The situation looked anything but promising for the South Milwaukee football team — except to the Rockets themselves.
South Milwaukee was trailing Greenfield 20-17 with just 27 seconds left on Sept. 27 in what would prove to be the championship game of the Woodland Conference East Division.
The Hustlin' Hawks had just scored on a 14-yard touchdown pass to take the lead in the contest, which had gone back and forth all evening.
The Rockets gave themselves some hope by returning the kickoff to midfield with about 18 seconds left, and a couple of passes moved them to the Greenfield 38-yard line.
South Milwaukee quarterback Justin Oliden rolled to his left and was nailed by an onrushing lineman at the split second he threw the ball.
The pass, though, had plenty on it and landed in the hands of wide receiver Joe Saskowski, who carried it into the end zone as time expired to give the Rockets an improbable 23-20 victory.
Rockets sweep division
South Milwaukee followed with a 42-13 romp over St. Francis the next week to wrap up an undisputed division championship at 5-0.
That was the first outright crown for the Rockets since 1980, although they shared the East division title last season with two other teams.
The long-awaited championship was set up by the last-second play at Greenfield.
"That was amazing," head coach John Galewski said. "Our kids didn't quit. It would have been easy to give up. We practice that stuff (the final play), and you have to have some luck.
"The lineman was bearing down on Justin, and he was hit literally as he delivered the ball. He let it go at just the right time."
Oliden said that the team remained confident despite the tough situation.
"Everyone on the team believed we would win," he said. "In practice, we're always running two-minute drills. Everyone just came together in that 27 seconds."
That type of play not only increases the confidence of a team but can give its players the feeling of being destined to do special things in that season.
Play for WC title
The Rockets now have the opportunity to claim the overall Woodland championship when they meet East Division winner Greendale (5-0 in the division, 8-0 overall) at 7 p.m. Thursday on the Panthers' home field.
South Milwaukee did lose to Pewaukee in a Woodland crossover game last week, but that did not count in the conference standings. If the Rockets can beat Greendale, they will be conference champions.
Galewski said there are several reasons for the team's success.
"We have great senior leadership," he said. "Our 20 seniors are all committed to the program and worked hard in the off-season with weightlifting and conditioning."
The defense has been solid all year, allowing just 60 points in the first seven games.
"Defensive coordinator Bill Morse is demanding," Galewski said. "He expects a lot out of them, and they understand what it takes. Also, we had seven defensive starters returning this season."
The leaders include safety Calvin Shilling with 51 tackles, linebacker Joe Nelson with 49 tackles, noseguard Bryan Honerlaw 47 and linebacker Zach Simuncak with 46.
Linebacker Ian Pribyl has three quarterback sacks and safety Ben Zbikowski five interceptions on the season.
The Rockets' offense has steadily improved under two-year starter Oliden, who has completed 54 percent of his passes for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns.
Pribyl leads the ground game with 839 yards and 13 scores, while A.J. Plewa tops the receivers with 26 catches for 403 yards and four touchdowns.
Oliden credits the South Milwaukee coaching staff for the team's fine season.
"They do a great job preparing us," he said. "We have some great athletes and we have come together like a family. We knew we could be good if we came together as a unit."
Galewski, who is in his eighth season as head coach and his 34th year of coaching football, said the Rockets have undergone a steady building process.
"We have an outstanding staff," he said. "Offensive coordinator Derek Hoff and Morse have put in so much time, effort and energy. You've got to have guys you are comfortable with and trust.
"It all starts with the kids, though. You've got to have good players."
Galewski recently received the honor of being named the Green Bay Packers High School Coach of the Week.
"That is a staff award," he said. "It's nice to be nominated, and it's a nice call to receive (about winning the award), but this is a great honor for the whole staff."
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