The Camp Randall 100 honors a prestigious group of 100 people who shaped the first century of Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin Athletics will reveal a new honoree every day from May 24 until the Badgers’ 2017 opening game on Sept. 1 against Utah State.
BY ANDY BAGGOT | UWBadgers.com Insider
Matt Schabert played 12 games at quarterback for Wisconsin during a career that began in 2000 and spanned three star-crossed seasons.
He started one time. He took snaps in seven victories. He completed 52 percent of his passes for 618 yards and three touchdowns. He finished his time at UW with two more interceptions than touchdown throws.
Schabert didn’t see a lot of meaningful action with the Badgers in large part because his timeline crisscrossed those of Brooks Bollinger, John Stocco and Jim Sorgi, who rank second, third and eighth, respectively, on the all-time list of top career passers at the school.
“Sometimes it’s all about timing,” Schabert said.
“As any competitor would say, you always want more, but there’s absolutely nothing about anything I would have changed.”
That’s because when it comes to storybook moments in UW history, especially at 100-year-old Camp Randall Stadium, Schabert is very much a part of the discussion.
He was the backup to Sorgi when the rainy night of Oct. 11, 2003 began to unfold.
When the taut, frenzied evening was done, after the Badgers had derailed defending national champion Ohio State 17-10 and ended its 19-game winning streak, Schabert was a legend.
It’s a story Schabert, now a husband, father and Madison firefighter, has happily recounted to strangers from the watering holes of Wisconsin’s north woods to the beaches of Florida.
“They come out of the woodwork,” he said. “The only person that tells the story more than me is my dad (Dale). He probably has it down better than I do.”
Matt Schabert’s path to immortality began strangely.
Late in the third quarter, with UW holding a 10-3 lead, Sorgi was tackled by Buckeyes linebacker Robert Reynolds and left the game struggling to breathe.
TV replays showed Reynolds choked Sorgi “” jamming fingers on his right hand down Sorgi’s throat “” which ultimately left Sorgi unable to call out signals loud enough to be heard by his UW teammates.
Reynolds wasn’t penalized on the play, but he was subsequently suspended one game by Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who apologized to his counterpart, Barry Alvarez.
Reynolds also apologized to Sorgi, who accepted it.
“There was a stoppage and everyone was kind of looking, but no one could tell what was going on because there was a little bit of a pile,” he said of the Reynolds-Sorgi incident.
“When I saw it was Sorg, the only thing you’re thinking about is getting warmed up as quickly as you can.”
Schabert quickly touched base with UW quarterbacks coach Jeff Horton on the sideline and made his way to the huddle.
Things really got interesting during Schabert’s third series. It came immediately after Ohio State tied the game 10-10 on a 6-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Craig Krenzel to wide receiver Michael Jenkins.
“Sometimes in a heavyweight fight, the best thing to do after you get punched in the mouth is punch right back. That’s what we did.”
– Matt Schabert
After tailback Booker Stanley rushed for 1 yard on first down from the Wisconsin 20, Schabert ducked into the huddle and called one of the most famous plays in program history: “56 Jerk.”
Wide receiver Lee Evans, split out wide right, was being covered by cornerback Chris Gamble. At the snap, Evans ran 8 yards and angled sharply to his right toward the sideline. When he did that, Gamble aggressively closed in.
But no sooner did Gamble bite on the move, Evans turned abruptly and accelerated up field. He caught a perfect pass from Schabert at the Ohio State 44-yard line and ran into the north end zone untouched as two defenders gave fruitless chase.
Schabert, from Elgin, Illinois, noted that Horton and UW offensive coordinator Brian White were especially dialed in all week.
“They saw an opportunity for us to make a big play,” Schabert said.
Evans completed the 79-yard scoring play 49 seconds after the Buckeyes had tied the game.
“Sometimes in a heavyweight fight, the best thing to do after you get punched in the mouth is punch right back,” Schabert said. “That’s what we did.”
It was the only reception of the game for Evans, an Ohio native who ranks first in UW history with 3,468 receiving yards and 27 touchdown catches in his career.
“I always say I had the easy part,” Schabert said.
In the euphoric frenzy, Schabert thought about doing a cartwheel, but refrained.
“I had to run 79 yards and hold for the extra point, which was a big one for us,” he said.
For a split second, the exquisite route by Evans and the perfect throw by Schabert were in jeopardy.
When Schabert got to the line of scrimmage and ducked under center Donovan Raiola, he noticed that Gamble was “sitting a little deep” and worried that he wouldn’t bite on a double move.
“As I rolled out, I was starting to actually look to the back side where we had kind of a deep route “” I believe Darrin Charles was back there “” but just as I started to work through that progression, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Chris bite on that out (move) and I knew Lee, the exceptional route runner that he was, I knew exactly where he was going to be,” Schabert said.
On the next UW possession, Schabert made another key play with 3:27 left. On third and 2 from his own 14, he called “22 Lonesome” and picked up 6 yards and a critical first down on a bootleg.
“There was something about that week,” he said. “Coach Alvarez always had a good feel for those games, those big moments, and there was a different feeling around the practice facility.
“A lot of us were really locked in and focused, really concentrating that week on being able to take care of business.”
The Badgers were 5-1 overall and ranked 23rd nationally, but that loss was a hideous 23-5 decision at the hands of UNLV. It remains the last time they lost a non-conference game at Camp Randall.
The third-ranked Buckeyes, meanwhile, were unbeaten after five games and coming off a 14-0 showing in 2002.
“Not many people gave us a chance,” Schabert said.
Stanley also came off the bench to play a major role “” 31 carries, 125 yards and a TD in place of injured Anthony Davis “” and the Wisconsin defense was dynamic.
“They played an unbelievable game that night and we put it in their hands,” Schabert said. “They didn’t break at all.”
Schabert, now 35, transferred to Eastern Illinois for his senior season and had a stint in the Continental Indoor Football League before becoming a firefighter in 2013.
He married his wife, Anne, in 2014 and they have a son, Boden. Schabert has been assigned to Firehouse 9 where he works with former UW teammate Kirk Munden and Patrick Johnson, who played for the Wisconsin men’s hockey team.
“It’s fun,” Schabert said. “We get to relive a little bit of our glory days.”
Is Schabert’s career at Wisconsin defined by one play?
“That’s pretty tough,” he said. “A tough question to ask and a tough question to answer.”
The bottom line for Schabert is simple and true.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” he said of his time with the Badgers.
“It was an unbelievable ride.”