An opportunistic defense and the strong running of Nick Mirasola and Jackson Kollath provided the difference for Sussex Hamilton over West Allis Central in a battle with major WIAA playoff implications Oct. 7.
Mirasola ran 23 times for 195 yards and all four touchdowns, and Kollath added 99 yards on 10 carries to help the Chargers down the Bulldogs, 27-7, at Grove Field in Sussex.
"He (Mirasola) got some hard yards," Hamilton coach John Damato said, "and he broke some long ones off, too. He was outstanding. He's our workhorse. He's worked his tail off to be the player that he is, and that's what we expected out of him this year."
Hamilton improved to 3-3 in the Greater Metro Conference and stayed in the WIAA playoff picture, needing a victory over Brookfield East on Friday, Oct. 14, to clinch a berth.
Central slipped to 2-4 in the GMC and has been eliminated from the playoff pursuit. The Bulldogs close the regular season on Oct. 14 against Wauwatosa East at Hart Park in Wauwatosa.
Hamilton nursed a 14-7 lead over Central at the half of last week's game, and the Bulldogs looked to have a chance to tie on their first possession of the second half.
They moved from their 40-yard line to the Hamilton 38, but quarterback Griffin Johnson overthrew a receiver and the ball was intercepted by the Chargers, setting them up at their own 20.
With Mirasola running six times for 71 yards, HHS moved to the Central 1-yard line, but a pass from quarterback Jordan Smith was picked off by Kelshawn Johnson at the goal line and run back to the 26.
A few plays later, however, the Bulldogs gave it back on a fumble that was recovered by Hamilton's Zach Bagley at the Central 47.
From there, Hamilton scored in seven plays, with Mirasola collecting 34 of those yards, including a 15-yard score in which he blew through a huge hole on the left side of the line. The extra point by Jake Kessenich made it 21-7.
On Central's next drive, a Johnson pass was tipped and intercepted by Adam Hartung, giving the Chargers possession on the Central 33.
Mirasola covered all of that yardage, scoring from 8 yards out to make it 27-7 and hit the 190-yard mark for the evening.
"The holes were there, and then I just lowered my shoulder and drove my feet," Mirasola said. "I like doing the spin move; that's one of my favorite moves."
Central coach Keith Ringelberg said of Mirasola, "He's a good runner. He's downhill, 80 miles an hour, and we didn't have an answer most of the time."
Ringelberg was also frustrated with the three consecutive second-half turnovers, two of which set up Hamilton scoring drives.
"It was 14-7, we're moving the ball, and we throw a pick," Ringelberg said. "Another time, we fumble when it was still 14-7. I think part of it is that we haven't been in this position a whole lot, where we are fighting for our playoff life. You need your best players to make great plays, and we didn't have that."
Damato was pleased with his team's defense.
"They forced those turnovers," he said. "I couldn't be more proud of how they played. That's a good offense. We got the ball back in our offense's hands, and then we capitalized on that as well."
The Bulldogs' first possession of the game was a foreshadowing of what would follow. They moved the ball from their own 29 to the Hamilton 15, then tossed one incomplete pass in the end zone and saw another broken up by Hamilton's Ryan Hubbell on fourth down.
Big pass to Purko
The Chargers took over at their 15 and moved those 85 yards in just five plays, with Smith hitting Brad Purko for a 63-yard catch-and-run to the Bulldogs' 23 and Mirasola bulling in from the 1-yard line for the score.
In the second period, Central mounted its lone scoring drive, with Johnson finding Xavier Mullins twice and Jared Welsch twice, including a 33-yard pass to Welsch to the Hamilton 3. Johnson bulled up the middle for the touchdown, with the Bulldogs tying the game at 7-7.
Hamilton answered immediately with a 70-yard march capped by Mirasola's 9-yard score up the middle, and that 14-7 lead lasted until the second half.
Johnson finished 15 of 24 for 137 yards and the two interceptions. Smith was 2-of-5 for 78 yards for the Chargers.