Badger High School’s Jordon Hodges makes a long touchdown run in Badger’s loss to Mukwonago on Oct. 19. See more Badger sports in the Oct. 25 Lake Geneva Times. (David Baker photo)

By Michael S. Hoey

Correspondent

The Badger High School football team won four of its last five regular season games to keep its 13-year playoff streak alive after beginning the season 0-4. The playoff season lasted one game as the Badgers fell to Mukwonago 35-15 in a Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Level 1 playoff game Friday in Mukwonago.

The game was a homecoming of sorts for Badger Coach Matt Hensler, who is from Mukwonago. His father coached Mukwonago for years and was so successful the field is named for him.

“You don’t necessarily remember where you are from,” Hensler said. “It’s the people who were there when you were there.”

Hensler said it was great seeing a lot of people who raised him, helped him and were responsible for his success. Hensler was not as happy with the result of the game. He said, as has been the case all season, the effort was great, but the execution was not where it needed to be.

Ironically, that improved a bit the second half of the season, allowing the Badgers to come back from an 0-4 start against the meat of its schedule. Hensler said his Badgers were able to win four of their last five games at least in part as a result of better execution.

“We started doing a lot of things better,” Hensler said. “We did a lot more right the last half of the season.”

The game against Mukwonago was a microcosm of the season in that the Badgers hung with the Indians in the first half but couldn’t continue that in the second half. Hensler said the game was decided in the first five minutes of the second half as Mukwonago expanded a 14-8 halftime lead to 28-8 halfway through the third quarter. The Badger offense was not equipped for a big comeback.

The night looked like it might be a long one for the Badgers when Mukwonago marched right down the field on the game’s opening drive to take a 7-0 lead. The Indians even dropped two easy passes, one that would have resulted in a long touchdown, along the way. Quarterback Jordan Peck connected with receiver Dalton Gillette on a 15-yard touchdown pass to complete the drive.

Gillette had a big night with eight receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Hensler called Gillette a stud and said he caught some passes on plays the coaching staff had not seen him make on film.

Down 7-0, the Badgers did not panic. While the offense struggled much of the night, the defense settled in and held Mukwonago to one touchdown the rest of the half.

“Unfortunately, we’ve been there a few times this year, so we did not panic,” Hensler said of being behind.

Hensler said the defense played very well except on third down. He said there were several big catches by Gillette on medium or even long third-down plays that moved the chains for Mukwonago.

Hunter Wrzesinski ripped off runs of nine and 12 yards to open the Badgers’ first drive, but the drive stalled after a penalty and two runs for no gain by Richy Martinez.

Mukwonago running back Josh Jendusa started the ensuing Indian drive with a 32-yard run, but the Badger defense tightened and forced a punt. Hayden Fourman burst through the line and blocked the punt. Badger took over at the Mukwonago 29-yard line and punched it in from there on a seven-yard touchdown run by Mitch Rife.

“It was important for us to punch it in,” Hensler said about the block.

Hensler then elected to go for two after Mukwonago was called for encroachment on the point after. From the one-yard line, Wrzesinski ran it in to give Badger an 8-7 lead.

“I thought that gave the kids a lot of confidence,” Hensler said.

After punting again, Mukwonago forced a Badger punt and returned the favor of a block. Sam Rehl got the block and Mukwonago recovered at the Badger 19. Peck connected with Gillette for a 19-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage, but it was called back on a holding call. A sack by Zach Brumm pushed the Indians back to the Badger 37. Mukwonago got back to the 25 on a pass to Gillette but was forced to attempt a 42-yard field goal that was no good.

Badger took over at the 20-yard line but gave the ball right back to the Indians on a fumbled snap that was recovered by Mukwonago’s Ryan Hocking. This time, the Indians took advantage, scoring on a six-yard touchdown run by Jendusa to take a 14-8 lead into halftime.

The Badgers got the ball to start the second half and missed an opportunity to take control of the momentum with a score. Instead, the Badgers could not move the ball and had to punt.

“The first drive was super critical for us to try to get something going,” Hensler said. “We just couldn’t quite get it and that little turnaround was big.”

The little turnaround Hensler was referring to was Mukwonago’s ability to score on three plays and take a 21-8 lead. The big plays of the drive were a 45-yard pass completion to Wesley Juszczak and a 17-yard touchdown run by Jendusa.

Wrzesinski then fumbled on third down and Mukwonago’s A.J. Major recovered at the Badger 24-yard line. Peck hit Gillette with a 15-yard touchdown pass to make it 28-8.

“The whole year we have struggled with that,” Hensler said about difficulty starting second halves this year.

The Badgers briefly got some life on the ensuing kickoff. Jordan Hodges retuned it 80 yards for a touchdown, and the Badgers were down 28-15.

“When the execution is right, we have guys who can take it to the house and do some damage,” Hensler said.

Hensler then called for an onside kick to take advantage of the momentum and spark his offense, but Mukwonago recovered at its own 48.

Mukwonago moved the ball down to the Badger 19 but faced a fourth-and-eight from there. Another sack by Brumm turned the ball over on downs and kept the Badgers in the game.

The Badgers moved the ball out to the 37-yard line before having to punt. Hensler again tried to spark his team with a fake punt, but Tyler Burgess intercepted a pass from Nathan Kramer, who had taken the short snap. Mukwonago took over at the Badger 44 and scored on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Peck to Juszczak to take a commanding 35-15 lead with 11:17 left to play.

The Badgers faced a fourth-and-nine at their own 40 and, with just 6 1/2 minutes to play, went for it. Nate Wilcher sacked Conner Clifford to end the Badger’s last hope. The Badgers never got the ball back.

“We had a lot of great plays, no doubt,” Hensler said. “We did a lot of things really well, but it was similar to the course of the season — inconsistency.”

Hensler said he and the coaching staff asked the kids all week to play hard from start to finish, and he said they did that.

“Our effort has been pretty consistent all year long,” he said.

Hensler also said his team learned a valuable lesson about how important off-season weight lifting is as the Indians were much bigger than the Badgers at several positions.

Wrzesinski led the Badgers (4-6, 4-3 Southern Lakes Conference) with 91 yards on 14 carries. No one else had more than 20 yards. Clifford completed one of six passes for five yards.

Jendusa exploded for 167 yards on 24 carries. Juszczak added 87 yards on four receptions to Gillette’s big night. Peck completed 15 of 25 passes for 225 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.

Mukwonago (6-4) earned a Level 2 match-up with undefeated Franklin on Friday. Franklin defeated Milwaukee Marshall 50-0 in its Level 1 game.

 
 

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