Adversity reared its ugly head again. As usual, the Waunakee High School football team rose above it.

It didn’t matter that the 14-0 Warriors lost the turnover battle. Playing complementary football, Waunakee kept its perfect season intact and won the WIAA Division 2 state football championship on Friday, beating Homestead 33-21 at Camp Randall Stadium.

It’s the seventh state title for the Warriors and Head Coach Pat Rice.

What made the difference this year?

“I think it was our resiliency. This group played great despite turning the ball over four times,” said Rice. “We played really well. You have to give the kids credit for how they kept fighting. The defense kept fighting. We put some things together on special teams. That’s what we were hoping for.”

All-State tight end Andrew Keller hauled in two touchdown passes from quarterback Quentin Keene and Michael Gnorski rushed for a pair of scores in the victory. The biggest play of the day, however, came from Ben Farnsworth, who set a new state finals game record by returning a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown with 2:12 remaining in the first half.

“He’s got that explosiveness, and he makes people miss,” said Rice. “He kicked through that tackle and kept on going.”

Farnsworth’s electrifying race to the end zone put Waunakee up 14-7 immediately after Homestead tied the game on a Sal Balistrieri 1-yard run. It was sweet redemption for Farnsworth, whose fumble on a punt moments before led to Homestead’s first score.

The Warriors finished the first half with a flourish, as a Caden McCurdy interception on a deep pass down the sideline set up Gnorski’s first touchdown run of the game, a 19-yarder with 32 seconds left before halftime. The try for the extra point failed, however, leaving Waunakee with a 20-7 halftime lead.

Homestead went on a long drive to start the second half, but it stalled inside the Waunakee 10-yard line. Warrior defensive end Connor Carroll shot through on a fourth-and-2 play to make an ankle tackle in the backfield, giving the ball back to the Waunakee offense. After a three-and-out, the Warriors punted. Joseph Ollman scored on the ensuing Homestead possession, his 15-yard run at the 3:24 mark of the third quarter trimming the deficit to 20-14.

Waunakee responded, however, as Keene hit Mitchell Jarosinski with a key pass and then had a nice run to keep the chains moving, before Gnorski busted up the gut through a big hole for 24-yard run to paydirt. That made it 27-14.

Homestead closed to within 27-21 in the fourth quarter, but Keller caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Keene with 3:06 to go in the game to seal the win. It was Keller’s 34-yard scoring grab that opened the scoring for Waunakee with 23 seconds left in the first quarter.

“The hogs up front gave Quentin time to pass,” said Keller. “Their pass blocking was great.”

Keene completed 12-of-18 passes for 193 yards, while Keller led the way in receiving with five catches for 80 yards. Gnorski ran for 80 yards on 13 carries.

McCurdy and Drew Mais both had interceptions for Waunakee, as Mais also recorded a team-high 10 tackles. Cole Meyers finished with nine tackles, as did Tommy Raemisch. Connor Carroll and Kaden Hooker had eight tackles apiece, as Carroll also came up with a big sack late to help preserve the win.

Bringing the state title, the Warriors’ first since 2018, home to Waunakee almost left Keller speechless.

Asked how it felt to win it all, Keller said, “I can’t put it into words. We’ve all been playing together since the fourth grade, and we’ve worked our tails off. It just goes to show you what can happen if you put in the work. All the cards fell right, all the pieces fell into place.”

This one is special for Rice.

“It feels wonderful,” said Rice. “This group loves football. They love the process. They love working through adversity. They’ve had to deal with different things, and to finish the way they did was really incredible.”

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