With the game tied at 13-13 and under eight minutes remaining, the University School of Milwaukee football team took over on downs at Martin Luther’s 22-yard line after an 18-yard punt, looking for the points that would secure a WIAA Division 4 playoff victory.

USM stuck to what it does best and ran the ball. On 3rd-and-4 from the 6-yard line, Justin Tremmel received the handoff and scurried up the middle through numerous Martin Luther arm tackles for a touchdown, giving the Wildcats a 20-13 lead with 3:37 left.

Martin Luther was in position to potentially tie the game with under a minute remaining, but a fumble on USM’s 11-yard line, which the Wildcats recovered, sealed the 20-13 victory for third-seeded University School (8-2).

“It just shows you that these kids can overcome a lot of adversity and they did,” USM head coach Brian Sommers said. “I don’t know if in the past we’ve done that. They’re starting to believe in our philosophy, and it’s awesome to just see their faces.

“That’s a heck of a team. Our conference compared to their conference has always been looked at maybe in a negative light, and we’re starting to turn that corner a little bit.”

On the other sideline, this was Martin Luther’s first playoff appearance since 2012, but lack of offensive execution is a major reason why the sixth-seeded Spartans (6-4) failed to advance in the playoffs.

“Their defensive front made things difficult for us,” Martin Luther head coach Rick Hoppert said. “In the trenches is where they won the game.

“I told my team I’m proud of them. Despite the hurt from this game, when they reflect on this season, they will remember we accomplished some good things this season.”

In the first half, both teams struggled to finish drives offensively. After USM missed a 25-yard field goal, its defense stepped up.

On a 2nd-and-22 from its own 18-yard line, Martin Luther attempted a screen pass up the middle, but quarterback Nick Mueller overthrew his receiver, and the ball landed in the hands of USM linebacker Will Kennedy, who returned it for a touchdown as time expired in the first quarter. The Wildcats missed the point after but led after one quarter of play, 6-0.

“That’s Will Kennedy for you,” Sommers said. “He just makes plays. It takes all 11, and he just happen to be in the right place at the right time. He made a great one.”

Following a three-and-out by Martin Luther, USM had a chance to tack on to its lead. However, Martin Luther’s Travis Guehlstorg stepped in front of a short comeback route and returned the interception for a 43-yard touchdown, tying the game at 6-6 with 7:38 left in the first half.

At halftime, the game was tied at 6.

Early in the second half, Guehlstorg recorded another pick-six, putting the Spartans ahead, 13-6, with 8:23 remaining in the third quarter.

“He was outstanding,” Hoppert said of Guehlstorg. “He is a one-year senior player, and we are just thrilled to have him. He did a great job.”

University School tied the game at 13 on a quarterback sneak by Hutton from 5 yards out with 1:10 left in the third. The touchdown run was a confidence booster for Hutton, who threw three interceptions earlier in the game.