Fort Atkinson wins thriller over Milton
Coach Steve Mahoney’s Fort team busted the door down here Friday night by hanging on to a thrilling 34-26 win over Milton that catapulted the Blackhawks right into the conversation of a Badger South championship this year.
Fort capitalized on a young Milton team’s mistake and got out to a 34-13 lead before hanging on for a last-second win over the Red Hawks.
Fort is now 2-0 league play and 4-0 overall. Milton dropped to 0-2 in a development that turned the Badger standings of the last three years completely upside down.
“This was big for us,” said Mahoney, whose team finished 2-4 in conference play last year after going 0-6 the previous two seasons. “Our first goal is to get into the playoffs, and we still need two more wins. Milton is a really good team, and this was a huge win for us.”
It’d been a long time coming for Mahoney. In fact, Milton coach Jeff Bachinski hadn’t lost to Fort Atkinson since his first year at the helm of the Red Hawks in 2003. Since that time, Bachinski-coached teams have won four Southern Lakes Conference championships and one in the Badger.
“In my nine years here, we’re used to being on top,” Bachinski said shortly after seeing junior quarterback Evan Phillips’ pass get swatted away from wide receiver Riley Kovars in the Fort Atkinson end zone on the game’s final play. “This one’s going to hurt for a long time. I really thought we were going to get it in at the end.”
Phillips’ desperation heave into the end zone under pressure saw Milton’s harried attempt to make up a 21-point, third-period deficit fall just short.
Fort followed up a couple of Milton miscues on a failed fake punt and a fumble to build the 34-13 lead on Joey Scott’s 25-yard touchdown run with 4:16 remaining in the third period.
But Phillips and the Red Hawks answered immediately by covering 65 yards on two plays to tighten the game. Phillips hit Sam McCann for 17 yards and then threw over the top to Kovars, who got behind the Fort defense for a 47-yard score with 3:50 remaining.
The Milton defense then came up with one of its rare stops on the evening when Mitchell Bachinski stepped in front of a Drew Dunkleberger pass to get the ball back for the Red Hawks at the Milton 33 with less than two minutes remaining in the third period.
Operating out of Milton’s no-huddle spread, Phillips then completed four consecutive passes to Luke Ganz for 44 yards.
The drive was completed when, from the Fort 14, Phillips hit Kovars outside on the 10 and the senior speedster turned up field and raced into the end zone.
A missed extra point made it a 34-26 game with 11 minutes remaining.
Milton sputtered in mounting a game-tying attack with a fumble and two intentional grounding penalties in the face of Fort’s pressure. The Red Hawks finally got the ball back on the Fort 35 with 1:54 remaining.
Phillips hit McCann for 28, and then Ian Johnson for 14 to give the Red Hawks a first down on the Fort 17 with 1:27 remaining. But Milton could not put it in the end zone.
“I’ve been saying all along that the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win,” Bachinski said. “They made fewer mistakes than we did, and when you make mistakes against a good team, you’re going to get beat.”
FORT ATKINSON 34, MILTON 26
Milton 13 0 13 0—26
Fort Atkinson 7 14 13 0—34
Scoring summary: M—Sam McCann, 25 pass from Evan Phillips (McCann kick). FA—James Nachtigal, 41 pass from Michael Rossing (Marie Fitzgerald kick). M—Riley Kovars, 19 pass from Phillips (kick failed). FA—Jim Hanson, 21 pass from Drew Dunkleberger (Fitzgerald kick). FA—Nachtigal, 34 pass from Dunkleberger (Fitzgerald kick). M—Kovars, 15 pass from Phillips (kick failed). FA—Nachtigal, 10 pass from Dunkleberger (Fitzgerald kick). FA—Tyler Cortier, 24 run (kick failed). M—Tyler Westrick, 47 pass from Phillips (McCann kick).
Statistics: First downs—M 18, FA 18. Rushing—M 20-21, FA 35-84. Yards passing—M 389, FA 270. Passes—M 41-27-1, FA 31-21-2. Fumbles—M 4-3, FA 3-1. Penalties—M 10-85, FA 9-65.