DeForest football coach Mike Minick knew early on in last Friday’s WIAA Division 3 state championship game with Menasha at Camp Randall Stadium, that if the time came, he would go for two points and the win after a late touchdown.
“I was pretty confident that if we could get the ball in the end zone we were going to go for it,” Minick said.
After trailing the majority of the game, the opportunity came to fruition with just 32 seconds remaining in the game. The Norskies cut the deficit to 7-6 with a touchdown pass from Trey Schroeder to Gabe Finley and decided to go for the win.
“The coaches believed in us and we believed we could do it,” Schroeder said.
On the two-point conversion, Schroeder faked a run up the middle and jumped up to pass the ball to a wide-open Nolan Hawk in the end zone to give DeForest the lead.
“That was my impression of Tim Tebow with that pass,” Schroeder said. “That was fun.”
Menasha got the ball back at their own 30. The Bluejays ran four plays, the final of which was an interception by Adam Szepieniec to seal the victory, 8-7.
“This is incredible,” Norski senior defensive end Cole Yocum said. “It is just crazy. It is a dream come true.”
The win caps off a perfect season for the Norskies and gives them their first state title since 1982. They finished the season 14-0.
“This is the best moment I have had in my life,” DeForest senior receiver Lane Larson said. “When you reach your highest goal and complete your dream, it is an amazing feeling. This is everything. It is sad we are not going to play together again, but these are tears of joy right now.”
DeForest was playing in its first state championship game since 2007.
“This is the best feeling in the world,” DeForest senior offensive lineman Colby Hartig said. “I’m so speechless right now. I love these guys more than anything.”
It was the final game for Minick, who is stepping down after 19 seasons.
“There was a plan,” Minick said. “You just have to follow the plan, keep the faith and make it happen. You have to have great players and great coaches. We have an incredible coaching staff here at DeForest. Our community has been great. The Norski Nation was special.”
DeForest’s offense had trouble moving the ball for a good chunk of the game and uncharacteristically turned the ball over four times.
“Menasha is a good football team and we shot ourselves in the foot with turnovers,” Schroeder said. “I didn’t help out with a couple of turnovers, but our defense helped us out like they have all season. They are the best defense in the state.”
The Norskies’ defense kept them in the game long enough for the offense to put together one spectacular championship drive.
“We just kept pushing each other because we came too far to lose this game,” Norski senior defensive tackle Alonzo Blevins said. “It was a title or nothing.”
Things looked bleak for the Norskies after their fourth turnover of the game. A fumble gave Menasha the ball at its own 36-yard line with 1:39 remaining in the game.
DeForest forced the Bluejays to go three-and-out on the ensuing drive and used all of its timeouts to get the ball back at their own 37 with 1:15 remaining in regulation.
“We just looked at each other and knew this had to be the drive,” Hartig said. “We knew there would be no more chances.”
On the first play of the drive, Menasha was called for pass interference to give DeForest the ball at the Bluejay 48-yard line.
A 28-yard pass to Logan Bierman and an 11-yard strike to Nolan Hawk put the Norskies in great position at the Menasha 13 with under 40 seconds to play.
Schroeder found running back Gabe Finley in the middle of the field. Finley grabbed the pass and plowed his way into the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown with :32 remaining.
“It was amazing,” Finley said. “I had to do it for my coach and my brothers. I was not going to be denied.”
DeForest came up with the winning two-point conversion.
“We were all a little worried when we only had about a minute left and no timeouts, but we were not done,” Norski senior offensive lineman Jack Thennes said.
DeForest trailed almost the entire game after the Bluejays scored on their first drive of the game.
On its opening drive, Menasha took the ball 67-yards in 12 plays and got a 9-yard touchdown run from Davontre Smith.
The Norskies’ defense was dominant the rest of the game and kept them in the game.
“We just started moving around more and playing with more emotions,” Erickson said. “We were able to lock it down.”
The Norskies finished the game with 258 yards of offense, including 161 on the ground.
Menasha had 182 yards of offense.
Schroeder led DeForest with 80 yards rushing on 15 attempts. He was also 6-of-15 passing for 97 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
“I can’t explain the feeling right now,” Schroeder said. “We are all brothers and have been dreaming about this for years.”
Finley finished the game with 34 yards rushing on 12 carries.
Larson led the Norskies in receiving with two catches for 39 yards. He also had one run for 29 yards.
Menasha quarterback Cole Popp rushed for 68 yards on 19 attempts and was 11-of-20 passing for 80 yards and three interceptions.
“He is a really good player,” Erickson said about Popp. “He is big and hard to take down.”
Luke Maurer had nine catches for Menasha for 65 yards.
Kody Kuchar and Devan Morand-Rivers led the Norskies’ defense with nine tackles apiece.
“There are a lot of emotions right now,” Morand-Rivers said. “All I know is that we are state champs.”
Kuchar, Jett Riese and Erickson each had two tackles for loss, while Szepieniec, Marlon Cystrunk and Trace Grundahl all had interceptions. Morand-Rivers recovered a fumble.
Brady Batchelor and Myles Tesky both had seven tackles for Menasha.