WILLIAMS BAY — The last time a Williams Bay football team scored more than 50 points in a game was Oct. 18, 2002. It was the second to last game of the Bulldog’s most recent winning season.
On Friday, the Bulldogs beat the Hustisford Falcons 52-22.
In 2002, the Bulldogs went 6-2. This year, after 10 straight losing seasons – four of which were winless – the Bulldogs are 4-4 with a chance to clinch a playoff birth.
What does Bulldog head coach Derek Diehl have to say? Things are clicking.
“It’s towards the end of the year,” he said. There’s less thinking going on about what their jobs are, and more just reacting and doing what they should be doing.”
But Friday night didn’t start out so smoothly. The Bulldogs found themselves down 14-0 three minutes after kick off.
Bulldog quarterback John Higgins put up a deep pass on third down of the game’s opening drive, but the receiver dropped the ball.
“We had a nice pass, a wheel-route down the sideline,” Diehl said. “It was right in (the receiver’s) hands, but you drop it and that happens.”
Then a penalty set up a short-yardage drive for the Falcons.
A Bulldog player didn’t see the Falcon returner signal a fair catch during the punt. When the Falcon was tackled, the Bulldogs were penalized.The Falcon’s started their first drive on the Bulldog 30 yard line.
“Three plays later, they’re in the end zone,” Diehl said.
On the first play of the Bulldogs next possession, they turned the ball over on a fumble. Hustisford scored on the next play.
“It was a little hectic in the beginning,” Diehl said. “I basically just told the kids: ‘settle down, Hustisford hasn’t earned anything against us. They have not driven the field. We’ve given them their 14 points, and now the game is 0-0. Don’t look at the scoreboard, let’s just do what we came here to do.’”
And once the Bulldogs settled down, they unleashed.
Higgins threw for 225 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. He had a passer rating of 110.9.
Running back Michael Guss ran for 208 yards and two touchdowns.
Receiver Jonah Vanvleet caught all four of Higgins touchdowns, and they were his only four catches. But he still had 143 receiving yards.
Defensive end James Woss had eight tackles, two tackles for a loss, three sacks, and forced two fumbles.
Diehl said that after the game while the two teams lined up to shake hands, the Hustisford head coach told Woss, “I’m glad you’re graduating.”
“Anytime that you hear (an opposing) coach tell that to one of your players, it’s definitely good,” Diehl said.
But much of the team’s success came from Diehl’s balanced offensive approach. Diehl called 28 passing plays and 27 running plays. His team threw for 225 yards and ran for 283 yards.
“We’re very balanced,” Diehl said. “So, many high school teams get one dimensional in the rushing game, and I mean, you play against somebody who is actually stronger and bigger, you suffer and risk a loss. Well, I like being two dimensional it doesn’t matter what we see, we have the ability to put up points, and, you know, that’s just how we do it here.”
But as impressive as the Bulldog were, Diehl said they could have been even better.
“The stats look good, but Higgins stats would’ve been amazing actually. This was one of his best games. The problem is we had quite a few dropped balls. He was on the money, I mean he was just so accurate, you know, it’s just, you still got to catch them.”
Higgins was 12-28 – his completion percentage was one of the team’s only statistical blemishes.
On Friday night, Diehl felt his team was finally playing up to their potential – he had seen them lose confidence against teams that had routed them last year, but now, after last week’s win against Martinsville and this week’s win against Hustisford, he feels pretty good about the Bulldogs’ playoff chances.
“With a program that has struggled in the past,” Diehl said. “You play against teams like Rio that traditionally have beaten you by 45-50 points. I think it’s just a mental block that they have when they play against schools that in the past have dominated them. But I think right now, it’s getting to the point where they’re just confident. And they feel good about what they’re capable of doing. And now it just comes down to doing it.”
This Friday the Bulldogs will play the Cambria-Friesland Hilltoppers (3-2 Trailways, 4-4 overall). If they win, the Bulldogs will have won half their conference games – making them eligible for the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
If they lose, their playoff chances drop to zero.
But either way, the Bulldogs performance this season has proven that the program has emerged from a decade of losses with a competitive edge. For the first time in years, Diehl said, people are talking about high school football in Williams Bay. People are excited.
“Beautiful thing about football,” he said. “When you gel, you’re hard to beat.”