October 27, 2012 | 01:32 AMIt seems like only yesterday.
When I started as a reporter in 2008, one of my first assignments was covering Williams Bay Sports. One of my first stories was about the brand new football field, complete with new lights, a new scoreboard and a new concession stand.
At the time, hopes were high. The school and community finally had its own home football stadium (games were previously played at Theatre Road), and naturally people wanted to see a winning product on the football field. A young, wide-eyed Sports writer, I was excited to officially cover a high school football team for a full-time job.
But the Bulldogs simply couldn't compete. Scores were often lopsided in favor of the Bay opponent. At times, the game would be over by halftime or even the first quarter. But frankly, I didn't care. I enjoyed covering the team no matter the score, and I tried to be as positive as possible despite the ugly scores.
Ladies and gentlemen, Friday night was the perfect storm. It was simply the Bay's time. I left Big Foot's playoff game at halftime and showed up at halftime of the Bay game, and I honestly couldn't believe my eyes. The Bulldogs had a 19-8 lead, their first double-digit advantage in years. They scored 19 first-quarter points and led from start to finish. When it was all said and done, the Bulldogs won, 34-8, their first win since 2007. It snapped a 45-game losing streak.
It's important to remember where this journey started. When the Bulldogs finished winless in 2008, it was most likely chalked up to one bad season. After all, the Bulldogs used to be a playoff fixture under longtime coach Bill Blakeley. However, it wasn't just a one-time thing.
The Bay went on to endure three more consecutive winless campaigns, and it wasn't easy for anyone involved.
Coach Buddy Breen, who was at the helm from 2008 to 2011 and bleeds black and orange, tirelessly tried to motivate his team. Whether it was extra workouts, new playbooks or rotating quarterbacks, nothing seemed to work. Phone call after phone call on Sunday nights in the fall, I could sense the disappointment and pure sadness in Breen's voice.
The Bay, a proud program he starred for in his high school days, was a sinking ship, and he felt there was nothing more he could do. So after a 0-9 season in 2011, Breen stepped down as head coach.
"It's time to step aside," he said back in January. "I have to let someone else try it out. It's disheartening, and it hurts me to see the program not have success. Guys were pouring their hearts and souls in it, and we weren't having success."
Beginning in the offseason leading up to this fall, the Derek Diehl era began. Diehl, the owner and head coach of the Lake Geneva Generals semi-pro football team, was coming off a division title in his first year with the expansion Generals. Diehl is a defensive genius, and he brought plenty of coaching experience to the Bulldogs.
At this point, change was necessary for the Bulldogs. Some said the conference was too tough, some said the players didn't really care and some even claimed football was too dangerous of a sport and kids simply weren't going out for the team. With budget concerns in the state affecting schools, some even speculated the football program could be cut or shortened to eight-man football. The football program was on the precipice of disaster, and something positive had to happen.
Fast forward to the 2012 football season. For the first five games, it was the same, sad story. The Bulldogs were 0-5 and were being crushed by an average of 41 points per game.
Then, something changed in the Bulldogs. In a Sept. 28 road game at winless Oakfield, a game the Bay was "supposed to win," a plethora of penalties and turnovers had the Bay down 28-7 in the fourth quarter.
But the Bulldogs dug deep within themselves and almost pulled off a miraculous comeback. Quarterback Jake Sutter fired two late touchdown passes, and receiver Roger Gutierrez-Mas sparked the offense with a big receiving game. The Bay even recovered an onside kick and had a chance to tie the game in the final minutes. The Bay fell, 28-21, but the game gave the players confidence that they could pull off that elusive first win.
In the next two games, the Bay was as competitive as its been since 2007. The Bulldogs hung tough with Hustisford for four quarters, and a Gutierrez-Mas touchdown catch that was ruled out of bounds should have given the team its first victory Oct. 12 at home against Cambria-Friesland. But still, mental mistakes and turnovers were preventing the boys from finally winning.
Just about everything went right in Friday's win. In the second half, stellar defense was complemented by Sutter, who finished off Kenosha Christian Life with a rushing and passing touchdown. The entire second half, I kind of kept wondering, "Is this really happening?"
It was the Bay's night. They only committed two penalties and played turnover-free football. Jacob Clark ran with authority to the tune of 133 yards rushing. Sutter was on target in the aerial attack.
As the clock hit zeroes on the 34-8 victory, the Bay was prepared. Fireworks went off over the south end zone, and the fans, students and players rushed the field in a frenzy. Everyone gathered under the scoreboard to admire the seemingly impossible score.
I've never seen players so happy and relieved at the same time. Years of frustration and heartbreak turned into sheer joy.
The story blew up immediately on www.lakegenevanews.net, and athletes from other schools and area people offered their congratulations to the Bulldogs on Twitter and Facebook. Of course, there were some haters. Some people claimed Christian Life was only a junior varsity team, and the win didn't count. They said it was only a scrimmage.
But, a win is a win. Yes, Christian Life is in its first year as a football program, but the Eagles were athletic and provided a formidable challenge. They have just as many seniors as the Bay and about the same number of players. Also, Christian Life is even a bigger school than Williams Bay. Kenosha Christian Life went 5-3 on the season and even defeated Kenosha Tremper's junior varsity, which probably included players that could easily start on the Bay.
Save the drama for a more appropriate time. The Bulldogs suffered through five years of losses and worked hard for this win. I'm sure the psychological damage and the culture of losing was just as detrimental to these teenagers as the results on the field. The Bay improved throughout the season, culminating with its best performance in its last game. Christian Life is a varsity team, and the Bulldogs blew them out.
Now that my rant is over, I am happy for these boys. For as impartial as we try to stay as journalists, I admit it wasn't easy writing about all of those games over the years. It's always easier to write about a win, no matter the sport. When I write about losses, readers sometimes like to take what I say personally. I only try to state the facts and tell the truth.
I've truly enjoyed covering Bay football for the last five years, and the players and coaches have always been respectful and cooperative. Breen and Diehl have always been class acts as well as any players I've interviewed.
In journalism, you write and write in hopes of that one, big story that reminds you of why you got into this business. The Bay's historic win did just that.