It’s not uncommon for offensive linemen to be overlooked.
In the Warrior football team’s WIAA Level 3 victory over Hartford on Friday night, however, Waunakee’s Hogs ensured it would be impossible for anyone watching to overlook them.
Waunakee’s front five – Thomas Meffert, Ben Benusa, Wyatt Ziegler, Forrest Anderson and Jordan Burrell – imposed their will on Hartford’s defense as the game wore on, leading the way to five scores and 263 yards on the ground to propel the team onto the WIAA State Semifinals.
“We knew we could run the ball…” said Anderson. “The five guys up front, we trust each other. It’s all about trust up there on the line. We knew that if we stuck together and stayed on our path, we’d get the job done.”
The first of Waunakee’s five rushing touchdowns came early in the first quarter. After a Conner Loy sack put an end to the Orioles’ first drive, Waunakee’s offense found the end zone on a 25-yard QB keeper by Caden Nelson. Aidan Driscoll – who went a perfect seven for seven on PATs on the night – nailed the extra point, and Waunakee took a 7-0 lead.
Hartford responded with a scoring drive of their own, finding the end zone with a scoring toss on third and long inside the Warrior red zone. The tie score of 7-7 wouldn’t last long.
Just 11 seconds later, the Warriors were back on top thanks to an 82-yard kick return touchdown down the Hartford sideline from Isaac Schaaf.
“We put a lot of time into special teams…” said Waunakee’s Head Coach Pat Rice. “It’s something we work every single day and try to execute. It was a big lift.”
Hartford again responded – this time with just seconds remaining in the first quarter – with a scoring pass to even the score at 14.
Continuing with the back-and-forth nature of the first half, Nelson found the end zone with his legs for the second time early in the second to again put Waunakee up seven points.
The Orioles then fumbled the ensuing kickoff; after Waunakee recovered and Cole Mobley busted a run inside the 10-yard line, it looked like the Warriors had the chance to seize control of the game. Waunakee’s drive stalled, however, and the offense was unable to add to their lead.
Hartford took over with 7:56 remaining in the half and put together a time-consuming drive, marching 70 yards down the field. With less than a minute until halftime, the Orioles faced third and four from the Waunakee 10-yard line. A sack by Loy and Gaje Hughes forced Hartford into a 4th and 19, which was stopped via a pass breakup by Jacob May to end the scoring threat.
Heading into the half, Waunakee’s lead stood at 21-14.
Following a pair of fumbles – first by Waunakee on the kickoff and next by Hartford on a QB sneak – to open the second half, Waunakee’s Hogs took over the game.
With Nelson forced to the sideline with an injury, Quentin Keene came into the game in relief. A jump ball from Keene to Andrew Keller set up the offense inside the 10-yard line. Only two plays later, Mobley waltzed into the end zone untouched for his first score of the night.
Waunakee’s defense then forced a three-and-out, setting the Warrior offense up with a chance to take a commanding three-score lead if they could find the end zone for the second consecutive drive.
Starting at their own 36, Waunakee did just that. Relying heavily on the ground game – getting tough yards from Mobley carry after carry – the Warriors moved the ball back down near the goal line. On fourth and inches, Keene handed the ball off to Waunakee’s linebacker-turned-tailback Jeb Frey, who punched the ball across the goal line to give the Warriors a 35-14 lead with 2:47 left in the third quarter.
Now in panic mode, Hartford found the end zone on their next possession in just two plays, but Waunakee’s offense wouldn’t be outdone. Keene connected with Caden Lewis, who then outran the defense for a 46-yard score to put the Warriors back up by three scores: 42-21.
Following a fourth-down stop by the Warrior defense, the Hogs went back to work as Waunakee’s offense took the field to begin the fourth quarter.
In a backbreaking 10-play, 59-yard drive, Waunakee took nearly five minutes off the clock before Mobley found the end zone for his second – and Waunakee’s fifth – rushing touchdown of the night.
“As linemen, we went out there that second half, we decided it was time to get things rolling,” said Anderson. “We had a pretty good first half, but we knew we could do better. Cole Mobley did a really good job tonight powering through.”
“The offensive line, we’ve put it on them a bunch. They responded…” Rice added. “They understood the time and score and situation of the game. We could really salt it away with some first downs.”
Up 49-21, Waunakee was able to salt away the remainder of the game to leave Hartford with the 28-point victory.
“I don’t know if there’s one thing we can point to, other than that we were pretty physical…” Rice said when asked how his team was able to get the job done. “It was a team victory; there were so many people who contributed.”
Mobley was the game’s leading rusher, accounting for 146 yards and two scores on 25 carries, followed by 61 yards by Nelson. Keene and Nelson combined to throw for 130 yards; Lewis was the team’s leading receiver with 46 yards, followed by Keller with 35 and Jordan Wuensch with 33.
“I’m so proud of them,” Rice said of his team. “Not many people – with what we’ve gone through – would think we’d be in the final four, but here we are.”
With the win, Waunakee (11-1) advances onto the WIAA State Semifinal contest against Waukesha West. Kickoff at Kettle Moraine High School is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday night.