The ongoing pandemic has forced a lot of changes in high school athletics, including football teams moving their seasons to the spring.
But, things looked a lot more normal when one of the most storied rivalries in Wisconsin high school football continued last Friday. Waunakee and DeForest locked horns in another classic battle.
The game had the feel of a pre-COVID game with a relatively large and raucous crowd fueling intense play on the field.
“It is a great high school rivalry,” Waunakee coach Pat Rice said. “We appreciate DeForest and I think DeForest appreciates us. It is what high school football and sports are all about. There was a buzz in the air and our kids were excited to get to play them since they won a state championship last year and we took second. It was something we have circled. There is no culminating event this season, so for us this was a culminating event. It was an unbelievable game.”
For one half, the Warriors and Norskies treated the crowd to a back-and-forth masterpiece. But turnovers shifted all momentum to Waunakee in the second half and the Warriors parlayed it into a 48-30 victory.
“It was an amazing game,” Rice said. “A lot of teams would have flinched and went away. We had a lot of chances to go away. DeForest is a heck of a team and our kids kept playing one snap at a time. We knew there would be some ups and downs.”
It was the final game of the alternate fall season for Waunakee. The Warriors finished a perfect 6-0.
“These kids were all down about not getting to play in the fall, so we are fortunate that we got to compete and be a part of this,” Rice said. “We told these guys that they are one of Waunakee’s undefeated teams. We have had a number of really good teams and we marked this group as one of them. Although it was a shortened season, they overcame a lot of stuff to get here.”
DeForest fell to 5-1 with one game remaining on its schedule. The Norskies had their 19-game win streak come to an end.
Waunakee grabbed an early lead after Quentin Keene threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Keller with 7 minutes, 3 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Aidan Driscoll added the extra-point kick.
The Norskies’ defense tied the game when Trace Grundahl returned an interception 32 yards for a touchdown less than two minutes later. Ty Tisch made the extra-point kick.
DeForest took its first lead, 10-7, with 24 seconds remaining in the opening quarter after getting a 29-yard field goal from Tisch.
The Warriors briefly regained the lead, 14-10, with a 10-yard touchdown run by Caden Nelson and extra-point kick by Driscoll.
As momentum continued to go back-and-forth, DeForest scored 42 seconds later after Mason Keyes threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Max Weisbrod. Jagger Lokken added the extra-point kick to put the Norskies up 17-14.
Waunakee answered on the ensuing kickoff, as Isaac Schaaf returned it 91 yards for a score. Driscoll had the extra-point kick.
“No matter what DeForest did, we had an answer,” Rice said. “The resiliency of this team all year has been great. It is a great group of kids who will not give up.”
The Norskies took their final lead, 24-21, after a 6-yard touchdown run by Gabe Finley and extra-point kick by Tisch with 2:57 remaining in the first half.
The Warriors regained the lead for good after Keene tossed a 15-yard touchdown pass to Nelson. Driscoll put Waunakee up 28-24 with 1:20 left in the half after hitting his fourth extra-point kick of the half.
Momentum shifted clearly to the Warriors after DeForest fumbled the ball away on the second play of the second half.
After the takeaway, Waunakee got a 5-yard scoring run from Keene. Driscoll had the extra-point kick to increase the lead to 35-24.
The Norskies fumbled on the ensuing kickoff and it turned into a 39-yard field goal for Driscoll.
“Getting the turnovers to start the second half as gigantic,” Rice said. “There were so many ups and downs in the game, but that was huge. It really flipped the game.”
Driscoll followed it up with a 30-yard field go to increase the lead to 41-24.
DeForest capped off its scoring with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Keyes to Nolan Hawk. The extra-point kick was no good.
Waunakee closed out its scoring with 50 seconds remaining in the third quarter, as Keene threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Keller. Driscoll had the extra-point kick.
The Norskies had six turnovers in the game, including four fumbles. The Warriors had three turnovers.
Keene finished the game 19-of-31 passing for 241 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions, while Nelson led the rushing attack with 89 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries.
Keller led Waunakee receivers with eight catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns, while Peter James added four catches for 76 yards.
Sam Lorenz recovered two fumbles for Waunakee’s defense, while Tommy Raemisch and Coltn Healy had one each. Caden McCurdy had two interceptions.
Keyes finished the game 13-of-28 passing for 269 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Finley led DeForest’s rushing game with 121 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries.
Weisbrod had four catches for 124 yards and a touchdown, while Deven Magli added five catches for 94 yards.
Grundahl, Timothy Frederickson and Kase Reierson each had an interception for the Norskies.
DeForest will close out the regular season this Friday at 7 p.m. at home against Menasha. The Norskies defeated Menasha 8-7 in the 2019 WIAA Division 3 state championship game.