Milton High’s football team had a juggernaut on the ropes.
The Red Hawks led Waunakee by as many as two scores but ultimately could not hold off the perennial powerhouse, falling 35-28 in a WIAA Division 2 second-round playoff game Friday night.
Milton’s typically run-heavy offense caught fire through the air in the first half, connecting on a handful of deep passes.
“We were having a hard time running the ball, and they were really loading the box,” Milton head coach Rodney Wedig said. “We thought we could take advantage of a few mismatches there.”
Evan Jordahl scored the game’s first touchdown on Milton’s opening possession, finding the end zone on a three-yard keeper. Luke Hessenauer’s extra point put the Red Hawks up 7-0.
On Milton’s first punt of the game, Waunakee’s special teams struck for the first time.
Joe Hauser blocked the punt, and Randy Vojtisek recovered in the end zone. After Aidan Driscoll’s PAT, the score was tied at 7 heading into the second quarter.
In the second, Jordahl found Dane Nelson twice—on scoring passes of 81 and 97 yards—to give the Red Hawks a commanding 21-7 lead.
With both its starting quarterback, Caden Nelson, and backup Quentin Keene forced to the sideline with injuries, Waunakee was forced to stick to the ground game.
Alec Morgan scored with 2:18 to go until halftime, bringing the Warriors within one score, 21-14.
Milton’s air attack struck again late in the quarter, putting the Red Hawks in position for a field goal with only seconds left. But Waunakee’s special teams came up with another block.
A rejuvenated Warriors defense took over in the second half. Waunakee forced three straight three-and-outs to open the half, giving its offense a chance to make the comeback.
“They changed their coverage from man coverage; they dropped into a cover 3, cover 4 type of thing,” Nelson said. “It prohibited us from passing the ball deep.”
Keene—who returned to the game after a short break—punched in the tying score on fourth-and-goal from inches away, capping a 77-yard drive.
Waunakee’s second score of the quarter came on a 16-yard scamper by Cole Mobley—who was filling in for the sidelined Morgan—to give the Warriors their first lead of the night. When time expired in the third quarter, Waunakee was riding a wave of momentum after turning a seven-point deficit into a seven-point lead.
On the Warriors’ first possession of the fourth quarter, Keene directed one final drive into the end zone. This time, he capped it with an eight-yard scoring toss to Caden Nelson to put the Warriors up 35-21.
Milton wasn’t quite finished. Down 14, the Red Hawks converted on a fourth-and-six on their ensuing possession to stay alive. Just a handful of plays later, Jordahl found the end zone with his feet for the second time of the night.
“I’m proud of the way we played,” Wedig said. “These kids played hard and did things the right way.”
Milton’s defense got a stop on the ensuing possession to give the offense one final chance. Confronted with a fourth-and-eight, Jordahl’s final pass of the night fell incomplete with less than two minutes left.
Jordahl racked up 229 yards through the air, completing 6 of his 15 attempts. Nelson’s 198 yards paced the Red Hawks.
Milton finished with a 9-2 record after winning just three games in each of the past three seasons.
“It was a special group of kids. What we did, the games we won, coming up here and being in this game,” Wedig said. “I’ll remember this team forever.”