Catholic Memorial quarterback Ben Nimz scores on a quarterback sneak on fourth down to put CMH up 21-7 on Muskego. Andrew Gruman
If a few plays had gone differently over the past three weeks, Muskego's season might have an entirely different feel.
But in the Classic 8 Conference, a couple of plays are usually the difference in whether a team makes the playoffs or not.
Muskego battled Catholic Memorial on Friday night, but a long touchdown pass and a crucial turnover allowed the Crusaders to score two third-quarter touchdowns in a 21-7 win over the Warriors.
At 2-3 overall and 0-3 in the Classic 8, Muskego must win its final four games to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
"That's the Classic 8," Muskego coach Ken Krause said. "Last year, the ball bounced our way a few times. This year, the ball hasn't bounced our way a couple of times.
"We've had a few things not go our way. In some seasons, that happens. We have a great team. We're going to finish strong. I feel very good about us finishing strong."
With Mukwonago and Waukesha North losing Friday, Catholic Memorial (5-0 overall) is the lone Classic 8 team at 3-0 heading into a Sept. 23 showdown with Arrowhead.
"To go on the road and win a game like this, that gives us three (wins) in terms of making the playoffs," Catholic Memorial coach Bill Young said. "We have four to go and have to get one more. We're on to Arrowhead right now. They are a great team and a great program."
Muskego used a short field to take a 7-0 lead. With Catholic Memorial driving on its first possession, junior cornerback Sam Scholz intercepted Ben Nimz and returned the ball to the 36-yard line of the Crusaders.
Five plays later, senior Mitch Suderland, playing offense for the first time this season, scored from two yards out.
Catholic Memorial tied the game on a 42-yard touchdown pass from Nimz to Max Cooper with 2:37 left in the first quarter.
While Muskego scored just seven points in the first half, the Warriors were able to gain 130 yards on the ground.
On its first possession of the third quarter, Nimz threw a strike over the middle to Joe Reinicke, who sped away from the Warriors secondary for an 82-yard score.
After being shut out last week for the first time since 2009, Muskego again struggled to sustain drives.
The Warriors got senior running back Michael Madia back from a sprained ankle, but junior quarterback Frankie Cistaro was limited by a shoulder injury.
Krause felt that injury caused Cistaro to fumble an exchange with Madia that Crusaders linebacker C.J. Goetz recovered at the Muskego 13-yard line.
"He thought he could gut it out," Krause said. "Unfortunately, it was to the point where it impacted him on that fumble."
Catholic Memorial converted the turnover into a touchdown, as Nimz scored on a quarterback sneak from the 1-yard line on fourth and goal with 1:00 to play in the third quarter. With Cistaro out of the game, Muskego played the fourth quarter with sophomore A.J. Makinen at quarterback.
After Muskego gained 130 yards on the ground in the first half, the Crusaders limited the Warriors to just 45 yards on six second-half drives.
"(Defensive coordinator) Mike Kinateder made a great adjustment at halftime," Young said. "We didn't play very well in the second quarter. Give Muskego all the credit in the world. We were getting crushed by down blocks. The kids were a lot more focused in the second half and paid more attention to detail. We were not getting down blocked and crushed and opening that ally for them to run in."
Despite scoring just seven points, Krause felt Muskego made strides offensively against Catholic Memorial.
Playing Suderland at running back added a bruising dimension to the Warriors' running game, as he finished with 61 yards on six carries. Justin Kotarek ran for 72 yards, but 57 of those came in the first half.
Cistaro completed just one of his 10 pass attempts before leaving the game.
"We played better tonight, but not good enough to win," Krause said. "It was weird. I felt like we played better than seven points tonight. I thought we got better tonight even though we only scored seven points. Frankie getting injured, that didn't help there toward the end of the game. I thought we did some good things on offense tonight. We're close."
While Catholic Memorial now finds itself alone atop the Classic 8, Muskego finds itself with its backs against the wall. The formula is simple, as the Warriors must win out, beginning Sept. 23 at Kettle Moraine.
"It is one game at a time," Krause said. "I thought our kids played their hearts out tonight. We were very close to winning that game. 21-7, I don't know if that really reflects that game. I thought we were right there. Change a couple of plays and we win the game."