UNION GROVE — It was supposed to be the renewal of an old traditional rivalry after being dormant for 15 years.
What this season-opening high school football showdown between Racine Lutheran and Union Grove turned out to be Friday night was downright sobering as evidenced by the red flashing lights of ambulances.
During Lutheran’s 41-27 nonconference victory on a chilly August night, one standout player from each team was removed from the field by an ambulance after being attended to on the field for several minutes. One won’t be back this season.
Following the opening play of the game, Union Grove two-way lineman Mickey Rewolinski, who has three NCAA Division I scholarship offers, suffered a broken tibia in two places. He is scheduled to undergo surgery Monday and will be lost for the season, according to Union Grove coach Craig McClelland.
Then, with 8:59 left in the game, first-year Lutheran quarterback Nolan Kraus suffered a neck injury. Kraus had movement in his extremities, Lutheran coach Scott Smith said after the game.
On another night, the storylines from this game would have been plentiful. Lutheran All-State running back Tyler Tenner opened his senior season by rushing for 253 yards on 31 carries and scoring four touchdowns.
And Union Grove, seemingly dead in the water at one point, mounted a impressive comeback behind backup quarterback Nick Hartzheim before being turned back by last year’s WIAA Division 6 runners-up.
But what hung in the air afterward were those two injuries.
“Two freak accidents in one game, I think that’s kind of rare — especially with key players that you need out on the field,” Tenner said. “I’m praying for Nolan and I’m praying for Mickey. It’s really sad.”
The buzz of Lutheran and Union Grove meeting for the first time since Aug. 27, 2004 was quickly muted by some tense minutes. After Tenner broke loose for a 30-yard gain on the first play of the game, Rewolinski remained sprawled out on the field.
McClelland would receive a grim report before the end of the game.
“He broke his tibia in two spots,” McClelland said. “He’ll have surgery Monday.”
The news appeared to be slightly more encouraging about Kraus, who rushed for 96 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries and threw a 28-yard touchdown strike to Tenner in his first start at quarterback.
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“He was able to move all his extremities,” Smith said. “But when it’s a neck injury, you’re going to go on the side of caution. He was moving, but it was hurting quite a bit.
“We wanted to check it out and make sure nothing was wrong.”
Union Grove was already hindered by the loss of quarterback Nash Wolf, who was held out after being injured in practice last week (McClelland, who did not specify what the injury was, said Wolf will return to practice Saturday).
With the Broncos’ offense struggling, the Crusaders appeared to be on their way to a blowout. They took a 28-7 halftime lead behind three touchdowns by Tenner and one by Kraus.
Keeping Union Grove in the game was senior receiver Konner Goetsch. He scored on punt returns of 80 yards in the first quarter and 58 yards in the third. The second pulled the Broncos to within 28-13 and seemed to light a fire under them.
Tenner responded with his fourth and final touchdown with 6:01 left in the third quarter to give Lutheran a 35-13 lead, but then Union Grove made the game interesting with an inspired rally.
First, Hartzheim found Goetsch for a 46-yard touchdown pass with 4:36 left in the third quarter. After forcing Lutheran to punt, Hartzheim connected with Tommy Hempel on a 15-yard scoring pass.
Suddenly, Union Grove was within 35-27 one minute into the fourth quarter.
But Kraus was injured on Lutheran’s ensuing series and Tenner and running mate Jaylen Houston seemed to take over at that point. Houston scored on an 18-yard run with 6:32 left to swing the momentum back in the Crusaders’ favor.
“Union Grove came out and played well,” Smith said. “They’re going to do pretty well. They deserve a lot of credit for not quitting and they came back at us. We had our hands full.”
The Broncos’ revival was especially meaningful to McClelland.
“It could have been a 55-0 game with a running clock and we came back and got within a score,” he said. “It was a game that could have definitely gone in a very negative way real quick, but the kids just came out and gave a full effort.
“It was amazing to watch and I’m just really proud of them.”
Hartzheim completed 15 of 23 passes for 211 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. Goetsch finished with five receptions for 94 yards. Hempel had eight catches for 93 yards.