Newman Catholic football prepares for state title game

Cardinals take perfect record up against Luck on Saturday for the 8-player crown
Published: Nov. 9, 2021 at 10:04 PM CST
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - The Newman Catholic Cardinal football team has had to ride the ebbs and flows of a challenging season.

Back in September, the Cardinals lost their star running back Thomas Bates to a torn ACL. The junior rushed for 300 yards in the first three games of the year before suffering the injury.

“When you lose a guy with that caliber, an all-state kind of kid, things can go south very quickly,” said Cardinal Head Coach Paul Michlig. “In most situations they probably do. These kids didn’t let that happen.”

The setback could’ve had ruined the Cardinals’ season, but the team remained persistent, embracing a “Next-man-up” philosophy.

“You know it’s tough losing a great leader like that and one of our better players,” said junior Conner Krach. “We just had to realize everyone can fill a spot and one player isn’t necessarily the whole team.”

The Cardinals rattled off six straight wins to clinch a perfect regular season. The team averages just under 350 yards per game, including 155 on the ground per contest. Their offense, even without Bates on the field, has continued to be a juggernaut. However, Bates still plays a role on the squad.

Coach Michlig says Bates is at every practice, every game and every film session. His intensity for his teammates is just as evident not in pads.

“I do try my best to make it to every practice, every film session,” said Bates. “I just am still very excited for my teammates. I know they go out there and give it their all.”

The Cardinals have done that in the postseason. Newman Catholic cruised to wins over Greenwood and Belmont in the opening stage of the state playoffs, winning by a combined score of 111-0.

In Level 3 of the postseason, Newman got their toughest test. The Gilman Pirates went toe-to-toe with the Cardinals in a thriller at Stanley-Boyd High School last Friday. Despite Newman jumping out to a 22-0 halftime lead, the Pirates clawed back to make it 29-22 with under a minute to go in the game.

Gilman scored a touchdown to make 29-28, then opted to go for a two-point conversion. The Cardinal defense stood tall though, forcing an incomplete pass on the conversion to seal a 29-28 win and a trip to the state title game.

“Emotions were all over,” said senior Jacob Pfiffner. “Once they didn’t get that two-point conversion, everyone was at a loss for words and it was the best feeling ever.”

The Cardinals now face Luck in the state championship in Wisconsin Rapids Saturday. Luck defeated Newman in the same game two years ago.

“They’re a good team, a well-coached team,” said Michlig. “We just have to do the little things like we did last week. “The separation is in the preparation and that’s what we got to do this week.”

It’s been a season full of twists and turns, but regardless of the outcome Saturday, the Cardinals have built something sustainable, on and off the field.

“It’s a special group and that’s what makes it fun,” said Michlig. “They care about each other not as football players, but as friends and kids and just trying to enjoy themselves out here and that’s what they wanted to do.”

Kickoff of the 8-player state title game is Saturday at 1 p.m. in Wisconsin Rapids.

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