From start to finish the 2004 season of the Cambridge football team was on a rollercoaster of emotions. It all ended with a conference championship and memories that will last for a lifetime.
But there was one memory that each and every member of that program 15 years ago will unfortunately never forget, the untimely death of teammate Dustin “Dozer” Zuelsdorf.
Prior to his senior year and senior season, Zuelsdorf died when he crashed his motorcycle while trying to avoid a semi on County A, just east of Cambridge, on a sunny afternoon on July 27, 2004. He was 17.
On Saturday, Sept. 29 the 2004 team will be among the 2019 inductees of the Cambridge Hall of Honors.
Jace Rindahl was a co-captain of that 2004 team and good friend of Zuelsdorf.
“It gave us a purpose, our focus was to play hard and practice hard for our good friend who wasn’t with us anymore. It brought us all together, we leaned on each other and it was a common goal to honor Dozer. I think we did that by winning a conference championship,” he said.
The Blue Jays finished 3-6 in Zuelsdorf’s sophomore season and 2-7 when he and his classmates were juniors. Expectations, at least from the outside, weren’t much better for the 2004 season.
“We had a great group of seniors and heading into that year we were definitely excited about it, and then in a moment’s notice things changed around,” said Joe Parish, the team’s head coach at the time.
The accident happened only days before the start of fall practice, and Parish recalls having a meeting with the players.
“We really tried to put our heads around it and even toyed with the idea of delaying (practice) for five days,” Parish said. “But then in the same context it was said that Dozer would have wanted us to continue to move forward. Football was a big part of his life, so we wanted to keep some normalcy — It went from a time of excitement to a time of reality — I believe our young men at that time had to grow up really fast.
“Certainly our focus became a lot stronger.”
The 2004 Blue Jays started with impressive non-conference victories over Deerfield, 47-0, and Hustisford/Horicon, 21-7.
Cambridge opened Capitol Conference play against a pair of area rivals, earning wins of 32-7 over Waterloo and Marshall 29-6, improving to 4-0.
Following a 40-14 mid-season non-conference win over Belmont, the Blue Jays played what would be their closest games of the season, holding off Lakeside Lutheran, 14-0, and Wisconsin Heights, 19-13, moving to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the Capitol creating a buzz around the community.
“We were playing for a purpose and there was obviously a little bit more at stake,” Parish said. “We were truly excited about our senior class and the kids that were surrounding them. But then when we added that extra dimension to it, you had a certain feeling that you were surrounded by a group of kids that were willing to work harder and harder every day, grew closer as a team and a family, and really committed themselves to ultimately winning football games.”
A 40-20 doubling up of Lake Mills in Week 8 set up a showdown of Capitol Conference unbeatens, as the Blue Jays would travel to top-ranked Columbus for the conference championship. Cambridge had not won a conference championship since winning the Eastern Suburban Conference crown in 1996, so it was safe to say there was a lot riding on game number nine.
Things didn’t look good early as Columbus, ranked No. 1 in the state in Division 4, took a 14-0 lead. But that all changed when senior quarterback Jens Notstad, one of Zuelsdorf’s best friends, threw touchdown passes of 63 yards to Ben Wolf and 14 yards to Jack McCormick, tying the score at halftime.
Notstad wasn’t done as he connected with Cory Robinson for 25 yards to begin the second half, only to have Columbus once again tie the game as the two Capitol heavyweights matched each other blow-for-blow.
The momentum finally swung in Cambridge’s favor for good in the fourth quarter as Jace Rindahl, yet another good friend of Zuelsdorf, carried the football seven times on an 11-play drive, capping it off with a 3-yard touchdown that would prove to be the game winner.
A Paul Fruit field goal made the final score 31-21, equaling the No. 52 — Zuelsdorf’s jersey number.
“I don’t know if I’ve been involved in a game with that magnitude, with the fan support from both sides, what we were playing for and what it came down to. When things were all said and done and the score added up to 52, it truly was a magical moment,” Parish said.
Rindahl, who would go on to be a star linebacker at UW-Whitewater and is now the run defense coordinator and linebackers coach for the Warhawks, was inducted into the Wall of Honors as an individual in 2010.
“The game of football is the ultimate team sport, I don’t think I would have been in there had it not been for the success we had as a football team; what really propelled me to success beyond high school was being a part of that 2004 team,” Rindahl said.
The 2004 Cambridge team won its first WIAA Division 5 playoff game over Kenosha St. Joseph’s, but the magical season came to an end in the second round in a 20-7 loss to Brillion. The 2004 Cambridge football team finished 10-1.
Dozer 52 memorial
Entering the Cambridge High School athletic field a rock with the inscription DOZER 52 honors Zuelsdorf’s memory.
“Every year we talk about the rock and Dustin and what he meant to the Cambridge football family,” said Mike Klingbeil, the current head coach and athletic director. “We still think about him and his family.”
Dip for Dozer
On the second Saturday of each February the “Dip for Dozer” event is held on Lake Ripley, raising money for a scholarship in Zuelsdorf’s name.
Hall of Honor information
The 11th-annual Hall of Honor Banquet is Sept. 29 at the Lake Ripley Country Club.
Tickets are now on sale for the banquet and are available until Sept. 20.
The banquet includes a 2 p.m. social hour, 3 p.m. dinner and awards ceremony. An open house will also be held at Cambridge High School at 1 p.m., with tours of the Hall of Honor.
The cost is $35 for adults and $15 for students grades 12 and under. Tickets can be purchased at the school district office at the high school or at American Family Insurance, 156 W. Main St., Cambridge. More information: (608) 423-4345.