opening kickoff because the DJ in the press box let a song play three seconds too long. And then again on the next play. And the next play. Finally, the official had to tell the Muskego DJ not to play music after the teams broke the huddle.
My question, in the moment, was “does this DJ not do games, or has this umpire never done a game at a large-school stadium with a DJ?
Regardless, in the first half I didn’t notice the officiating other than the music controversy — which is how it should be. The refs should never be part of the commentary in a game. It might have helped that Monroe had turned defensive stops into offensive points and led 14-0 at halftime. Seeing as the Cheese were getting the ball to start the third quarter, I couldn’t help but let my brain race with ideas for side stories and angles to discuss for the potential state championship edition.
“I gotta call Pat Martin tomorrow for comment and talk about 1986. … Do I get a quote from each assistant coach that’s been to state as a player? … Which player(s) do I focus on for celebration photos?”
Instead, Monroe opened the third with a 3-and-out. And a bad snap/fumble combo that led to a Pewaukee touchdown.
Ok, not a good start, but there’s time to course correct.
Next possession, another fourth down, but this time with a clean snap on the punt. But there’s a bull rush and the kick is blocked. Oof.
[Three plays later, after a holding penalty, Pewaukee on the Monroe 25 on third down].
Ok, look screen here, or maybe reverse. Ope, deep pass, triple coverage, good leap, no pass interference … “Wow, what a grab,” I said as Pewaukee’s Max Sheridan muscled through defenders for an impressive TD catch that tied the game.
With just under 4 minutes to play in the third, there was still time to, as I said before, course correct.
But there was another 3-and-out. Moments later, Pewaukee had a first down at the Monroe 45.
Then the Monroe defense stepped up with a sack. And then another tackle for a loss, forcing a third-and-23 from the Pewaukee 43. A short pass gained just three yards, making it fourth down.
The course seemed to (finally) be correcting.
Pirates’ kicker, Logan Schill rolled out to his right, in the ever-increasingly popular brand of will-he-run-or-won’t-he rubgy-style punt play, and booted away a beauty that was downed inside the Monroe 5.
But wait, there was a flag in the backfield.
I watched the head official throw the flag in real time (same guy as the DJ fiasco). The toss was delayed, and it seemed he waited for the Pewaukee sideline to audibly complain. Monroe’s Charlie Wiegel had run into the still stretched out foot of Schill, who seemed to hold the pose “just in case.”
As I have often seen it, a rugby/running punter is contacted from time to time by a defender, because the punter IS a runner, for the entire play except for the one step he drops the ball to his foot. According to the NFHS rule book, a defender should only be penalized in that situation if he has an opportunity to avoid the punter, but doesn’t. This ruling is slightly different from college, where once a punter starts running, he is no longer given kicker protections, even after he kicks.
So the official threw the flag, which is a 15-yard roughing-the-kicker penalty in high school (not a 5-yard running-into-the-kicker variation of the higher levels.
Pewaukee then kept the ball, moving forward 15 yards. Three plays later, it’s fourth-and-7 again. With the ball at the Monroe 37, the Cheesemakers opted to stay in Base defense, and not run out the punt team, given the short yardage situation. The time Shill doesn’t run, but lobs a ball up the seam. Monroe’s secondary is in perfect position and read the play the whole time, with three players converging to the ball. Senior DB Jace Amacher was the one who got to the ball and swatted it to the ground with both hands instead of picking it off — the smarter play given the 20-yard difference in field position.
Only this time another flag is thrown, and seemingly out of nowhere. The Pewaukee fans weren’t harking for a defensive pass interference call. The bench didn’t seem to be up in arms either.
Amacher played the ball, went to the ball, got their first and, while leaping, his foot made contact with the Pewaukee player who was so late to the position hadn’t yet even turned to reach for the ball.
The penalty gave Pewaukee yet another first down — this time at the Monroe 22.
This is the play I initially called egregious. This was the one play. Not the punt, because Monroe had gotten back to another fourth down. Because had no flag been thrown on the pass, Monroe would have had the ball at its own 37, and not the 2, like on the punt.
But the flag was dropped, much to the dismay of nearly everyone in stadium. Pewaukee scored four plays later to take a 21-14 lead.
The DPI was the complete turning point in the game. It was the singular moment that tilted the contest. Comparatively, it led to the outcome like the non-pass interference call in the 2018 Saints-Rams NFC Championship game — a late, controversial fourth quarter call that directly led to the game ending differently. In that game, a third down pass went incomplete when the receiver was hit hard by the defender well before the ball got there. Had the flag been thrown, New Orleans could have knelt the time out on the clock before kicking a last-second chip shot to go to the Super Bowl. Instead, they had to kick the field goal with 1:41 remaining, and the Rams marched down the field and tied it with a field goal. The Rams then won in overtime.
I understand humans making mistakes. I fully do. I have to look no further than my own life, which is chalk fully of mistakes and what ifs from my teenage years and early-to-mid 20s. I get it. But this was a Level 4 game on Nov. 12 — not Week 2 on Aug. 27. At this time of year, officials simply have to be better, especially in critical situations.
Yes, the back-to-back punts were bad. Yes, Pewaukee had tied it at 14 and promptly gotten the ball back. Even, yes, the roughing-the-kicker let Pewaukee continue a possession and drain the clock.
But the second chance to continue the drive was the difference in the game’s outcome. The Pirates were able to drain more than two minutes off of the clock before scoring (6:21 left). That meant that when Monroe faced its own fourth down moments later, the Cheesemakers had no choice but to go for it. Less than five minutes remained on the clock, trailing by one, and twice on the drive before they had them stopped and the officials let the drive continue. Again, Monroe had no choice but to go for it.
Instead, junior QB George Brukwicki had his pass intercepted at the Monroe 34. Five plays later, another Pewaukee score.
On Monroe’s final drive, MHS picked up big hitters of 29 and 12 yards. Brukwicki hurled a deep pass to brother Henry, whose left arm was held at his waist by his one-on-one defender, and the ball hit Henry’s single free hand and then the turf. No DPI this time around, though.
On the next play, George’s pass deep to the sideline was picked off by Sheridan with 86 seconds remaining, sealing the game.
The 28-unanswered points in the second half will be on the minds of the players and coaches for a long time — and for some of them, the rest of their lives. There will always be “what-ifs?”
Simply put: Monroe won the first half; Pewaukee won the second half.
But the singular moment that decided the game came from poorly officiated play. And it should never be that way.
Could Monroe’s offense have continued to be lackluster and Pewaukee force another punt or turnover and score to win? Certainly. In fact, the momentum was trending that way.
But we’ll just never know now.
Lastly, a message to this group of Cheesemakers: Congratulations. It was a great season. Everyone’s year end in tears, the difference is that just eight teams in the state end it with smiles under those tears.
Football is more than about winning. It is more than about playing the sport. It is about so much more. It teaches bonding, teamwork, trust and camaraderie. Players learn about hard work, and how preparation (like scouting, lifting weights, conditioning and specified training) goes a long way to determine success.
These are real bonds; real life lessons that will stick with a player the rest of their life.
This team grew those bonds and learned those lessons. They also reinvigorated and captivated their community for 13 weeks. Whether they lost in Level 4 or Level 5 in the state championship one week later, it was all going to abruptly end. It didn’t have to end like it did, but that’s life for you.
— Adam Krebs is editor of the Monroe Times and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.