Prepspot: Keller key in Badger's many comebacks
LAKE GENEVA--Will Keller insists if he wasn't the one making big plays, one of his teammates surely would.
But the Lake Geneva Badger High School senior certainly has had a flair for the dramatic this fall.
The Badgers have spent much of the football season coming from behind. They improved to 7-1 overall and 6-0 in the Southern Lakes Conference with a victory Friday against Elkhorn that sealed at least a share of a third straight league championship.
“This season has been crazy. I would say it (coming from behind a lot) hasn't been the best thing, but it obviously hasn't been the worst,” Keller said after practice Thursday. “It just seems like every week we get in a situation where we're down at half or close to the end of half. I honestly don't know what switches.”
In four of its seven victories, Badger has trailed at or after halftime. In a fifth, the Badgers didn't take the lead for good until the final three minutes of the second quarter.
And in all five of those games, Keller—a running back, kick returner and punt returner who comes in on defense in certain situations—has made a key play to help the Badgers turn things around.
“We always just try to keep everyone up, and our coaches giving us speeches at halftime helps,” Keller said about the mood on the sidelines during slow starts. “For me, I'm just doing what my coaches ask and try to be in the right spot. It's really all my teammates. They're in the right spots come crunch time, and it helps me find where I'm supposed to be.”
It started for Keller and the Badgers in their season opener against Greendale. Trailing 30-23 with less than a minute left, Keller capped a drive with a 12-yard touchdown run. Coach Matt Hensler elected to go for two points and the lead, and Keller plunged into the end zone. Badger won 31-30.
Two weeks later, in a rivalry matchup with Waterford, Badger trailed 14-7 at halftime. A fumble recovery on a botched punt return helped set up the Badgers' comeback, but it was Keller—who rushed 16 times for 154 yards and two touchdowns—that provided the go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter of a 38-21 victory.
“I love making the big plays,” Keller said. “I know we have plenty of guys on our team who can make the plays. But if it's up to me, I want to be the one making the play every time.”
In Week 4 against Burlington, Badger fell behind 21-14 early in the second quarter. But Keller returned the ensuing kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown. That started a run of 36 straight points in a 50-28 rout.
“Really, I'm just trying to get vertical. I want to take every one back, but really I'm just looking to get us up the field as far as possible,” Keller said of his mentality on kickoffs. “That return was just great blocking by the return team. The hole was wide open. Anyone could have got through it.”
In Week 5 at Westosha, Badger again trailed, 26-14, in the third quarter. But Keller scored three of his four touchdowns in that game from that point forward, including a 79-yarder midway through the third that gained the lead for good. He finished with 16 carries for 261 yards, the four TDs and a two-point conversion.
And in Week 7, Keller made his impact on defense—where he plays mostly in third-down and goal-line circumstances. Trailing Wilmot 24-13 in the fourth quarter, and with the Panthers knocking on the door once again, Keller intercepted a pass and returned it 101 yards for a touchdown. The Badgers later forced overtime and went on to win 31-24.
“We were in man coverage and I was on the D end,” Keller said. “I honestly didn't even see the ball until I was running to catch up (to a receiver). I just got my hands up.”
On the season, Keller has rushed 109 times for 963 yards and 14 touchdowns. He's also got a receiving touchdown and three successful two-point conversions.
Badger can clinch a second straight undefeated Southern Lakes season with a victory at Union Grove on Friday. Then it will look for a third straight deep postseason run after making the Division 1 state semifinals each of the last two years.
One thing is for sure: Even if the Badgers find themselves down in the playoffs, after a regular season full of comebacks they'll never consider themselves out.
“Until the last second of a game,” Keller said, “I don't think any of us are going to stop playing at any moment.”