St. Joseph senior lineman Kyle Matrise made an emotional visit before the Lancers’ non-conference season-opener Thursday night against Milwaukee Bradley Tech.
Then he arrived at Ameche Field and proceeded to punish the Trojans.
Matrise — one of St. Joseph’s leaders on both sides of the ball — was simply dominant, and his teammates provided plenty of help in a 34-8 win.
Senior running back Jake Gessert scored four touchdowns, two rushing and two receiving, while sophomore quarterback Jacob Ashmus tossed a pair of touchdowns and ran for another in his first varsity start.
But make no mistake: Everyone knew this one meant the most for Matrise.
Kyle’s dad, Frank Matrise Jr., is a Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Famer and long roamed the same sideline his son was on Thursday as the head man at Tremper.
Frank Matrise died in July, and Kyle admitted that he couldn’t wait to get back on the field after what’s been a tough summer for his family.
“Everything throughout the summer I just had in me, and this is like the only time I can actually let it out,” Matrise said. “Before I came here to school today, I actually went to the cemetery, talked to my dad a little bit.
“It means a lot. I just felt like he was guiding me the whole way today. This is what he (did) when he was here, too, on the sideline. Now, he’s doing it up there. It means a lot.”
Said first-year St. Joseph coach Matt Rizzo, back on the sidelines following a one-year hiatus after five seasons as Bradford’s head coach: “Really proud of him. He’s always come in with a great attitude. He’s really resilient, and with the situation that happened with his dad, you can’t ask for a better kid. Just fortunate that he had a great game, too.
“I know his dad’s smiling.”
Gessert was succinct in saying what the team was playing for Thursday.
“We were all playing for Frank tonight,” he said.
Kyle made his dad proud. As for Bradley Tech, well, he must’ve made them scared.
Matrise, listed at 6-foot-1, 245 pounds, was virtually unblockable.
Unofficially, he was part of five tackles for loss, notched one sack, forced two turnovers on downs — one when he blew up a passing play and forced a bad throw and another when he stuffed a runner — and pressured Bradley Tech quarterback Kenneth Dixon Jr. into an interception by junior defensive back Jack Davidson.
Offensively, Gessert and Ashmus handled matters.
Gessert finished with 93 yards on 21 carries — his first touchdown run was set up by a 19-yard scamper around the left side that was made possible by a crushing kick-out block from Matrise — and caught two balls for 26 yards, both touchdowns.
Ashmus, meanwhile, got into a rhythm with short throws and went 9-of-14 for 71 yards with no turnovers. Junior Max McCarville caught five of Ashmus’ passes for 30 yards.
St. Joseph, which led 21-8 at halftime, mostly controlled the game, but there was one important fulcrum point.
The Lancers got the ball to start the second half but went three-and-out. Bradley Tech, which got a fine game from junior running back Dominique Dixon (23 carries, 142 yards, TD), got the ball at its 33-yard line with 9 minutes, 21 seconds left in the third quarter and marched to the Lancers’ 27 looking to get within a score.
On the 10th play of the drive, though, St. Joseph’s defensive line stuffed Arrion Brazil on fourth-and-4 for no gain to give the ball back to the offense.
It would be a long time before the Lancers gave it back.
Mixing in runs and passes and helped by an encroachment fraction by the Trojans — they committed six of those in the game — on a fourth-and-1 play, St. Joseph marched 73 yards in 14 plays and drained 8:16 off the clock between the third and fourth quarters.
Ashmus finished it with a 3-yard score on a keeper up the gut, giving the Lancers a 27-8 lead with 8:12 to play.
“That’s the drive I really wanted to come out in the second half with, but it didn’t happen,” Rizzo said. “I was proud of them, the way that we got the stand on defense, so we went out there.
“It was really just (offensive assistant) Colin Zalokar and I on the headsets just trying to chip away at what they were giving us. We just wanted to be balanced, move sideline-to-sideline, attack what they were giving us, and our kids executed.”
The Lancers put the icing on the cake on their final score with 3:35 left, a gorgeous 10-yard fade to the left side of the end zone from Ashmus to Gessert that dropped onto Gessert’s fingers like a feather and allowed him to keep his feet in bounds.
“That was right on the money,” Gessert said. “He’s a great quarterback. He’s got a lot of talent, and he’s going to be really good.”
So, for now, Rizzo is 1.000 in his return. And even after all the time he’s spent in football, he said he still had some nerves before Thursday’s game.
“You get butterflies,” Rizzo admitted. “You’ve got a new group of kids, you’re installing a new offense, a new defense. Really, I’m just proud of the kids. They’ve bought in from day one, and they really want to do it. I’m enjoying it.
“Had some butterflies, but when you’re on the right side of the scoreboard, it feels that much better.”