In the Classic 8 Conference, there's a small margin of difference between the teams that make the playoffs and those that narrowly miss.
For Muskego, a controversial two-point loss to Waukesha West was what in the end prevented the Warriors from their third straight trip to the postseason.
After winning nonconference games over Racine Park and Milwaukee Bradley Tech by a combined score of 111-0, Muskego opened Classic 8 play against Waukesha West on Sept. 1. The Wolverines capped a 17-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Robert Kobza as time expired for a 26-24 win over the Warriors.
The officials stopped the clock with 4.6 seconds left to allow trainers to come onto the field and attend to Wolverine running back Peter MacCudden, who stayed down after being stopped at the goal 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.
Muskego then lost to Mukwonago (21-0), Catholic Memorial (21-7) and Kettle Moraine (38-29) to start conference play 0-4.
Despite being eliminated from the playoffs six weeks into the season, the Warriors closed the year on a three-game winning streak, knocking off Waukesha South (35-7) and Waukesha North (28-21) before becoming the first program to beat Arrowhead in consecutive years with a 21-14 win in the season finale.
The Warriors finished 5-4 overall and 3-4 in the Classic 8, earning their sixth winning season in the past seven years.
"I could not have been more proud of this year’s team," Muskego coach Ken Krause said. "Unfortunately, we had some bad luck in the Waukesha West game at the end game, or we would have made the playoffs for the sixth time in the past seven years What I am most proud of the team was when we were 0-4 in conference and were knocked out of the playoff race, we still ended up winning our last three conference games."
Earning first team All-Classic 8 honors for Muskego were junior linebacker A.J. Spychala and senior offensive tackle Tim Sprengal.
Senior running back Mike Madia and junior defensive tackle Alex Hastings were second team All-Classic 8, while sophomore kicker Lucas Amaya, senior linebacker Mitch Suderland, senior defensive back Jon Ciepluch and junior offensive guard Sam Kurth were honorable mention.
With 110 tackles, nine tackles for a loss, five sacks, one interception for a touchdown, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, Spychala was also named first team All-Region.
Earning team awards for the Warriors were senior tight end Alex Kalisnig (MVP), Ciepluch (most improved senior defensive player), junior offensive guard Joe Meyer (most improved senior offensive player), senior tackle Jorin McGuire (Unsung Hero/Warrior Award), senior running back Rene Calvetti (Heart of a Warrior) and Madia (Heart of the Team).
Bryce Schure, Suderland, Sprengel, Kalisnig and McGuire were team captains. Earning academic all-state (seniors with cumulative GPA over 3.75) were Kyle Hammitt, Ciepluch, Sprengel, Evan Modglin and Kalisnig.
Muskego is in good shape to make a push to return to the playoffs in 2017, as the Warriors will return eight starters on defense and five starters on offense.
Three of Muskego's top four tacklers from 2016 will be back from a defense that held eight of nine opponents under their scoring average. Spychala, Hastings, linebacker Addison Price and safety Rob Zolecki form a solid defensive core.
Offensively, the Warriors will return second-leading rusher Justin Kotarak, third-leading rusher Cody Krause, Kurth and quarterbacks Frankie Cistaro and A.J. Makinen.
"The future is very bright for Muskego football," Krause said. "We have a chance to be very special on defense next year."