When the Badger football team suffered its first loss of the season against Wilmot on Sept. 6, head coach Matt Hensler stressed that his team would need to focus hard over the course of the next week of practices to get back on track.
The Badger players followed their coach’s advice.
“I feel like we had a good week of practice, and it really helped us bounce back,” quarterback Grant DuMez said.
With that strong week of practice under their belt, the Badgers took the field for their first home game of the year Sept. 13, treating their home fans to a 35-13 win as they ran all over Southern Lakes Conference foe Elkhorn.
Elkhorn was unable to contain Badger’s running attack, as the home team picked up 445 yards on the ground, with only three yards coming through the air on just five passing attempts.
The first two drives of the contest perfectly summed up the game as a whole.
Badger kicked off to start, and after a couple of Elks plays, DuMez snagged an interception on defense to put the ball into the hands of the Badgers’ offense. They proceeded to quickly march down the field, and DuMez capped off the drive with an 8-yard rushing touchdown. Running back Cole Gabor-Pullen punched in a two-point conversion to put the home team up 8-0.
After those two drives set the tone for the game, both teams traded punts. The Badgers then grabbed another interception, as Chase Hodkiewicz caught an errant Elkhorn pass with under a minute remaining in the first quarter. The Badgers could not advance the ball, but as soon as Elkhorn got it, quarterback Mason Buelow threw his third interception of the game, this time picked off by Badger’s Kegan Huber.
The Badgers chewed up much of the second-quarter clock on the ensuing drive, and DuMez scored his second rushing touchdown of the game to give Badger a 15-0 advantage.
Being able to keep the other team’s offense off the field — and Badger’s own on it — has been an important facet of the game for Hensler this season, and the defense’s ball hawking allowed them to do that against Elkhorn.
“That’s something we’ve been trying to focus on, controlling the ball a little bit,” Hensler said. “Takeaways by our defense are so huge for us.”
An Elkhorn three-and-out gave Badger the ball back just a minute after their last touchdown, and on the first play of the drive, DuMez took a 57-yard rush for his third and final touchdown of the game. While the point after was no good, Badger still had a 21-0 lead, which held until halftime.
The score did not last long after halftime, though, as the Badgers took the opening drive into the end zone, with running back Tanner Garrels rushing for a 15-yard touchdown to go up 28-0 just over two and a half minutes into the third quarter.
Badger’s most notable blemish of the game came on its next drive, as DuMez threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Jake Rockweiler to put Elkhorn on the scoreboard for the first time at 28-7.
They bounced back, though, as running back Drew Laskowski picked up a 55-yard rush and Carter Lazzaroni scored a 1-yard rushing touchdown to extend the deficit back to four scores, 35-7, with 1:35 left in the third quarter.
From that point on, Badger started rotating in the backups, and while the Elks scored in the fourth quarter to make the final score 35-13, the game’s result was never in doubt during the final 12 minutes.
Badger’s astonishing 445 rushing yards was not the result of a one-man wrecking crew, instead being the result of a group effort.
Two people ran for more than 100 yards each, with DuMez leading the charge with 129 yards rushing, and two more racked up 50 or more yards. There were 11 total runners who got at least one carry, nine of whom had two or more.
With the victory, Hensler’s career record against Elkhorn went up to 11-2, and while he has had the Elks’ number for over a decade, it will not give him any extra comfort heading into next year’s contest.
“I’ll still stress next year when we play them, so it doesn’t really matter,” he said.
Badger’s record this season sits at 3-1, including a 1-1 mark in Southern Lakes Conference play.
Up next on the schedule is a home matchup against Burlington on Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. The Demons have been off to a hot start this year, with a 4-0 record, averaging 45.2 points per game.
The matchup will be a critical meeting between a pair of teams that still have dreams of claiming the Southern Lakes Conference title, with a win putting them in good shape and a loss all but extinguishing their hopes.