UNION GROVE — Looks can be deceiving.
On paper, a matchup between teams that are 4-2 and 1-5 respectively might seem like smooth sailing for the team with the better record. But when you toss in a plethora of injuries for the 4-2 squad and homecoming excitement for the 1-5 squad, the matchup can be much closer than it seems.
That was the case Oct. 4 when the 4-2 Badgers traveled to Union Grove to face a Broncos team with a 1-5 record, including 0-4 in Southern Lakes Conference play. The Badgers were plagued with turnovers, and Union Grove took advantage of them to pick up a 33-27 overtime victory for the home squad.
With the fickle nature of high school football, Badger head coach Matt Hensler has never been one to overlook an opponent. However, his patience has run thin with people outside the program looking past the other team in conversations with him and his players.
“I am absolutely, 100-percent tired of people just coming up to us and saying, ‘Well, you should win; this is an easy one.’ Forget that,” Hensler said. “I get it way too much, and clearly our kids are thinking that stuff, too.”
The Badgers were clicking early in the contest. The defense forced a Union Grove three-and-out on the game’s opening drive, and the offense followed up with a clock-chewing drive that was capped by a 17-yard rushing touchdown by running back Cole Gabor-Pullen. The point after was blocked, so Badger’s lead was 6-0 halfway through the first quarter.
Union Grove responded on its next drive, as quarterback Nash Wolf broke free for a 42-yard rush that set up a 24-yard touchdown run by running back Garrett Foldy. Those two plays were more than half of the Broncos’ total rushing yards on the day, making up 66 of the team’s 114 yards.
The Broncos missed the extra point, though, so the game was tied at 6-6 with 5:56 remaining in the first quarter.
Badger reclaimed its lead less than a minute later, when running back Carter Lazzaroni scored a 41-yard rushing touchdown with 5:09 on the clock to go ahead 13-6.
After their solid first quarter, though, things went south for the Badgers. On their first drive of the second quarter, Badger fumbled the ball, and a few plays later, Wolf punched in a two-yard rushing score, and Scott Towne scored a two-point conversion to go ahead 14-13.
On their next drive, the Badgers fumbled again. But their defense bailed the offense out by forcing a quick Union Grove punt.
For the third drive in a row, the Badgers fumbled, and the Broncos made them pay again in the form of a 30-yard passing score from Wolf to Towne with two minutes on the clock. They failed the two-point conversion, though, and only led 20-13 at halftime.
Fumbles have been a major issue for Badger all season long, even in games they have won. So to see two fumbles turn into 13 points for the Broncos in a game that was tied at the end of regulation was a major blow.
“Every fumble was unforced. It’s not like we got hit on any of them; we just dropped the ball,” Hensler said. “There you go — there’s the ballgame.”
Things looked up for the Badgers in the third quarter, as they once again took the lead, thanks to rushing scores by running back Tanner Garrels and quarterback Grant DuMez that give Badger a 27-20 lead with 3:14 left in the third quarter.
It was not until halfway through the fourth quarter that a team scored next. At the 7:24 mark, Union Grove knotted the game at 27-27 on a 1-yard rush by Wolf.
Badger had two opportunities to retake the lead, but both of their drives ended in interceptions, including one with 13 seconds remaining that resulted in the Broncos getting the ball at the 10-yard line with 0.7 seconds left.
Union Grove lined up for a game-winning 27-yard field goal, but the Badgers blocked the kick to force overtime.
With both teams having a shot at scoring, the Badgers got the ball first, but were stopped on downs without picking up a first down. Union Grove was able to seal the 33-27 win when running back Connor Legg punched in a 5-yard score.
Offensively, the Badgers were able to easily rack up yards, out-gaining Union Grove 446-274. However, with Badger losing the turnover battle 5-0, the number of yards gained was invalidated.
With several injuries at almost all positions, the Badgers have been forced to rely on the contributions of a number of young players. Luckily for Badger fans, those young guys have stepped up.
Defensively, freshman Jimmy Athans and sophomore Cole Berghorn each had a sack in the contest. On the offensive side of the ball, sophomore Tyler Deleskiewicz led the team through the air with three catches for 51 yards. Juniors Garrels and Lazzaroni combined for 197 of Badger’s 377 rushing yards, scoring one touchdown apiece.
Despite the solid performances from seniors and underclassmen alike, the bad plays eclipsed the good ones for Badger.
“We saw a lot of great things from a lot of kids. Just too many mistakes, that’s the way it is,” Hensler said.
Next up for the Badgers is their homecoming game, an Oct. 11 7 p.m. matchup against Delavan-Darien.
While the Comets come into the game with a 2-5 record, including 1-4 in Southern Lakes Conference play, the Badgers have already learned not to take anything for granted.