By Tim Wester
The subtle rumble from a freight train bisecting downtown Burlington Friday evening set the ominous tone for the Badgers fall in the first round of the WIAA Division 2 playoffs.
The Demons rolled through the Badger defense like a surging freight train during a 26-point second-half outburst en route to a dominating 33-7 victory.
Burlington running back Zach Wallace rolled up 223 yards and three touchdown runs of 71, 62, and 79 in the second half to propel the Demons into a second-round matchup with rival Waterford Friday.
The Wolverines advanced after thumping South Milwaukee 38-0.
Getting a shot at redemption against the Wolverines came to fruition after Burlington put together one its most dominating performances of the season.
“Our team put it all together tonight,” Burlington coach Steve Tenhagen said. “I don’t think there was any one thing different than the first game with them where we gave up 37 points. We just played physical and made tackles, which is something we haven’t always done great this year.”
Badger, meanwhile, was simply left standing in the middle of the field a defeated team.
“We were mentally and emotionally drained from last week’s game,” said Hensler, whose team upset Waterford in an emotional 17-7 victory in its previous game. “We had nothing in the tank and in our pregame warmups something was kind of eerie and we knew it was going to be a struggle to get up again emotionally.”
Badger’s struggles started on its second play of the game when a botched handoff at its 26 gave Burlington the ball. Six plays later, Wallace took the toss right for a 1-yard touchdown run to put the Demons ahead 6-0.
Wallace finished with 12 carries for 222 yards and four touchdowns.
The Badgers later had a chance to answer after recovering a muffed punt at the Demons’ 38. Running back Cole Gabor-Pullen pounded the defense with multiple downhill runs to move inside the 20, but that was as far as the Badgers would get. On fourth down, quarterback Grant DuMez bobbled the snap and was tackled at the line of scrimmage.
Badger later had a drive inside the Demon 40 that ended on with Ryan Koeppen’s first of three interceptions in the game.
“We just figured if we played our A game defensively, good things would happen said Koeppen, whose team had four interceptions in the game. “This defense has been able to make plays after opposing teams drive deep into our territory all year. There’s just something about this defense that I can’t describe.”
Although the Badgers trailed by just six at halftime, they seemingly were spent emotionally and physically in the second half.
Wallace ran through large holes in the Badger defensive line and racked up three touchdown runs of more than 60 yards to break the game open.
“At halftime, I just refocused because when I dropped that one punt in the first half that really go to my head,” Wallace said. “But the offensive line picked up for sure in the second half and once we got it figured out, we just kept it going.”
Badger managed a 6-yard Gabor-Pullen run late in the third, but the Demons wouldn’t be denied, racking up 331 total yards in the second half to send Badger home in a daze.
“I just feel terrible for our kids as a group,” Hensler said. “We just couldn’t find that life again.