Fans of this season's Greendale football team are not used to seeing many zeroes on the scoreboard.
A zero, however, is exactly what was on the Panthers' side of the board late in the first half of their WIAA Division 3, Level 4 state playoff game against Appleton Xavier on Friday at Slinger High School.
Even more troubling for Greendale's cheering section is that Xavier had 6 points on the board at that point.
The Panthers' offense finally kicked into gear, though, as quarterback Josh Ringelberg hit Mitchell Brees for a 37-yard gain to the Appleton 38, then hooked up with Nate Miller for a 38-yard score to put Greendale on the board with 2 minutes, 13 seconds left in the half.
Xavier then failed on a 4th-and-2 near midfield and Greendale quickly covered 58 yards and scored on a 5-yard pass from Ringelberg to Miller to take a 14-6 halftime advantage.
The Panthers just kept going after that and eventually rolled to a 44-20 victory, giving them their first trip to the state championship contest since 2006.
"I can't even explain how good we feel right now," said Brees, who caught eight passes for 136 yards. "We worked so hard, and this just feels amazing."
Greendale (13-0) advances to take on Monona Grove (13-0) at 10 a.m. Friday at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. It's the Panthers' first state-final appearance since taking second in 2006.
"This is amazing," said Ringelberg, who passed for 211 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 132 yards and three scores. "This is a goal every year to go to state."
The Panthers did start somewhat slowly, ending one possession on a fumble and two others by turning the ball over on downs.
"They (the Hawks) were doing some things on defense with a little bit different alignment from what we had seen on film," Greendale head coach Rob Stoltz said. "Hats off to their defense; I thought they had a good scheme."
Xavier (11-2) drove 63 yards, scoring on a 16-yard run by quarterback Zach Simons. A two-point run was no good, leaving the Hawks ahead 6-0 early in the second period.
After two more unsuccessful possessions, Greendale took over at its own 25 late in the half. Ringelberg completed the long passes to Brees and Miller as the Panthers finally scored. Frankie Rutkowski's extra point gave them a 7-6 lead.
Xavier reached Greendale territory and went for it on 4th-and-2, but Simons was harassed by a heavy rush and threw an incomplete pass.
The Panthers took over at their own 42 with 29.7 seconds left and proceeded to do their best impersonation of the University of Oregon.
After two incomplete passes, Ringelberg found Brees for a 53-yard gain to the Appleton 5 with 11 seconds remaining. He then fired a scoring pass to Brees on the next play to cap a 58-yard, four-play drive that took all of 23 seconds.
The extra point put Greendale up 14-6 with 6.9 seconds left in the half.
"That (score) was really big," Brees said. "We were fighting with them a little bit and that gave us a little push away from them."
Ringelberg added, "We had to switch momentum there. They scored early, and we had to get it back."
Stoltz also appreciated the importance of the quick score, adding, "It was huge. They go for it on fourth down on the other side of the 50 and, four plays later, we're in the end zone again. Unreal."
Rutkowski kicked a 20-yard field goal early in the third quarter to make it 17-6, but Xavier answered with a 69-yard scoring strike from quarterback Matt Ferris to Levi O'Brien. A two-point run trimmed the Greendale lead to 17-14.
Ferris, who broke the state record for touchdown passes in a season with 49 this year, played only in the second half due to a back injury.
The Panthers responded immediately with a 71-yard drive featuring passes of 16 yards to Brees and 17 yards to Miller and capped by Ringelberg's 6-yard touchdown run. Rutkowski's kick made it 24-14.
Greendale scored again on its next possession, with Angel Ramirez weaving through the defense for a 26-yard score.
Late in the third period, Ringelberg let his legs do the work, running 53 yards to the Xavier 13 to set up his own 5-yard score. The point after made it 38-14.
Xavier scored on a 38-yard pass to Matt Kinderman, but on the next drive, Ringelberg ran five times for 45 yards and a 1-yard score midway through the fourth to put away the game.
"It just took our offense a little bit to get going," Ringelberg said, "but then once we got going, our O-line was rolling, making running lanes for us and giving me time to throw to my receivers."
Brees was quick to credit his quarterback, saying, "Josh has really turned it up these last couple of weeks."
The other factor in the game was the Panthers defense, which shut down a prolific Xavier passing game.
"We just kind of inspired our secondary to play harder," linebacker Tristian Pipp said. "It really came down to the secondary. They stepped up, and that's why we won."
Stoltz said, "We have a lot of playmakers, from the O-line all the way to the backfield and the receivers on the perimeter. Hats off to our defense, though. The scheme that they had and the work that they put in their week was incredible. It really was."
Their reward is a trip to the big stage in Madison this week.
WHO: Greendale (13-0) vs. Monona Grove (13-0)
WHAT: WIAA Division 3 state championship football game
WHEN: 10 a.m. Friday
WHERE: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison
PREVIEW: Monona Grove is in the state championship contest for the fourth time and first since 2004. The Silver Eagles won the South Division of the Badger Conference with a 6-0 mark and defeated Milton (42-12), Edgerton (41-21), Catholic Memorial (20-17) and La Crosse Logan (28-14) in the playoffs. They allowed just seven points per game in the regular season, with three shutouts, and 16 per contest in the playoffs. Quarterback Tyler Blang passed for 1,410 yards and 13 touchdowns this season and was the team's leading rusher with 1,082 yards and 15 scores. Toren Young added 993 yards and 11 touchdowns and Brock Offerdahl 741 yards and 13 scores on the ground. Trey Powers is the top receiver with 32 catches for 657 yards and nine scores, while Brady Blang collected 20 catches for 283 yards and two scores and Jackson Riley 21 catches for 232 yards and one touchdown. Offerdahl led the defense with 132 tackles, 12 for losses, and five sacks, while Zach Quam totaled 102 tackles and Brock Lippiatt 100 tackles. Zach Stinson racked up 17 sacks on the season.
Greendale is making its first state appearance since 2006, when it was the runnerup. The Panthers won the Woodland Conference West Division and have scored at least 31 points in every game this season. Quarterback Josh Ringelberg threw for 2,902 yards and 40 touchdowns. Receiver Mitchell Brees caught 71 passes for 1,210 yards and 14 scores, while Nate Miller hauled in 24 passes for 414 yards and eight touchdowns. Jake Zywicki paced the rushing attack with 1,313 yards and 14 scores, while Ringelberg added 583 yards and 10 touchdowns. Miller collected 80 tackles on the season.
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