The dichotomy between the two stillframes was stark.
In the stands, there was an electric crowd of at least a few thousand standing and clapping, filled with unbridled enthusiasm for the return of varsity football to Christian Life after a three-season hiatus.
On the field, or more accurately on the sidelines, trainers scrambled to keep up with the glut of Eagles' frontliners that one-by-one were helped off the field as the game with University School of Milwaukee devolved into a losing battle against manpower and attrition.
Make no mistake, the Wildcats undeniably proved to be the deeper, more experienced and ultimately more talented team on Friday at Jaskwhich Stadium in their 28-0 drubbing of CLS in the latter’s first varsity home and Midwest Classic Conference game since 2015.
It’s just that the Eagles (2-2 overall) would have loved to have kept all their best players on the field.
The reality is that they didn’t even come close, as standouts Austin Eifert, C.J. McDaniel and Jacob Shaffer were all felled by second-half injuries after the Eagles fell into a 21-0 halftime deficit.
“It’s very concerning,” said CLS coach Jack Decker, whose still-building program has only 37 players to begin with, 24 of whom are freshmen or sophomores. “We had a number of starters injured. We’re praying that they’re not serious.”
Before his own injury with two minutes left in the opening quarter, USM junior quarterback C.J. Boyd (16 carries, 118 yards, 3 TDs) — who would subsequently return with 2 minutes, 30 seconds left before halftime — rambled for touchdowns of 61 and 3 yards to stake the visitors to a 14-0 lead. That would prove to be all the Wildcats (3-1 overall, 1-1 Midwest Classic) needed, even before senior tailback Connor Baumann got going.
Taking the baton from his hobbled signal-caller, Baumann raced for 163 yards before the intermission on just nine carries, capping the performance with an 8-yard burst around left end to extend USM’s lead to 21-0 after the first 24 minutes.
“(We) were all very excited to finally have football back at the varsity level,” said Decker, whose squad was coming off a 42-0 loss at powerful Randolph. “I just wish we would have performed better tonight.”
Though it’s clear the Wildcats’ defensive focus was squarely on Shaffer, the momentarily dejected coach knows that he never has to worry about the effort of a player who led the conference in rushing coming into the game.
“He is not only an outstanding player, but he’s the heart of our team,” Decker said of the 5-foot-9, 175-pound senior who started the night with 464 rushing yards. “He’s loved by the entire team.
“He treats the freshmen like he does the underclassmen, so they all care about him. (He) makes them feel like they’re part of the team, even though they may not get in all the time.”
From the way Decker’s voice cracked as he paid homage to Shaffer, who amassed 49 yards on 16 carries before getting injured on a punt return with 9:03 remaining in the third quarter, it was evident that the multi-purpose star might be out for a while.
In the meantime, whatever players are available will have to push onward, starting next week at HOPE Christian.
“Sometimes we show our inexperience, and we did tonight,” said Decker, whose team was led by sophomore defensive back Marcus Ramirez, who finished with 14 tackles and a sack. “We made some mistakes, and we need to clean up a lot of things.”
One thing’s for certain: The Christian Life partisans will be ready to throw their arms wide around their team the next time they line up for a home game at Ameche Field in a couple of weeks.
“Outstanding crowd,” Decker said. “They were enthused the whole time, even though we got behind.”