MADISON — Da’Shaun Brown set up behind center with history hanging in the balance.
The senior quarterback for the St. Catherine’s High School football team had just scored on a 3-yard touchdown run to rally the Angels to within 7-6 in the WIAA Division 4 championship game Thursday night. Twelve seconds remained and St. Catherine’s coach Dan Miller decided this week to only try two-point conversions because of a shaky kicking game this season.
Calmly, Brown prepared for the snap and for the play of his life. And then he ran untouched into the end zone to give the Angels a spectacular 8-7 victory over previously unbeaten St. Croix Central at Camp Randall Stadium.
“I was thinking, ‘I’m going to get this,’ “Brown said.
And athletes the caliber of Brown usually get their way in these situations.
This was the first state championship in the illustrious history of St. Catherine’s football program. The Angels also became the first football program from Racine to complete an undefeated WIAA championship in football.
“What’s going through my mind is this is a blessing,” Brown said. “We went through so much adversity. In my three years at St. Cat’s, we lost in the second round of the playoffs twice and everything in the past was going through my mind.
“It’s a crazy feeling winning state. You’re above everybody. You’re No. 1 and it’s a blessing.”
Miller was on this same field 30 years earlier, helping Brent Moss and the 1988 Park team win the Division 1 state championship as a junior linebacker for the Panthers. He has now won a state championship trophy as a player and a coach, with the second one coming against a team that ironically is named the Panthers.
“Those memories just come rushing through,” said the 46-year-old Miller, St. Catherine’s coach since 2004. “Throughout this week, you start to remember more things from that state game in ‘88. Being on this field just brought everything to the forefront.
“I’m so extremely proud of my coaches, my family, my wife Natasha. I thank her dearly for getting me off my butt to apply for this job when it was a school known for basketball.”
Miller’s voice started to crack and he added, “It’s now a school known for its football program!”
But it sure didn’t come easily. The Angels were matched against an undefeated team that had appeared in the previous two Division 4 championship games, winning in 2016.
And while they generally outperformed the Panthers statistically, they weren’t getting the job done offensively. Until Brown scored his clutch touchdown with 12 seconds remaining, the Angels were 0-for-4 in the red zone.
And they were imploding on this last series. After a 20-yard gain by Brown got the Angels to St. Croix Central’s 16, this is what ensued: two successive false starts, an incompletion, and then another penalty, this time for an illegal man downfield.
On second and 20 at St. Croix’s 26, Brown pitched to DJ Carter, who handed off to Rashid Poole on a reverse. Poole ran to the 8. After a 6-yard run by Isaiah Dodd put the Angels on the 2, near disaster struck.
Brown dropped the ball from the shotgun snap and quickly fell on it. But two plays later, he was in the end zone for the only touchdown the Angels would need.
“A key block was Tim Carthron,” said Brown, referring to the Angels’ left guard. “He pushed his man way out of the way. I saw it the whole way and I took his hole all the way up.”
Brown still had plenty of work to do. And if he didn’t make the play of his life, the Angels would go home with a 13-1 record and a silver football.
“We came out there and we called a timeout, just so we could read what defense they were in,” Brown said of his two-point attempt. “We made our play based on what they came out in.”
What exactly did the Angels see?
“They were in a man to man on all my receivers,” he said. “We were in an empty set, so all the corners and defensive backs were focused on the receivers. It was just my guys upfront, the linebackers and me.”
Isaiah Dodd made a block on Keagen Berg. Brown easily ran past Braeden Broom and went into the end zone untouched.
St. Croix did a decent job on Brown most of the night, holding him to 86 rushing yards on 17 carries. He completed nine of 21 passes for 122 yards.
“I don’t know if you ever really keep him bottled up,” St. Croix Coach Tony DiSalvo said. “You’ve got to stay clean and you’ve got to make sure you get him wrapped up. We did a pretty good job for the most part, up until the last series.”
Said Brown: “They played great defense. They pursued to the ball well, they had some very fast defenders and we haven’t played very much speed like that. They were getting us on the outside and that’s our strong suit and they were stopping that. So we had to find other ways to get the ball moving.”
If there was an unsung hero for the Angels, it might have been senior safety Jarren Hutcherson. On fourth-and-two at the Angels’ 42, Saint Croix quarterback Austin Kopacz attempted to run for a first down, but was stuffed Hutcherson.
Had Kopacz made that first round, the drive to end all drives by St. Catherine’s might never have happened.
“They run the veer, so I just went out, read it and I just smacked him,” Hutcherson said. “History is history. We’re legends now.”
They became legends only after Hutcherson was completely fooled by Brown’s extra-point run. He thought the play was going to fullback DJ Carter.
“DJ’s so big that I thought he was just going to pound it up the middle,” Hutcherson said. “But, no, he took it on his own. He took it in on his own and won it for us.”