Waukesha West quarterback Robert Kobza scores on a sneak as time expires to give the Wolverines a 26-24 win over Muskego on Sept. 1.
In the Classic 8 Conference, the margin for error is razor thin.
The league that sent three teams to state-championship games last season saw its 2016 slate kick off with a classic, as Robert Kobza scored on a quarterback sneak as time expired Thursday night to lift Waukesha West to a 26-24 win over Muskego.
The ending didn't lack for controversy, as the officials stopped the clock with 4.6 seconds left to allow trainers to come onto the field and attend to Wolverines running back Peter MacCudden. MacCudden, who was a one-man wrecking crew for much of the game but also battled cramping, fought to stay in the game, but was compelled to leave by officials because the clock was halted.
"Peter and the offensive line carried us the whole way," Kobza said. "He put us in a great position all day long. When my number was called, I just had to do what I could. I did everything I could. I didn't want to get a flag for not having everyone set on the line."
Had the clock not been blown dead by the officials, Waukesha West likely wouldn't have been able to get a final play off, and the Wolverines were out of timeouts.
Waukesha West was able to get set to snap the ball right when the referee wound the clock. Without MacCudden in the game, Kobza kept the ball and crossed the goal line.
"That's the Classic 8," Muskego coach Ken Krause said. "They won with a half of a second left. I'm a little confused on the injury situation with how fast the trainer came out. Let the kids decide the game, right? But I thought both teams played their hearts out."
Kobza's touchdown capped an impressive final drive in which Waukesha West ran 17 plays and took the final 4:40 off the clock. The Wolverines ran the ball 15 times on their final possession.
"Our run game was going good," Waukesha West coach Steve Rux said. "We tried throwing the ball down there, and it didn't work out as we had planned, so we decided to put it on our offensive line and our best player, Peter MacCudden. We gave him that opportunity and he really came through.
"We kept running the same play over again. It seemed like Muskego was gassed like we were, so we felt that was our best opportunity to get in the end zone."
Waukesha West started the drive by converting a 3rd and 6 from its own 38 on a 9-yard run by MacCudden. Dain Hudson was stopped just shy of the first down on a 3rd and 2 run from the Muskego 43-yard line, but Kobza was able to pick up the first down on a sneak with 1:39 to play.
After an incomplete pass, MacCudden rattled off carries of 9 and 16 yards to move the ball to the Muskego 18-yard line with 56.5 seconds on the clock. Two more MacCudden carries left Waukesha West with a 2nd and goal from the two-yard line. The Warriors then stuffed MacCudden short of the goal line on consecutive runs.
With a Muskego player on top of MacCudden, the side judge blew his whistle to stop the clock with 4.6 left. MacCudden and the Wolverines offensive line led the way, as the junior running back gained 51 yards on the drive.
"There's nobody better than our offensive line and nobody better than Peter," Kobza said. "They just had an awesome day."
Leading, 21-20, Muskego had a chance to separate itself from Waukesha West after Bryce Schure intercepted Kobza and returned the ball to the 11-yard line of the Wolverines with 10:19 to play. Instead of scoring a touchdown to make it at least a seven-point game, the Warriors committed two false start penalties which forced them to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Lucas Amaya to lead 24-20 with 8:29 left.
"After we threw the pick, we knew we needed to flip the switch in some way," MacCudden said. "On the defensive side, we knew we were backed up in a bad situation. We ended up holding them to a field goal to give our offense a chance."
The Muskego defense followed by forcing a three-and-out, but the Warriors only took 1:57 off the clock before punting the ball back to Waukesha West.
Both teams scored on their opening and final drive of the first half.
MacCudden gave Waukesha West the lead with a 3-yard touchdown run with 8:03 left in the first quarter, but the Wolverines missed the extra point. Muskego answered right back to take a 7-6 lead on a 3-yard score by Cody Krause.
Kobza hit MacCudden for a 22-yard touchdown strike and the Wolverines converted the two-point conversion to take a 14-7 lead with 2:23 left in the first half. A 44-yard scamper by Michael Madia allowed Muskego to tie the game with 9 seconds remaining before halftime on a 6-yard pass from Frankie Cistaro to Madia.
Waukesha West regained the lead with 5:39 to play in the third quarter on a 30-yard touchdown run by MacCudden. The Wolverines again missed the extra point, which allowed Muskego to go up, 21-20, when Madia scored from 6 yards out with less than a second remaining in the third quarter.
"I'm proud of the kids," Krause said. "There were three times we got down, and all three times, we came right back and scored."
MacCudden finished with three total touchdowns, gaining 176 yards on 29 carries and catching three passes for 34 yards. Madia led Muskego with 96 yards on the ground, while Justin Kotarak added 73 yards on 12 carries.
With both teams expected to contend for the Classic 8 Conference championship, Waukesha West's last-second win could loom large later in the season.
"To come out on top does great things for the confidence of our players," Rux said. "Muskego will bounce back. They will be a contender in this league. Every week is just an incredible battle in the Classic 8; it doesn't matter who you are playing. It is always a great game."