Photo by MICHAEL S. HOEY 
Badger Matt Reynolds attempting his halfback option pass that was intercepted in the end zone at last Friday’s game against Sun Prairie. The Badgers lost to the Cardinals 21-13 at the Level 4 semi-final game.

By Michael S. Hoey

Correspondent

The Lake Geneva Badger football team made history this season but fell just short of making its first appearance in the WIAA Division 1 State Championship game in Madison.

Badger made it to the state semi-final round, Level 4 of the playoffs, for the first time in school history, but lost to perennial power Sun Prairie 21-13 at Hartland Arrowhead High School last Friday. The Badgers (9-3) got off to a tentative start but took a 13-7 lead in the second quarter, the first deficit the Cardinals had faced all season.

“A couple of weeks from now that will be one of the many things this team can be proud of,” Coach Matt Hensler said. “It will be one of many feathers in their caps.”

Hensler said he was immensely proud of the effort his team gave him despite the number of injuries it has faced, including several in this game. Hensler said offensive lineman Logan Tenney broke his arm in the second quarter and continued to play. Andrew Cychner also re-injured his ankle.

Hensler joked that if the Badgers had made it to the title game he didn’t know how he would have been able to field a team, though he said he was confident they could piece something together. Hensler said the real story was how well his kids toughed it out all year and overcame injuries.

“It’s unbelievable how much heart and character this team had in digging in and not throwing in the towel,” quarterback Peter Krien said. “It shows what kind of kids we are putting through the program.”

Badger got the ball first but could do nothing with it. After punting the Badger defense forced a Cardinal punt. The Badgers got the ball on their own 18-yard line and Krien immediately ripped off a 27-yard run. The Badgers drove all the way down to the Cardinal 26 before getting stopped on fourth and four.

Sun Prairie then drove 75 yards to their first score led by star running back Donte Starlin-Merriam. Starlin-Merriam had three runs of ten yards or more and quarterback Ryan Curran broke free for a 22-yard gain after being flushed from the pocket on a pass attempt. Starlin-Merriam put the Cardinals up 7-0 on an 11 yard run.

“The defense started out a little tentative,” Hensler said. “They played fantastic after that wore off.”

“We came out a little timid on defense,” Krien, who plays linebacker, said. “Then we buckled down and did well considering all the weapons they have.”

Hensler said the team knew not many gave them a chance to upset the undefeated and second-ranked Cardinals, but they embraced the role of underdog and still felt they had a chance to win.

“I don’t think there was a kid in that locker room that thought we weren’t going to win that game,” he said.

Though the offense continued to struggle establishing the run, the defense stepped up and held Sun Prairie scoreless the rest of the half. The offense then came up with a statement drive mid-way through the second quarter.

After a Cardinal punt, the Badgers took over at their own eight-yard line. The drive started out poorly as Tony Ashley was tackled for a two-yard loss on its first play. A personal foul against Sun Prairie, however, moved the ball to the 34.

The Badgers moved the ball to the 43 where they faced a fourth and one. Lining up to go for it, the Badgers benefitted from another Sun Prairie penalty, this time an off sides call. On second down, Krien rolled out and was forced to make a wild off-balance throw as a defender caught him. Robert Johnson made the 14-yard reception and two plays later added a 27-yard run to give the Badgers a first and goal at the seven. Johnson then scored on a three-yard run to tie the score.

“The kids were nervous early but they found out quick they could play with them,” Hensler said.

The Badgers had a chance to take the lead going into halftime after an interception by Cychner. The Cardinals were moving the ball, but Johnson and Jeremy Fischer hit Curran. The ball popped into the air and into the waiting arms of Cychner who motored down the sideline as fast as he could on his injured ankle. Cychner was brought down at the Cardinal 21.

Badger moved the ball to the 14 before facing a fourth and two. Hensler decided to go for it rather than kick the field goal.

“It was a little out of our range,” Hensler said.

Badger’s regular kicker Kyle Janikowski was injured several games ago. Hensler said Thomas Ritzman has been consistent on extra points and short field goals but he decided going for it was the better option. Johnson was stopped short and the Badgers failed to take advantage of the Cardinal turnover.

Hensler said the interception was still a huge defensive play that stopped a Cardinal drive and gave his defense confidence going into the second half.

That confidence led to a big defensive stand to start the second half. After a short squib kick the Cardinals got great field position at their own 49-yard line but the Badger defense forced a three-and-out.

Badger responded with an eventful 84-yard drive to take the lead. Starting at their own 16 Badger was faced with a fourth and one at the 25. Lining up to go for it, Johnson saw what he needed to see from the Cardinal defense and called for a fake. Instead of punting, Krien ran for six yards and the drive continued.

The Badgers got as far as they got this year running the ball. They took the lead in this game passing it. Krien completed a 30-yard pass to Ashley to the Cardinal 39 yard line. Facing a third and ten Krien connected with Ashley again for a 27-yard touchdown pass. Ritzman missed the extra point and Badger led 13-7.

After not completing a single pass in its win over Kenosha Bradford the previous week the Cardinals seemed surprised the Badgers were throwing the ball.

“It was in our game plan to throw it deep a few times,” Hensler said.

Hensler said the Cardinals really crowded the line of scrimmage when the two teams faced each other in the playoffs last year, so the plan was to go deep if they did it again. Sun Prairie played most of the first half with their safeties back until Badger started to establish the run. By the end of the half they were creeping up again. Hensler decided it was time to take his shots.

Unfortunately, the Cardinals did what the Badgers had been doing all post-season—answer a score with a score. Sun Prairie marched down the field on eight plays; three of them long passes to three different receivers including the 21 yard score to Drew Mikalofsky. The extra point made it 14-13.

After a Badger punt to start the fourth quarter Sun Prairie followed up with another pass-oriented drive. Curran completed four passes including a nine-yard touchdown strike to Mikalofsky. Sun Prairie led 21-13.

“We were not as fundamentally sound on those two drives,” Krien said. “They took advantage.”

Photo by MICHAEL S. HOEY 
Badger quarterback and senior Peter Krien being interviewed by Fox 6’s Tom Pipines after Friday’s game.

After another punt Sun Prairie drove down to the Badger 22 with 3:49 left and had a chance to put the final nail in the coffin with a field goal attempt. The kick was wide right and Badger had one last chance.

Beginning the drive at its own 20, Badger drove the ball to the Cardinal 14 with 55 seconds left. Krien tossed it to Matt Reynolds who had to rush his halfback option pass into the end zone. Sun Prairie’s Jeremiah Bradley intercepted the pass and returned it to the 25.

A holding call on the return pinned the Cardinals back at the four, but all Curran had to do was take a knee twice to punch Sun Prairie’s ticket to the state title game against undefeated Hartland Arrowhead.

“We got a great drive at the end and saw that their defensive backs were coming up to make plays,” Hensler said.

Hensler said he thought they could drop a pass in behind the defensive backs but Reynolds was rushed on his pass attempt and Bradley made a great play.

“I am very proud of how they kept battling back and competing,” Hensler said “That was the best team we have played all year.”

“We fought as hard as we could and it just didn’t work out,” Krien said. “That’s football.”

“There is a list of seniors we will miss,” Hensler said. “It is the nature of high school athletics—we only have so much time with them.”

Hensler said the team has a great group of kids coming back next year but Krien may take two or three kids to replace.

“He is a special kid,” Hensler said.

“It hurts right now,” Krien said of the loss. “But in a week or so we will reflect and realize the impact we have had on the team, the school, and the community. That will last forever.”

 

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