Football preview: Waterford flows to state
The Wolverines went 3-6 in 2010 and never could get over the hill, losing their last five games by an average of 10.8 points. So as he stepped up to speak in his first head coaching opportunity, Bakken knew exactly the message he wanted to deliver to a room full for anxious listeners.
“I wanted to make it very apparent to everybody that going 3-6 again was not an option,” Bakken said.
Needless to say, his process and methods have worked, as Waterford (12-1) will compete for its first WIAA Division 2 title game against two-time defending champion Waunakee (13-0) at 1 p.m. Friday at Camp Randall Stadium.
During a 20-year-stretch from 1984-2003, Waterford Union’s high school football field was barely used in November, as the Wolverines went 55-125 with one playoff appearance. After hopes were raised from 2004 through 2009, with the program going 42-23 with five playoff trips, they were dashed with last year’s finish, allowing Bakken to assume the role.
After opening with a 39-point win over Brown Deer, the stakes were raised when the Wolverines defeated Division 1 powerhouse, Mequon Highlanders, 17-15 on a last-second game-winning field goal.
It was a theme all season for the co-champions of the Southern Lakes Conference, outscoring their four opponents in the playoffs, 146-17, and utilizing a balanced offense led by seniors Zach Fischer (18 TD passes) and Greg Steffens (1438 total yards, 20 TDs).
“There were a lot of things in place here,” Bakken said. “They bought in what I was trying to teach them. The physicality, the size that we have, the athletes we have were all in place. We had to figure out a different way to play the game correctly.”
Bakken, who left his defensive coordinator position at Walworth Big Foot to take over the program, has injected his philosophies into the defense. Heading to state, Waterford hasn’t allowed more than 15 points in a game and held seven of its 13 opponents to a touchdown or less.
“We’ve given up some plays but for the most part we’ve had a bend-but-don’t-break mentality,” Bakken said. “It’s been very successful for us and the kids have bought into my system with it being my first year here.”
To complete the turnaround, Waterford will face its biggest challenge yet in the two-time defending champion Warriors, who are looking for its fifth state championship.
After losing eight starters on both sides of the football, few expected Waunakee to put up the kind of numbers it did in the Northern Badger Conference. Outscoring their opponents during the regular season by an average of 48-6 per game, Waunakee, the two-time defending champion,
Senior tailback Leo Musso has carried the load for the Warriors, rushing for 2,201 yards, an 8.8 yards-per-carry average and 35 TDs, and seldom plays an entire game.
“He’s a special kid,” said Waunakee coach Pat Rice. “He’s been with us for three years and has tremendous explosiveness. He’s a home run threat every time he touches the ball. He’s a very physical kid.”
To underscore the game is the fact that Rice and Bakken and their families have known each other for quite some time and their fathers, Bill Rice and Ron Bakken, coached together at McFarland and coached Adam when he played running back and cornerback.
“Our families have known each other for quite a while,” Rice said. “Our families have been friends, so it’s really neat.”
Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln (12-1) vs. Kenosha Bradford (13-0), 4 p.m. Friday.
Losing to eventual champion Waukesha West a season ago, Kenosha Bradford coach Jed Kennedy was confident his team could make a deep run with a core group of returning seniors. The confidence didn’t waver when tailback and UW recruit Vonte Jackson tore his ACL in the opening half of the season opener, removing a player that contributed 956 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“People doubted this group a lot,” Kennedy said. “This group was a group that took that personal.”
Bradford has put up 40 or more points six times, but both senior linebacker Quanzell Murphy and senior defensive lineman Kevon Clunis were WFCA first-team selections.
“We’ve been knocking on the door. It’s exciting for this group to finally get over the top not only for this group but all the kids that have been so dang close the last five years.”
Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln has also waited a long time for its first state title, having finished runner-up in both 1980 and 2005. The Red Raiders advanced to the title game by ousting Milwaukee Riverside in the semifinal game, 35-14, the same opponent the Red Devils beat in Week One, 27-14.
The Red Raiders best player can be found in the middle of their defense, as senior linebacker and UW commit Vince Biegel was named the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association defensive player of the year.
“He’s a leader and he’s a kid that has unbelievable character,” said coach Tony Biolo of Biegel. Anything you ask the kid to do, whether it’s the weight room or volunteer, he’s always the first guy there.”
West De Pere (13-0) vs. Wisconsin Lutheran (11-2), 10 a.m. Friday.
