It was a tale of two halves, a tale of two game plans and a tale of two leaders Friday night in Whitefish Bay.
The tales all added up to the Slinger Owls defeating the Whitefish Bay Blue Dukes in a come from behind victory, 27-26, that leaves each team 1-1 heading into the conference season. One leader will take the game as a learning experience while the other intends to feed on it.
“It just came down to who took the last blow,” Whitefish Bay junior quarterback Grant Menard said. “Tonight we just didn't come out when it mattered in the fourth quarter. Hopefully we can learn from this experience as we take on our next opponents in conference.”
The experience Menard was referring to was a second half dominated by the Slinger offense playing a pass oriented game yet still controlling the ball for nearly the entire half.
With 5:49 left, senior quarterback Phillip Martola found fellow classmate Kirk Emmer for the go-ahead touchdown, the second such connection of the half for the two. The score came on 4th and goal from the three yard line and capped 14 unanswered points for the Owls.
“Great job to them and their quarterback; it was an unbelievable performance,” Menard said. “Our defense had been holding them all game, and they are an explosive team. We couldn't really ask for much more.”
Martola finished the game 15 of 19 passing for 203 yards and three touchdowns. In two games this year, Martola has accumulated 508 yards and six touchdowns to only one interception. Four of those touchdowns have gone to Emmer, and for good measure, the duo iced the game Friday night with a 20 yard completion gaining the first down needed to run out the clock.
Those types of plays are what Martola expects when he puts the ball in the air.
“The athletes on this team are playmakers,” Martola said. “The most important thing I have in my receivers is trust. I trust every single one of them that every time I let go of the ball they are going to get it and nobody else is.”
It wasn't exactly a confident start for the Owls. The Blue Dukes forced a lost fumble on just the second play from scrimmage. After getting the ball back for a second possessio, the Owls ran into trouble while attempting a punt. The long snap went into the end zone, giving the Blue Dukes a safety and 2-0 lead with 4:36 left in the first quarter.
But Slinger caused a fumble during the return of the ensuing free kick, setting up Martola's first touchdown pass of the evening less than a minute later. It was after falling behind 7-2 that Whitefish Bay began to gain traction and seemingly took control of the game.
Junior running back Rashadeem Gray sparked the Blue Dukes offense with a 63-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter. Gray finished the game with 152 yards on 14 carries.
When Whitefish Bay added to the lead by scoring two second quarter touchdowns in 12 seconds, things were looking good for the Blue Dukes. With 9:43 left in the second quarter, Menard scored on short run then junior Julian Posey recovered a fumble on the kickoff and scored, giving Whitefish Bay a 26-13 half time lead.
Slinger was able to battle back and wear down the Blue Dukes in the second half. A series of penalties and the air attack from Martola kept the Blue Dukes at bay.
“We have some things to shore up,” Bay coach Jim Tietjen said. “I think our defense needs a little work and we will do that this week to get ready for Germantown.”