One Single Point Dashes Rocket Football’s Playoff Hopes

Robert Barthell, Assistant Editor-in-Chief

It starts as a picture-perfect night at Rocket Stadium.  Both student sections are packed with nearly everyone from Neenah participating in the blackout theme.

The Rockets initially score one touchdown in the first quarter and another in the second.  The Kimberly Papermakers squeeze 7 points of their own into the last 4 minutes of the second quarter, only for the Rockets to counter with yet another touchdown with 2 in-game minutes later.

On the Neenah side, morale is high, with a consensus that it would be an easy victory.

“Our offense has been good.  We’re able to catch some balls as well as run them, so it’s paying off for us.  [Winning is] not even going to be hard,” asserts junior Claudia Merizon.

Both teams huddle in circles for the remainder of the halftime segment, determined to carry the game to the end.  And then Kimberly surprises with two touchdowns during the third quarter, bringing its student section to their feet and sparking an enthusiastic flag runner to streak past.   Avoiding a tie, Neenah scores again not much longer, giving them a short but unsustainable lead.

The bulk of the fourth quarter passes without much happening, but the Papermakers slowly and steadily roll the ball to the other side of the field.  And with 1 minute and 18 seconds to spare, the ball makes it into the end zone, bringing the game to a tie.

A muscular foot sends the ball flying into the air…

…across the goalposts…

…and into the hands of an elementary-age spectator…

Kimberly has won the game.

Though the Rockets energetically assemble in the middle of the field for a last-minute play, referees call it off and line the players up to shake hands with each other.

“I feel like we responded to adversity pretty well.  We kept a level head and just had eyes on the end result.  [The end] was emotional. It was crazy. We were going crazy on the sidelines. It was an awesome feeling.  Great job to Neenah. They’re a great team,”  comments player #3 (senior) Jack Statz from the Kimberly team.

Reactions on the Neenah side are significantly more emotional, with typically stern-faced players in tears.  Lead into prayer by the coaches, most of the team throws their helmets to the side and begins hugging each other.  A near-perfect 2022 season has just been cut short with the same fate that plagued the team in 2018 and 2019 — a loss to Kimberly in the second round of the playoffs.

Senior Dylan Thurber, player #76, says that this was “Easily, probably the best game of the year.  It came down to the wire.  Sometimes it just doesn’t fall your way.  Everyone played a great game. I love being with everyone else, and get ready for the football season next year!”

Even as gloom and sadness cloud over the remaining student section members, junior Alyssa Ross stands and smiles.  Ross asserts: “We kind of got cheated on that one point.  I think we’re gonna come back next year.”