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November 09, 2012 | 09:31 PMHARTLAND -- Time was running out on the Badger football team Friday night in a WIAA Division 1 state semifinal against undefeated Sun Prairie at Arrowhead High School.
The Lake Geneva boys were down, 21-13, but after a Sun Prairie 39-yard field goal flew wide right, Badger had new life, with 3:21 and three timeouts to go 80 yards.
After a 13-yard run by Robert Johnson and a 16-yard pitch to Matt Reynolds, a 15-yard late hit set up Badger inside the Cardinal 20 with a minute left. On third and 5 from the Sun Prairie 14, Badger coach Matt Hensler called his second timeout with 55 seconds left.
Badger attempted another pitch right to Reynolds, but this time the junior lofted the ball toward the end zone.
The intended Badger receiver appeared open, but the ball came up short and landed in a Sun Prairie defender's arms for an interception. The Cardinals ran out the clock for a 21-13 victory, and Badger's magical run, its farthest in school history, came to an end.
"We didn't really have much of an option," Reynolds said of Badger's final play. "Time was running short. We set it up by the first toss play where I picked up a first down. I chucked it up and hoped for the best. We put up a fight at the end, but we just fell a little bit short."
"Our kids stepped up quite a few times and made some good plays," Hensler said of the team's final drive. "It's what those kids have done all year."
Badger finished its season at 9-3, while the Cardinals improved to 12-0 and will play for the Division 1 state title next weekend in Madison.
Badger took a 13-7 lead with 4:31 left in the third quarter thanks to a perfect 27-yard strike from Badger quarterback Peter Krien to Tony Ashley. But the Cardinals reeled off 14 unanswered points, including a touchdown pass only three minutes later and the go-ahead scoring pass with 8:41 to play.
Badger suffered a three-and-out on its next drive, but the defense came up big after that. Playing with a short field from the Badger 37, Sun Prairie managed a first down with a five-yard run by 350-pound Craig Evans, a University of Wisconsin recruit. But Badger stepped up with a tackle for loss and a big stuff on third-and-11 to set up the 39-yard field goal. Sun Prairie kicker Dustin Wunderlin had plenty of leg, but the ball sailed wide right by inches.
Tough running by Johnson, Krien and Reynolds put the Badgers in position to score on its final drive. Badger fought hard and nearly pulled off its first state title appearance in school history.
"It's unreal how much heart and character these guys have," Krien said of his teammates. "They dug in and didn't throw in the towel. It shows the kind of players we're putting through our program. We fought as hard as we could, but things didn't turn out the way we wanted them to. But that's football."
"In a couple weeks, we'll look back at the season and be absolutely amazed," Hensler said. "What a great year."
Badger's ground attack, which had been averaging over 300 yards per game on the season, was held to 206 yards and 4.1 yards per carry. Still solid numbers, but the Badgers had to scratch and claw for every yard. The Cardinals used their physical defensive line to clog up the middle.
"They're so physical, so big and so fast," Hensler said of the Sun Prairie defense. "And they're well-coached. There weren't a lot of holes. Our kids fought for every inch they gained. There's really no weakness in that football team. I'm proud of our guys for hanging in there."
"They made it tough to run the option," Krien said. "We were successful here and there, but we didn't have the consistent drives we're used to having. When the pain starts to go away, we'll look back and realize how big of an impact we had on the school and community. That will take some of the sting away."
Reynolds, a junior, will miss the seniors.
"It's a bittersweet feeling because I know I have another season," he said. "I was honored to play with the seniors. I've been playing with them since I was really little. I have tight bonds with each and every one of those guys. It's like a big family, and it's hard to see them leave."
Johnson led the Badgers with 25 carries for 107 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown to tie the score at 7-7 with four minutes left in the second quarter. That five-minute, 92-yard drive featured 30 Sun Prairie penalty yards, a 10-yard pass from Krien to Johnson and a 27-yard run by Johnson.
Krien finished with 66 yards rushing and completed 4-of-5 passes for 68 yards. Ashley caught two passes for 57 yards.
Krien paced the Badgers with seven tackles, and Andy Cychner added six.
Check out Wednesday's Regional News for more from the Badgers, including photos from the game.
Big Foot 45, Freedom 22
For the third time in five years, the Big Foot football squad will play for the Division 4 state championship.
But Friday night's victory didn't come without hardship.
Playing in a Division 4 state semifinal in West Bend against Freedom, the Chiefs fell behind, 16-7, in their biggest scare of the season.
But Big Foot, which improved to 12-0, did what it has done all season, handed the ball to senior running back Mason Dixon.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound star responded with a game for the ages, racking up 289 yards on 38 carries with five touchdowns.
Big Foot outscored Freedom, 17-0, in the second quarter to take a 31-16 halftime lead.
Dixon added two scores in the second half to help put Freedom away.
Carter Hehr was 7-for-10 passing with 141 yards to lead Big Foot, and Matt Ripkey caught five passes for 110 yards.
Big Foot is looking for its second state title and first since 2009.
Check out Wednesday's Regional News for a full story and a feature on the Big Foot players.