All postseason long, the Warrior football team has proven it over and over again: when their backs are against the wall, Waunakee responds in a big way.
“The resolve these kids had, the way the stick together, the way they play...” said Waunakee’s Head Coach Pat Rice. “This is unbelievable. It really is.”
With the stakes at their highest and the odds against them at their greatest, the Warriors found a way to make their biggest statement yet. After trailing by 15 points to Waukesha West early in the second quarter of their WIAA State Semifinal, Waunakee rattled off 34 unanswered points to punch their ticket to Camp Randall.
Waukesha West 15
Five possessions in, the situation looked bleak for the Warriors.
The Wolverines of Waukesha West had scored twice on their first three possessions, while Waunakee’s initial possessions resulted in a punt and turnover. With 8:33 remaining in the first half, Waukesha West held a 15-0 lead.
“We weren’t panicking…” said Rice of the team’s mentality in the tough spot. “We’ve done it three or four times here in the playoffs.”
On the offense’s next trip to the field, Quentin Keene jump-started Waunakee’s offense connecting with fellow sophomore Andrew Keller twice; the second time, Keller outfought his defender in the back of the end zone to give the Warriors their first touchdown of the game. A failed extra point, however, meant Waunakee still trailed by two scores: 15-6.
The Warriors had a chance to make it a one-score game heading into the half, but Aidan Driscoll’s 43-yard field goal was blocked, and the 15-6 score held.
As has been the case all postseason long, the third quarter was when the Warriors would make their statement.
“I’d like to tell you there was some huge speech, fire and brimstone,” said Rice of what the team did during halftime. “It was really the staff talking together, the kids and us getting together and making a few adjustments, and really trying to stay together.”
Waunakee took the second-half kickoff and marched 69 yards straight into the end zone. Alec Morgan capped the drive with a three-yard scoring run, and after Driscoll nailed the extra point, Waunakee trailed by just two points.
Following a quick stop by Waunakee’s defense, the Warrior offense took the field with the chance to take the lead for the first time all night.
Starting on their own 43-yard line, it took the Warriors just eight plays to find the end zone and take the lead. This time, it was Cole Mobley with the nine-yard scoring scamper to put Waunakee up 20-15.
Now with a five-point advantage, Waunakee’s defense used an aggressive attack to finish the job.
Each of Waukesha West’s next four possessions ended in turnovers: three at the hands of Sam Lorenz. Waunakee’s junior safety snagged a pair of interceptions and took a fumble recovery 43 yards down to the Wolverine’s 7-yard line to put the offense in prime position to take a two-score lead.
“It was just a team effort… That’s our motto: attack, swarm, finish,” said Lorenz. “They attacked, they swarmed, and they got that ball out. I just had to finish.”
“He’s a ball hawk; he’s really had two or three great weeks of practice,” Rice said of Lorenz. “It hasn’t really surprised us because his focus and what he’s been able to do in practice has been on point. He’s really taken it up a couple of notches in terms of focus. It obviously equates on the field.”
Only seven yards away, Mobley – who rushed for a team-high 57 yards –found the end zone for his second score of the day to give the Warriors a 27-15 lead.
The lone second-half turnover by Waunakee’s defense not by Lorenz proved to be the backbreaker. With the Wolverines threatening inside the Warrior red zone on third and four, Joe Hauser put an end to Waukesha West’s comeback chances. Hauser stepped in front of the Waukesha West pass and galloped 85 yards down the Warrior sideline into the end zone, giving Waunakee a 34-19 lead with 6:01 left to play.
On the Wolverine’s ensuing possession, Lorenz came down with his third turnover of the day: an interception which he returned 59 yards deep into Wolverine territory.
Three more runs by Mobley were all Waunakee needed to secure the final first down necessary to put the game on ice. With one final knee by Keene, the Warriors’ ticket to Camp Randall was officially booked.
I feel unbelievably happy and happy for the kids; they’ve worked so hard,” added Rice. “A lot of people have doubted them throughout the year: we didn’t look the same, people were catching us, there’s footsteps… They just had a lot of belief in themselves, and they hung together. They took some serious shots, and the way they were able to do that, it makes you so proud of those guys to have that kind of resolve. It’s a special group.”
In making his first varsity start under center, Keene found a way to be both efficient and come up with big plays when needed. Keene completed 17 of his 22 passes for 248 yards and one score. Keller was his top target, catching five passes for 83 yards, followed by Jordan Wuensch with 69 yards on five receptions. Morgan showed off his versatility, racking up a combined 76 yards on the ground and through the air.
Waunakee’s record now stands at 12-1 heading into next Friday’s WIAA Division 2 State Championship game. Rice remarked in particular how his team has grown throughout this year’s postseason run.
“In the last couple of weeks, there’s been a transition… Every great team we’ve had, there’s been a transition of leadership to ownership by the team,” said Rice. “It’s hard to describe some of our leaders we’ve had. They’ve taken it to another level… These kids have really embraced it.”
With the gold ball on the line, Waunakee will square off against Brookfield East at 1 p.m. next Friday at Camp Randall.