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Caden Brunell

Columbus quarterback Caden Brunell breaks a tackle attempt by Watertown Luther Prep's Isaiah Pederson during the first half of the Cardinals' 17-14 loss to the Phoenix on Friday night in a Capitol North Conference game at Fireman's Park in Columbus.

COLUMBUS — Once was hard enough to swallow. But two heartbreaking defeats in as many weeks?

“It hurts a little, yep,” Columbus prep football coach Calvin Zenz said after his team lost on a late score for the second Friday in a row.

This time it was two late scores, actually, as Watertown Luther Prep tied things up at 14 on a 30-yard Micah Kieselhorst-to-Nathan de Galley touchdown strike with 1 minute, 8 seconds remaining and then got an interception to set up Yuri Soloviyov’s 22-yard field goal with 12 seconds left, giving the Phoenix a 17-14 win in a Capitol North Conference game at muddy Fireman’s Park.

“We had opportunities to put it away and we didn’t capitalize,” Zenz said of going three-and-out after a goal-line stand with 2:25 left and also of coming up empty on two second-quarter red-zone drives.

“Our guys played hard; their guys played hard. They just made one more play than we did.”

Silas Steinbrenner’s interception and subsequent 25-yard return gave Luther Prep (5-3, 2-2 Capitol North) the ball at Columbus’ 17-yard line to set the stage for Soloviyov’s game-winning field goal, which split the uprights from the left hash.

Not too much earlier, though, it was looking like the Cardinals (1-7, 0-4) were going to be able to outlast the Phoenix in what was a slobberknocker of a game after both offenses ground to a halt in the second half on the wet and muddy field.

But after failing on a third-down run from the 1-yard line and then tossing an incomplete pass on fourth-and-goal to turn the ball over on downs, Luther Prep’s defense held and got the ball back at Columbus’ 30-yard-line. And Kieselhorst wasted no time connecting with de Galley for the game-tying touchdown on a flag route to the left pylon.

Aiding the Phoenix in their comeback was that the side of the field they were driving on was in much better condition than the opposite end, which was the end Columbus was forced to navigate on its two empty red-zone trips in the second quarter.

“We seemed to have a magnet down there to the mud pit,” Zenz said.

Still, Columbus led 14-7 at the break thanks to Trent Casper’s 59-yard TD catch from Caden Brunell, who tossed a perfect pass and watched as Casper high-pointed the ball behind the defender before racing in untouched for the score.

And the Cardinals defense was stingy for the entire third quarter and most of the fourth, keeping the lead intact.

But the Cards couldn’t keep the Phoenix off the scoreboard in the final minutes, and just like in last week’s 10-8 loss to Lodi — the defending WIAA Division 4 state champion and this year’s top-ranked team in the Associated Press medium schools state poll — a late lead evaporated.

In that loss, Brunell ran in for a 14-yard TD early in the fourth quarter to give Columbus an 8-7 lead before Lodi’s Austin Soehle booted a 32-yard field goal with 4:50 remaining to provide for the winning margin.

Columbus also has a 21-14 Week 1 loss to Omro on its resume as well as a 27-20 Week 4 loss to Adams-Friendship. So while the Cards have struggled to put tallies in the win column, they are better than their record indicates, with four of their seven losses coming by a combined 19 points.

Unfortunately, they don’t hand out trophies for moral victories.

“Nope,” Zenz said. “We’d have a lot of them this year.”

Still, the close losses do figure to be very valuable for a young team that could use them as building blocks for 2019 and beyond.

“I hate beating the same drum, but we’ve (only) got six seniors — and they’re great; I’m very proud of them — but we’ve got a lot of guys who are coming back (next year),” Zenz said. “The biggest thing is we’ve got to learn how to win and finish games.

“That’s been a big thing that we’ve been talking about; we’re getting closer, but there’s no magic pill that we can take where we can just all of a sudden be ready and experienced. They’ll put in the work — the future’s bright.”

Watertown Luther Prep 7 0 0 10 — 17

Columbus 14 0 0 0 — 14

COL — Caden Brunell 3 run (kick failed), 8:56, 1st

WLP — Nathan de Galley 56 pass from Micah Kieselhorst (Yuri Soloviyov kick), 8:08, 1st

COL — Trent Casper 59 pass from Caden Brunell (Jamal Hill run), 5:37, 1st

WLP — Nathan de Galley 30 pass from Micah Kieselhorst (Yuri Soloviyov kick), 1:08, 4th

WLP — FG Yuri Soloviyov 22, 00:12, 4th

TEAM STATISTICS

First downs — WLP 9, COL 9. Rushing (Att.-Yds.) — WLP 26-108, COL 41-117. Passing yards — WLP 130, COL 87. Passes (Comp.-Att.-Int.) — WLP 5-14-1, COL 5-9-1. Fumbles-lost — WLP 3-2, COL 0-0. Penalties-yards — WLP 4-40, COL 4-20.

INDIVIDUAL LEADERS

Rushing: WLP, Borchardt 16-78, Jon Holtz 6-31. COL, Hill 22-66, Brunell 13-24, Casper 2-15, Joe Morris 4-12.

Passing: WLP, Kieselhorst 5-14-1-130. COL, Brunell 5-9-1-87.

Receiving: WLP, de Galley 3-88, Zach Gregorious 2-42. COL, Casper 3-80, Jevin Burbach 2-7.

Follow Dan on Twitter @Danny_Larson_8 or contact him at 920-356-6753.

Assistant Regional Sports Editor

Capital Newspapers Assistant Regional Sports Editor