Win or lose, Friday’s WIAA Division 3 state title game against Menasha will mark the end for DeForest’s impressive senior class and the coaching career of Mike Minick.
“We have a group of seniors who have led this team to where we are today,” Minick said. “We have really good leadership from that core group. They have put in the time and have been prepared.”
Minick announced earlier this season that this would be his final campaign leading the Norski program.
“It has been a fun year but I decided a couple months ago that this would be my last year,” Minick said. “The kids new about it early. We just talked about going out and having a great year.”
Things could not have gone any better for Minick in his final season. The Norskies will take a 13-0 record into Friday’s 10 a.m. matchup with Menasha at Camp Randall Stadium.
“It means a lot to our team to be here,” Minick said. “Our seniors have worked hard to be in this spot. They are deserving. Things have lined up to get us to Camp Randall.”
Minick gives a lot credit for the success to his assistant coaches, including Jay Matthews, Matt Chrisler, Chad Yocum, Kris Tudor, Matt Koslowski, Mark Hinner, Matt Kimmes, Gary Andrewjeski, Mark Olson, Eric Hamele, Eric Stewart, Ken Grall, Brett Minick, Kyle Borland, Todd Grundahl, Nicky Housewerth, Bud Keyes, Adam Schwartz and Nathan Kemp.
“We have a really good coaching staff,” Minick said. “Our offensive coordinator Matt Kimmes and defense coordinator Matt Koslowski have done a tremendous job of preparing us to play each week. I’m really proud of our staff.”
The Norskies’ perfect regular season included a 35-13 victory over Waunakee in the final week. It is the Warriors’ only loss this season as they will play for the Division 2 title against Brookfield East at 1 p.m. on Friday.
“It is pretty neat to have two teams from your conference playing for a state title,” Minick said. “They are a great program and a great team. We have a lot of respect for them. It says a lot about our conference.”
DeForest opened the WIAA playoffs with convincing wins over McFarland (49-7), Reedsburg (20-0) and Monroe (52-14), but had to scratch and claw for a 14-9 win over New Berlin Eisenhower in Level 4.
“They were a great team,” Minick said about Eisenhower. “They were very athletic and quick. We knew we were in for a dog fight. We were fortunate to get some turnovers, which I think was the difference. It was a battle.”
The Norskies are playing in their first state championship game since 2007 and will be looking for their first title since 1982.
DeForest is led offensively by senior quarterback Trey Schroeder. This season, he is 88-of-129 passing for 1,387 yards, 20 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Lane Larson, who was named the Badger North Conference Offensive Player of the Year, has a team-high 46 catches for 850 yards and nine touchdowns.
Junior Gabe Finley leads the rushing attack with 1,324 yards and 16 touchdowns on l62 carries, while senior Alex Endres has 700 yards and 13 touchdowns on 90 attempts.
A big reason for the success on offense has been due to a strong offensive line group, which includes seniors Colby Hartig, Adam White and Jack Thennes and juniors Bennett Girten and Braydon Harmon.
DeForest’s defense has been just as impressive. They have recorded five shutouts and not allowed more than 14 points in a game.
Senior linebacker Jett Riese leads the Norskies with 93 tackles, while senior lineman Cole Yocum and Edwyn Erickson have 64 and 56, respectively.
Menasha enters Friday’s game with a 12-1 record. They finished second in the Bay Conference. Their only loss was to conference champion West De Pere, 56-42.
“We have a good group of seniors that have always been talented, but the big thing was coming together as a team and working as one,” Menasha coach Jeramie Korth.
The Bluejays opened the postseason with wins over Whitefish Bay (28-14) and Fox Valley Lutheran (35-21). They then got revenge on West De Pere, 24-14 before knocking off Menomonie 36-35 in Level 4.
“They have great size and athleticism,” Minick said about Menasha. “They are a very talented team with a slot of speed on the field. We as a staff are very impressed with their team.”
Menasha is led by senior running back Tyler Roehl. He has rushed for 1,997 yards and 22 touchdowns on 286 carries.
“Tyler Roehl is the most patient running back I have ever coached,” Korth said. “He is very strong and has good quickness to him, but what separates him from any kid I have every coached is that he understands the game. He has been playing that position his whole life.”
Bluejay quarterback Cole Popp is 111-of-192 passing for 1,627 yards, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Defensively, Menasha is led by senior linebacker Dylan Hietpas. He has 67 tackles and four sacks this season.
Despite it being the final game for the Norskies and Minick, they are excited for the opportunity to play for a state title.
“We get to be together one last time,” Minick said. “We are going to try and enjoy every minute of it.”