After winning its first state title last season, defending champion West De Pere is back in the title game for the third straight season. Champions of the Bay Conference this year, West De Pere has outscored opponents, 524-35, through 13 games. Senior quarterback Jay Tollefson has led the attack, passing for 1,617 yards and 18 TDs while rushing for 1,358 yards and 25 TDs.
“He’s been poised in his position ,and he hasn’t tried to do it all,” Phantoms coach Bill Turnquist said. “It would have been easy for him to take everything on his shoulders and lead our team. He’s done just an excellent job of leading our team.”
Wisconsin Lutheran is making its fifth appearance in the title game, all since 2003, and looking for its fourth state championship. After start 0-2, including a loss to 2010 Division 1 championship Waukesha West, the Vikings haven’t lost, scoring at least 14 points in every contest.
Somerset (12-1) vs. Wrightstown (13-0), 7 p.m. today
Somerset returns to the state title game for the first time since the second of two straight appearances from 2004-05, still in search of their first championship returns.
After losing to Prescott on Sept. 2, coach Bruce Larson rotated different players into different positions to find chemistry. The Spartans haven’t lost since, scoring more than 34 points seven times and not allowing an opponent to score more than 15 points on its 10 game win streak.
A perfect 2-0 in state championship games, winning its last title in 2006, Wrightstown defeated last year’s runner-up Brodhead/Juda 42-21 in the semifinal to advance to the title game. The Tigers are averaging 42 points per game this season, including a 40-point average during the playoffs.
Colby (13-0) vs. Lancaster (13-0), 4 p.m. today
The Division 5 title game is the only matchup featuring two undefeated teams, and it’s a position that has become entirely familiar to Colby coach Jeff Rosemeyer. Colby, the 2008 titlist and 2010 runner-up, will play in the title game for the third time in the last four seasons and for the fifth time overall.
“Coming into this year, we knew we had somewhat of a nucleus to build around,” said Rosemeyer. “We had a pretty solid front to start out with. The guys that have stepped in there have gelled real well and things have worked out pretty nicely for us.”
It’s helped having the same quarterback under center. A year after senior tailback Dylan Loertscher was the focal point of the offense, rushing for 1,851 yards with 37 touchdowns, the Hornets are balanced. Senior quarterback Aaron Koerner has thrown for 1,288 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions and tailbacks Zach Peissig (1,209 yards, 20 TDs) and Michael Cliver (16 TDs) give Colby a multi-pronged ground attack.
Averaging 48 points a game this season, Lancaster is back in the title game for the first time since capturing the crown in 2006 and for the eighth time overall. The Flying Arrows are tied for the second-most State championships of any member program with six.
Lancaster won two playoff games by three points or less, including a 49-48 victory over Cedar Grove-Belgium that included the Flying Arrows converting a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter for a win.
“They’ve exceeded our expectations,” Lancaster coach John Hoch. “They always seem to find a way to win. They seem to never give up and hang in there.”
Shiocton (12-1) vs. Fond du Lac St. Mary Springs (13-0), 1 p.m. today
After winning eight WISAA crowns (1983, 1984, 1990, 1991, 1995, 1997, 1998 and 1999), St. Mary’s Springs will be in search of its second state championship in its sixth overall appearance since 2002. After losing to Edgar in the title game last year, the Ledgers got revenge with a 38-0 blowout over the Wildcats in the semifinal.
“Last year I didn’t anticipate us being down there a year ago, but we were,” Springs coach Bob Hyland said. “We got a lot of experience from it and it paid off this year.”
Hyland is the winningest coach in state annals with 373 victories and has a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Darin Ward (1,150 yards, 14 TDs) and Tyler Grebe (1,051 yards, 17 TDs).
Shiocton returns to the state final for the first time since its only other appearance in 1983 when the Chiefs finished runner-up. Since suffering its first loss to Iola-Scandinavia in the season finale, the Chiefs have outscored the competition 125-to-21.
Greenwood/Granton (12-1) vs. Seneca (11-2), 10 a.m. today
Seneca will play in the state final for the first time following a win over last year’s runner-up Burlington Catholic Central in the semifinal. The Indians have allowed just 14 points in their four playoff match-ups and are paced by senior tailback John Alanis’ 2,885 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns.
While Seneca is a one-man show, Greenwood/Granton features a balanced attack led by Josh Harlander and Hayden Hinker, who have scored 20 and 15 touchdowns, respectively, for the Indians.
It will officially be Greenwood/Granton’s first state final appearance, but Greenwood had two previous title game experiences prior to forming the co-op.