While its Woodland crossover game with South Milwaukee had no playoff implications, New Berlin West needed a strong performance to take its late-season momentum into a win or go-home season finale.
With Max Meleski and Nate Egofske combining for 372 rushing yards, the Vikings held off the Rockets' comeback attempt in a 32-26 victory on Oct. 7.
After starting 1-4, New Berlin West has won three straight games for the first time since 2010.
The Vikings must extend that winning streak to four games in order to make the playoffs, as New Berlin West must beat Whitnall in its regular-season finale to become postseason eligible.
"Three weeks ago, we knew what the stakes were," New Berlin West coach Ben Chossek said. "We've played with that on our backs the last three weeks.
"We've gotten better. The kids are starting to understand what playoff football is all about. We have one more opportunity to do that. If we can play our best game against a good Whitnall team, we'll see what our opportunities are after that."
SM scores first
South Milwaukee struck first on Oct. 7, as quarterback Jake Simuncak put the Rockets up, 6-0, with a 48-yard touchdown run.
New Berlin West responded with three straight scores, beginning with a 4-yard touchdown run by Trace Ferreira. Meleski scored from 2 yards out to put the Vikings in front 14-6, while a 42-yard scamper by Egofske and a 2-point conversion made it 22-6.
Just when New Berlin West appeared as if it was going to pull away, South Milwaukee struck to stay in the game.
The Rockets pulled to within 22-14 at halftime thanks to a 22-yard touchdown pass from Simuncak to Mason Mocco at the end of the second quarter. Simuncak ran in from 10 yards out in the third quarter, but the 2-point conversion attempt failed, leaving the Vikings up, 22-20.
"They got off to a hot start," Chossek said. "Their quarterback is a very talented kid, and he was able to break one. I was really pleased with how we were able to respond with a score, a stop and then two more scores. I would have liked to run out the first half and go up 22-6, but give them credit, they rebounded and got that late score to make it a tough battle in the second half."
Needing to answer again, New Berlin West rattled off 10 straight points.
Egan Iwanski hit a 22-yard field goal late in the third quarter to make it 25-20, while a 2-yard touchdown run by Meleski put the Vikings up, 32-20, in the fourth quarter.
"One of the things we did really well all night is we were able to possess the football when we got it," Chossek said. "We were able to keep it away from there and get the last touchdown and eat a lot of clock at the same time. They are a dangerous offense, so we were pleased with the way we were able to do that."
Simuncak hit Mocco for a 17-yard touchdown to make it 32-26, but New Berlin West hung on.
Meleski carried the ball 38 times for 208 yards and two touchdowns and Egofske kept the ball 20 times for 164 yards, as the two accounted for 372 of the Vikings' 382 rushing yards and for 383 of the 393 total yards.
"Those two guys really did a great job," Chossek said. "A lot of it was the option game where Nate was making a decision whether to give it or to keep it. Max has been a really, really good performer for us all year. To carry the ball 38 times, that's a lot of carries. He held up great and was strong at the end.
"Certainly, you don't do that without guys blocking up front. That front five opened up some holes and created some opportunities. You also don't do that without selfless wide receivers that are willing to block on the edge because we ran a lot of perimeter plays."
Aaron Lettner, Mitchell Hewitt, Joseph Robey and Sam Meleski all had four tackles for the New Berlin West defense, which held a very explosive South Milwaukee offense to 269 yards. Tony Gress had an interception, while Lettner had a sack.
The key to stopping South Milwaukee is to limit Simuncak, which is easier said than done.
Simuncak entered averaging 345 rushing yards per game in South Milwaukee's three-game winning streak, but he was limited to 139 yards against the Vikings.
"The way they play, it really has to be a collective effort defensively," Chossek said. "They try to get a lot of blockers in front of the football. With Simuncak being a run-pass threat, we had to make sure up front that we were containing him and then try not let the guys run by us over the top when they went play-action.
"We knew (Simuncak) would be difficult to eliminate from the game, but we were hoping by getting 11 men to the football that we could contain those big plays, which we were able to do enough."