APPLETON - Two weeks ago Appleton North suffered season-ending injuries to two of its best players and the thought outside North was it took a step back.
If that was true, then Friday's showdown with Kimberly would show it. Two of the best teams in Northeast Wisconsin squared off with the lead in the Valley Football Association North Division on the line.
Both teams entered 5-0 and as expected the game lived up to the hype. And the difference was North running back Sawyer Schultz, who ran for 126 yards and scored three touchdowns as the Lightning erased a 13-0 deficit and won a thrilling 22-19 decision over the Papermakers at Paul Engen Field.
"We've faced adversity this year and every time we face adversity we fight back a little bit harder," North coach Rob Salm said. "We were down 13-0 against a very good team and we responded. I looked at the sidelines and it didn't seem like anyone was upset or frustrated. We were just that more determined."
Schultz powers Lightning
Schultz was the most determined. The senior running back missed last week with a shoulder injury suffered two weeks ago when Isaac Barthelmess and Logan Neitzke were lost for the season with injury.
Schultz ran with determination and wasn't going to let his teammates down.
"His heart is huge," Salm said. "The offensive line wants to block for him because they know any inch they give him he's going to make the play. He wants the ball."
Like all smart running backs, Schultz said the offensive line was to thank for his success.
"The offensive line, it goes to all of them," said Schultz, who also ran in a two-point conversion. "They were making a push all game long and I loved it."
Defense contains explosive Papermakers
Kimberly, ranked fifth in the FOX 11 Top 11, entered the game averaging 46.4 points per game, seventh in the state. After the Papermakers scored two touchdowns on two of its first three possessions, it looked like No. 4 North would struggle to hold down Kimberly.
But from that point on, Kimberly scored six points as the defense, without Neitzke, an all-state defensive end from last season, was brilliant. The Lightning did get a break when Kimberly attempted a 35-yard field goal that hit the left upright late in the third quarter.
Kimberly quarterback Ben Diedrick was controlled as he was 17 of 31 for 137 yards with three touchdowns and an interception in the final 30 seconds that clinched the North win.
"Eleven is one," Salm said of his defense. "They play as a team. The only way you can be successful on the defensive side of the ball is everyone has to play together and trust each other. We've been able to develop that mentality. We're just bound and determined to be successful. It's fun to coach."
Four straight for North
The Lightning now has won four in a row against Kimberly and has the inside track on the North Division title. However, down 13-0 a fourth straight win was in jeopardy.
"We just looked at the scoreboard and we knew we had to make it happen and we made it happen," Schultz said.
North sure did and now there shouldn't be anybody wondering if North is a dangerous team come the postseason, even without two key players.
"It feels great to beat Kimberly in a big game," Schultz said. "As a team we just stepped up and made it happen."
- Notes: North's Connor Rolain had a 51-yard kickoff return to open the third quarter. Schultz later scored on a 3-yard TD run. … Blake Thebo intercepted a pass that set up Kimberly's final TD. It came two plays after the Papermakers missed the field goal. … North used two quarterbacks throughout the game in Tanner Schuh and Dan Rothbauer, who was a threat running (71 yards on six carries) as well as passing. … Kimberly is 36-3 over the last three-plus seasons against teams not named Appleton North. All three losses have come in the postseason, none in the regular season. … North hosts Appleton West next week, while Kimberly hosts Kaukauna.
- Game ball: Schultz, whose tough running keyed the win.
- Numbers game: 4 Straight wins for North over Kimberly.
(4) APPLETON NORTH 22, (5) KIMBERLY 19
Kimberly………..7 6 6 0 - 19
Appleton North...0 7 7 8 - 22
KIM: Connor Kluge 11 yard pass from Ben Diedrick (kick good); 4:15. KIM 7-0.
KIM: J.P.Peerenboom 16 yard pass from Diedrick (kick blocked), 11:40. KIM 13-0.
AN: Schultz 1 yard run (kick good). 2:44. KIM 13-7
AN: Schultz 3 yard run (kick good), 7:54. AN 14-13.
KIM: Scott Schreiber 10 yard pass from Diedrick (run fail), 11:04. KIM 19-14.
AN: Schultz 1 yard run (Schultz run), 7:43. AN 22-14.
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay
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