Badger High drops heartbreaker to Franklin
That’s all that separated the Lake Geneva Badger and Franklin High football teams in a spellbinding WIAA Division 2 quarterfinal game Friday night at Greendale High School.
One measly point.
After all the hitting and screaming and cheering and momentum shifts, it was just that one point, a point that resided in favor of the Sabers’ ledger as Badger came oh-so-close to advancing to the state semifinals for the first time ever in a 27-26 loss that was both heartbreaking and encouraging for the Badgers.
“It was a good game,” said Badger coach Matt Hensler, who guided the Badgers (9-3) to a playoff level they had never reached before this season. “It was a fun atmosphere, it was cool for the kids and obviously a great experience for the coaches getting this far.”
Meanwhile, Franklin (10-2) moves on to face the today’s winner between Monona Grove (11-0) and Waunakee (10-1) in next week’s semifinals.
The quarterfinal thriller here hinged on a pair of blocked kicks, the first with Franklin facing a fourth-and-8 from its 39-yard line while holding a 27-20 lead with just under four minutes left. The snap to punter Jake Ruetz skidded off the turf, and by the time Ruetz could grab the ball and get a leg on it, a wall of Badgers greeted him to stuff the punt. Nathan Meinen recovered for Badger at the Franklin 25 with 3:43 remaining.
After a 19-yard sweep by Trevor York (22 carries, 209 yards), Kyle Poplar (17, 135) pounded one up the gut from six yards out to bring Badger within 27-26. Hensler opted to kick for the game-tying extra point, rather than go for two, but the Sabers’ entire line burst through to stuff the attempt.
“I think they got some pressure on the inside, and I think (the kick) was low,” Hensler said. “I think it was a combination of that.”
Though the Badgers had converted a two-pointer earlier in the game, Hensler was steadfast in his decision to go for one and the tie instead of two and the lead with 3:39 left.
“We thought about it, but to be honest with you, we’ve (had) two overtime victories in the year. There’s no way I was going to call a two-point play and have it fail and take that opportunity away from the kids,” Hensler said.
“No way was I going to do that. They’d have revolted. They want overtime.”
The Badgers still had a chance, but a gutsy call from Franklin coach Jeff Klemp to go for it on fourth-and-3 from the Badger 44 with 2:40 left—“You saw what we did the last time we punted,” Klemp said of the decision—resulted in a 15-yard pass from Lance Baretz to Brady Oates that clinched the victory.
The Badgers did a remarkable job on Franklin’s dangerous passing attack, harrassing Baretz—who wasn’t helped by several drops from his receivers—to an 11-for-27 passing performance. But the Sabers made their key offensive play on the ground with 6:47 remaining in the game and the score tied 20-20.
Taking over on their 20 after a punt, the Sabers (10-2) handed the ball to Paul Lincoln (12 carries, 136 yards), who burst up the middle on a draw play, eluded one tackler and outraced three others for an 80-yard touchdown run. Matt Ward’s extra point would hold up as the last one Franklin needed.
The Badgers took a 6-0 lead on York’s 80-yard run on the game’s opening possession, but Franklin led 20-6 at halftime and threatened to blow it open in starting the second half with possession. Evan Walton couldn’t handle a bouncing kickoff, though, and the Sabres went three-and-out from their 1.
Badger used the field position for York’s 3-yard scoring scamper, and the Badgers tied the game on a remarkable drive in the third quarter. They converted two fourth downs on a 14-play, 56-yard drive, the second coming on Poplar’s 6-yard touchdown run up the middle.
Jon Leibforth’s two-point pass to Travis Schiller tied the game at 20-20 and set up the dramatic finish.
“Our kids fought hard,” Hensler said. “That’s the best part about this group of kids. They earned it. They absolutely earned it. The excitement they had the last week, it was great. It was a lot of fun to be a Badger this week.”
FRANKLIN 27, BADGER 26
Lake Geneva Badger 6 0 14 6—26
Franklin 0 20 0 7—27
Scoring summary: LGB—Trevor York, 80 run (kick failed). F—Paul Lincoln, 7 run (Matt Ward kick). F—Evan Walton, 3 pass from Lance Baretz (kick failed). F—Baretz, 40 run (Ward kick). LGB—York, 3 run (pass failed). LGB—Kyle Poplar, 6 run (Travis Schiller, pass from Leibforth). F—Lincoln, 80 run (Ward kick). LGB—Poplar, 5 run (kick blocked).
Statistics: First downs—LGB 16, F 15. Rushing—LGB 56-402, F 30-230. Yards passing—LGB 4, F 155. Passes—LGB 1-4-1, F 11-27-0. Fumbles—LGB 2-0, F 0-0. Penalties—LGB 8-75, F 6-48.