MONONA — In a game devoid of offense, Fort produced a scoring strike for the ages.
Junior tight end Logan Kees caught the game-winning 44-yard touchdown from senior backup quarterback Noah Maier and Fort Atkinson’s football team edged host Monona Grove 7-6 in a Badger Small game on Friday, earning a share of the program’s first conference championship since 2003.
“I’ll remember this for the rest of my life,” senior running back Alec Courtier said. “We’ve worked for this since seventh grade on up. We’re in the weight room every day and this group of seniors committed since freshman year, and for it all to pay off now is amazing.”
Maier, entering in place of injured senior starter Carson Baker in the second quarter, lofted an on-target pass to the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Kees, who shook off an attempted arm tackle by senior defensive back Peter Ng in the middle of the field en route to paydirt on a 4th down and 7 play with 1 minute, 40 seconds remaining. Senior Mason Brandl connected on the point after to give Fort the lead.
Fort snapped a 12-game losing streak to MG since the two sides became Badger Conference members in 2008. The Silver Eagles have won nine Badger championships since 2009, handing Fort its only league losses in 2012 and 2013.
While it was the offense that produced the night’s memorable moment, it was the Blackhawk defense that effectively pitched a shutout. Monona Grove had 11 offensive possessions, excluding a kneel down at the end of the first half, and mustered 91 yards of total offense and zero points. The Silver Eagles got on the board with a 15-yard interception return by junior defensive back Eddie Rivera with 4:41 left in the second quarter. Junior Cuinn Larsh’s point after sailed wide left to make it 6-0.
“It was a great game plan from Coach Randy Ridout,” Fort Atkinson football coach Nick Nelson said. “The defensive coaches really had all the guys prepared. The kids listened and stayed focused. We knew they were going to want to run screens a lot and we took that away from them. We bent and gave up some yards, but we did not break.”
Fort (7-2, 6-1 Badger-Small) had 72 of its 198 total yards on the game-winning drive, which started with 4:29 remaining. Courtier had an 11-yard grab on third down to get the drive rolling followed two plays later by an eight-yard grab by senior wide receiver Cade Cosson, moving the chains again. Maier had a pair of deep passes sail long with the breeze at his back sandwiched around a three-yard run, setting up the decisive 4th down play.
“We ran the same play as we did before,” Cosson said. “We were hoping they were going to jump on me again and we were going to Logan over the middle. He made a heck of a catch, fought off a tackle and got into the end zone.”
The Blackhawk defense needed just one more stop.
Senior linebacker Lance Schultz blew up a first-down screen for a loss of five yards on MG’s first play of the ensuing series from its own 45-yard line. An incompletion and seven-yard run by senior tight end Kody Cummings set up 4th and 8, where Fort senior linebacker Logan Recob was one of three players to combine on a sack to all but seal it.
Two kneel downs by Maier, who was 4-for-12 for 73 yards, made it final.
“So happy for Noah,” Courtier said. “I told Noah in the huddle multiple times ‘you’ve played scout all week and you know how to throw this ball. Just let it rip. It’s my job and the lines job to protect you. You need to let it rip at this point. You know how to do it, I’ve seen it all year’. Glad he got his shot finally.”
“Noah came in and a lot of it started to fall on his shoulders,” Nelson added. “A lot of credit goes to him for standing tall and keeping poised. We asked him what he felt comfortable with and he said ‘let me throw it to Logan’. That’s always a good decision.
“Noah can sling it. He always gives our defense a great look especially against these passing teams in the Badger. Multiple times this season, Noah has been our scout team player of the week. He practices hard and stays focused. He was ready when his name was called. Just a tremendous amount of grit and tremendous amount of heart.”
Kees, who caught a 24-yard touchdown last week against Mount Horeb/Barneveld and had a 31-yard grab the week prior at Stoughton, came up with his third reception of the season when it mattered most.
“Coach Nelson always says to be focused on the next play,” Kees said. “I was just trying to do that and hoping we’d get something big on fourth down. We ran that play before and it wasn’t there. Then we ran it again and it happened to be open.
“This win feels great. We have a good group of guys and I love being a part of this team.”
After both sides exchanged fumbles, the Silver Eagles (6-3, 4-3) started at their own 44-yard line early in the second quarter. The drive stalled out at the Fort 10-yard line when a 4th and 1 pass fell incomplete. MG’s next drive, now leading 6-0 after the interception return, started at the plus 33-yard line but was thwarted after three plays in large part due to a third down sack by Recob, leading to a punt.
Blackhawk senior defensive back Jacob Ashland had the second of his two fumbles recoveries on MG’s next drive, giving Fort possession at the plus 31-yard line with 42 seconds remaining in the half. After pass interference on a deep ball and short pass to Cosson, Brandl came on for a 28-yard field goal that was tipped at the line of scrimmage and missed.
MG’s opening series of the second period ended at the Fort 26-yard line when senior running back Markale Curry was stuffed on a fourth and 2 rush.
Fort moved it inside Silver Eagle territory with seven minutes left in the game, but came up short on a 4th and 3 at the 33-yard line. MG went three and out on its next drive despite picking up eight yards on a first-down rush. Junior defensive lineman Jack Opperman came up with a key third-down stop to force the punt preceding Fort’s game-winning nine-play march.
Nelson inherited a program that had posted consecutive winless seasons in 2018 and 2019. Two short years later, the Blackhawks sit atop the league.
“I’m just a part of the team,” Nelson said. “It’s a great group of coaches and an incredible group of young men. We were all committed to one goal and that was to get better each day. That culminated with a week nine victory.
“We didn’t mention going into it that we had never beaten Monona Grove in the Badger. Our freshman won, our JV won and our varsity won. That says more about our guys as a whole because they stayed focused. In the entire program, guys support each other. There’s seniors standing on the sideline for the freshman game cheering them on. Guys play hard and play for each other.”
Courtier had 55 yards on 17 attempts and senior running back Evan Dudzek had 43 yards on 10 totes. Baker finished 4-for-7 passing for 29 yards, hurting the thumb on his throwing hand on the second-quarter interception.
Dudzek had 10 tackles and two sacks. Recob also had a pair of quarterback sacks as Fort’s defense held MG to 1-for-13 on third downs and 0-for-3 on fourth downs.
Courtier was in pass pro near Maier when he launched the game-winning score.
“I saw Logan come down with it, break the tackles and get in,” Courtier said. “It’s so fitting for all the seniors and especially the junior class too that has followed us up. They have worked so hard right with us. So proud of the team.”
Mount Horeb/Barneveld knocked off Reedsburg 20-13 on Friday to also clinch a share of the league crown.
Fort is the No. 2 seed in its WIAA Division 3 bracket and hosts No. 7 seed New Berlin Eisenhower this week.
FORT ATKINSON 7, MONONA GROVE 6
Fort Atkinson 0 0 0 7 — 7
Monona Grove 0 6 0 0 — 6
MG — Rivera 15 interception return (kick failed)
FA — Kees 44 pass from Maier (Brandl kick)
Total offense: FA 198, MG 91; Passing yards: FA 102, MG 8; Rushing attempts-yards: FA 41-96; MG 32-83; Penalties-yards: FA 2-20, MG 1-15; Fumbles-fumbles lost: FA 1-1, MG 2-2; Interceptions thrown: FA 1, MG 1; First downs: FA 13, MG 6.