Waunakee cruises, gains three-peat

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Associated Press
Saturday, November 19, 2011
— Losing 16 seniors from last year’s dominant state championship team, Waunakee coach Pat Rice kept reinforcing the point that his returning starters—all six of them—were solid athletes he could build a team around. He wasn’t kidding, especially with a running back like Leo Musso.

“He’s just got the heart of a champion,” said Waunakee coach Pat Rice. “He can do so many things in space, and he’s a great leader.”

The Warriors’ senior tailback saved his best for his last high school performance to make him a champion, rushing for 181 yards and four touchdowns in Waunakee’s 45-0 shutout victory over Waterford to win its third straight WIAA Division 2 championship on Friday at Camp Randall.

The one-sided affair continues an impressive run of dominance for Waunakee (14-0) in Division 2. Going 41-1 during its three-year title run, the Warriors have led by 35 points or more in the second half in 11 of its 14 games and broke its own Division 2 state record in margin for victory that they set last year.

With his senior teammates preaching the “team” aspect all week long, Musso went to a barber on the west side of Madison and had the numbers of all six of his blockers shaved into his head.

“I thought to myself that these guys can’t get on TV, so I am going to get them on TV,” said Musso, who rushed for 2,398 yards and 39 TDs. “They were leading me to the end zone.”

Even though the Warriors returned only six starters, Rice had a number of standout players cut their teeth on varsity reserve last season. So when the time came to prepare for the state title, Waterford (12-2), making its first state title appearance, had a school pep rally on Thursday, and the experienced Waunakee had a walkthrough.

“It’s easy to get caught up in the hoopla,” said Rice, who improved to 212-27 in 20 seasons and won the school’s fifth championship. “Our guys dialed in and understood that the football game was the issue.”

The Warriors rushed for 250 yards and six touchdowns while senior quarterback Hunter Darger completed 10-of-11 passes for 141 yards and one interception, finishing his season with a 17-3 touchdown-to-turnover ratio.

The Warriors scored in every quarter and never relented.

Joking that it was going to be hard to get sleep preparing for the Warriors, first-year coach Adam Bakken wasn’t kidding. Although his team prided itself on defense, the Wolverines allowed more than 15 points for the first time all season and 391 yards of total offense.

The Wolverines were held to 107 yards in total offense, minus-12 yards rushing and went 2-of-13 on third down.

“I just think how much more physical they were at the line of scrimmage really prevented us from getting anything started,” said Bakken, as Waterford had outscored its four playoff opponents, 146-17, before getting a taste of his own medicine. “At times we became predictable on when we were going to pass so that’s obviously a little bit easier to shut down for their defense.”

Waterford had opportunities to claw back in the game after Musso stiffed armed his way past three defenders for a 28-yard, but never could take advantage.

After junior defensive back Chris Benavides made a spectacular diving interception to give Waterford a first down at the Waunakee 39, Warriors linebacker Max Chamberlin picked off the first pass to change momentum for good, as the Wolverines never got back in Waunakee territory.

Last updated: 6:53 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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