A light snow was falling and the temperature had dropped to an unseasonable cold 20 degrees when Da’Shaun Brown lined up behind center that evening of Nov. 9.
His St. Catherine’s High School football team trailed Lake Mills Lakeside Lutheran 28-22 in a WIAA Division 4 semifinal at Waukesha. It was fourth-and-eight at St. Catherine’s 41-yard line and just 1:57 remained in the game.
What’s more, Brown’s left leg had been cramping during the second half, all but eliminating his remarkable running skills. Brown was either going to make something happen with his right arm or the Angels’ season was about to end.
Don’t ever doubt Brown in such situations.
He came through with a clutch 19-yard pass to Aleks Haeuser to keep the Angels alive. And six days later, he saved his best for his final high school game, giving the Angels’ the first state championship in the program’s history with two heart-stopping plays.
It was after that grand finale when Brown was voted the All-Racine County Player of the Year by the nine county football coaches. Also considered for the honor were Horlick senior linebacker Stephon Chapman and Racine Lutheran junior running back Tyler Tenner.
“I think he’s done everything a quarterback can do as far as leading this team to a state title,” St. Catherine’s coach Dan Miller said. “He didn’t always do it with his legs. He did it with his arm.
“He had that fourth-and eight inside of two minutes where a lot of true running quarterbacks would have just ran for the first down. He rolled out of the pocket, he looked for his guy, which was Aleks Haeuser streaking across the field and hit him on the dime to keep the chains moving.”
That served as the precursor for what would happen at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison the night of Nov. 15. With his team trailing 7-0 and just 12 seconds remaining in the championship game against St. Croix Central, Brown ran for a touchdown and then ran untouched for the two-point conversion.
It was as dramatic as it gets. But Brown almost carried on as if he was going for a casual morning stroll.
And that takes us back to that snowy night at Waukesha Nov. 9, when Brown found a way to get it done with a season the line. If he doesn’t, there is not state championship trophy within the confines of St. Catherine’s today.
“I had a cramp going into halftime and I was trying to stretch it out,” he said. “If you ever had a sports cramp, you know that when it’s there, it doesn’t really go away. I’d have to just tough it out.
“The clutchest play was that semifinal game, not the state game. I had my eyes on Aleks Haeuser the whole time. It was either that or I was going to run. I put it over the linebacker’s head just enough where Aleks could catch the ball and keep his feet inbounds.
“After that play, I really felt we were going to score.”
Brown was going to get it done because that’s what the special ones usually do. And the numbers from the last three years clearly indicate Brown was a special one.
In his three years at St. Catherine’s, the Angels went 32-4 with three Metro Classic Conference championships. He passed for 4,489 yards and 64 touchdowns. He rushed for 3,749 yards and 55 touchdowns.
Add it up and that’s 8,238 yards and 119 touchdowns. Plus, all kinds of clutch plays that can be found on Miller’s collection of game films.
“Certainly, he proved in the big games that he’s a next-level player,” Greendale Martin Luther coach Rick Hoppert said. “I think that sums it up. I mean, he is a college football player and it showed in the big games.”
Added Catholic Central coach Tom Aldrich: “He’s just an outstanding athlete — one of the top athletes I’ve coached against. When he’s on the field, he makes good players look average.”
How does a player get to to be of this caliber? Start with Brown’s remarkable athletic ability. But there was also an edge that separates the truly special players.
“What helped me in an early age in Old-Timers and youth football was I never wanted to lose and I always wanted to be the best,” Brown said. “I didn’t want anyone to be better than me. If my friend scored three touchdowns in the game before, I had to score four.
“I always wanted to be on top and never wanted anyone to surpass me.”
The desire was never more evident than Brown’s last two high school games, when he all but willed a state championship to St. Catherine’s.
“He’s a special kid,” Aldrich said.