OSHKOSH (WFRV) – Appleton North was 11 minutes away from the first trip to Camp Randall Stadium in program history – a chance to put a poetic bow on a playoff run, avenge a lingering loss and get the comeback bugaboo off their backs.
Sometimes, though, sports resembles symmetry more than poetry.
The Lightning fell victim to another furious Franklin rally in Level 4, falling 26-19 to the Sabers after holding a 19-3 lead in the fourth quarter.
In the season opener, North led Franklin 31-14 in the fourth quarter, only to fall victim to three late touchdowns by the Sabers in a 35-31 loss.
And just like in August, the November edition of this battle ended in the final 30 seconds with a Franklin go-ahead touchdown.
Appleton North opened the scoring in the second quarter on a 62-yard touchdown strike from Matthew Schecklman to Damien Borland, grabbing a 6-0 lead after an early defensive struggle.
After Franklin responded with a field goal, the Lightning marched down the field to set up Schecklman’s three-yard touchdown run on fourth and goal, heading to the halftime locker room with a 13-3 lead.
North got a stop to start the third quarter before stringing together another big drive on the shoulders of running back Cal Martine. Schecklman hit Alex Heran in the end zone for a short touchdown to cap the drive, giving the Lightning a 19-3 lead.
Franklin got its first taste of momentum when the Lightning muffed a punt late in the third quarter, but the defense stood tall. The Sabers marched back into North territory at the end of the third quarter, but on the first play of the fourth, a fumbled exchange led to a North recovery in the end zone, and the Lightning took over on offense with a 19-3 lead.
From there, though, the Sabers offense started clicking.
Wisconsin commit Myles Burkett hit Reese Osgood on a swing pass for the Sabers’ first touchdown of the game, completing a two-point conversion pass to cut the deficit to 19-11.
After the Lightning offense sputtered, the Sabers went back to work, eventually hitting a big play touchdown pass to Tanner Rivard and tacking on another conversion to tie the game at 19 with 4:36 left.
North had room to work on offense, starting at their own 20. But on a deep shot, Schecklman’s pass down the right sideline was tipped and intercepted by Logan Matthews, giving the Sabers the ball back with the chance to take the lead.
Burkett once again marched Franklin down the field, getting into field goal range with under a minute to go. Facing third and goal, Rivard ran around left edge and dove for the pylon, breaking the plane for what would become the game-winning score in another Franklin comeback for the ages.
Appleton North finished its season in Level 4 for the third time in program history, beating Kimberly for the first time since 2012 and hanging up the cleats with a 10-3 record.