Sophomore running back Tommy Novotny had 167 yards and two second-half touchdowns on 38 carries Nov. 17 as Marquette defeated Franklin, 27-10, in the WIAA Division 1 State Football championship game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. (Photo courtesy of Glen Barkow)

The day before Marquette University High School defeated Franklin, 27-10, to win the WIAA Division 1 state football championship, Fr. Ross Pribyl, S.J., celebrated the school’s Thursday liturgy and gave a homily about dealing with pressure.

However, the following evening, the Hilltoppers played with a fearlessness, physicality and reckless abandon that suggested they didn’t even realize there was any pressure.

To be fair, Marquette (12-2) became just the fourth team in state history to win Division 1 with two or more defeats, using a stout defense, an impressive running game and just enough big plays to cruise to victory past the previously unbeaten Sabers (13-1) on Friday, Nov. 17, at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.

“In the week prior, nobody was giving us any credit whatsoever, so we just kept to ourselves,” MUHS Coach Keith Klestinski said. “We kept working. We knew all year we had played a physical brand of football and we felt we were going to give them a type of game they hadn’t seen. I don’t think anyone pressured them the way we pressured them, and nobody shut down their all-state running back who was the player of the year like we did.”

Klestinski cited Fr. Pribyl’s homily as one of the major highlights of the week leading up to the game, saying it really fired up his team.

“He really set the tone for us,” Klestinski said, noting the Mass wasn’t mandatory, but every one of his players was in attendance. Fr. Pribyl is Associate Director of Campus Ministry and a teacher at MUHS.

The championship was Marquette’s second as a member of the WIAA and first since 2009.

“It’s just a great group of kids,” Klestinski said. “The senior class this year is just a great group of leaders. They get it. They’re good kids. They do things the right way. They put in the work, and they’re just a great model for the rest of the kids in our program.”

One of the Hilltoppers’ two losses during the season was a 50-21 defeat at the hands of Greater Metro Conference rival Sussex Hamilton. After giving up those 50 points, Marquette pitched three shutouts in a row and gave up just 39 total points over the final eight games.

“If you can answer that question (of how they gave up 50), I want the answer,” Klestinski said. “I think what it did was it really took our kids and focused them, and took them to a new level, just understanding you can’t just walk in and win a game. Even though we have a good team, we’re going to have to work for everything we get this year.”

After going into halftime tied at 10-10, Marquette’s defense left its stamp on the game. The Hilltoppers held Franklin to just 50 yards of total offense after the break.

For the game, Marquette limited Franklin’s Terrance Shelton, the state’s big-school offensive player of the year, to just 24 yards on nine carries while forcing the Sabres to pass an uncharacteristic 37 times.

“I think they wanted to run on us, but I think they found out really early that we were going to be the more physical team,” Klestinski said. “We wanted to win the line of scrimmage. All year our kids have put in the time in the weight room.”

Klestinski noted the team’s dedication to the weight room began in the summer, when his players lifted two hours a day, four days a week and continued through the season, culminating in the team’s last hard lifting session just two days before the championship game.

The Hilltoppers put Franklin quarterback Joey Kallay under extreme pressure the entire game, sacking him six times and recording seven tackles for loss. Mitchell Nigro led the defense with eight tackles and 2.5 sacks.

In addition, senior defensive back Murphy Monreal had four pass breakups and an interception in the second half.

Offensively, Marquette was extremely balanced, rushing for 153 yards and passing for 155.

The offense leaned heavily on sophomore running back Tommy Novotny who, at 5-foot-9, 169 pounds, carried the ball a staggering 38 times for 167 yards and two second-half touchdowns. Novotny’s scores came from 1 (with 3:26 left in the third quarter) and 2 yards (with 10:54 left in the game) away. He also caught two passes for 40 yards.

“He’s got a really strong frame, and he’s just a tough kid,” Klestinski said. “He’s made such a big jump from freshman year to sophomore year. This year, his field vision has just gone off the charts.”

Senior quarterback Peter McDevitt went 11-for-19 passing for 155 yards and opened the scoring with 2:04 left in the first quarter when he hit a streaking Cam Russell in stride down the left sideline for a 44-yard score. Russell had 64 yards on three catches to lead the Hilltoppers, while Thad Hoffman and Peyton Roby-Brown also had three catches.