Football team clinches share of 1st SLC title since 1996

 

Burlington senior Hunter Melby fights his way for a touchdown Friday night. The running back had the game-winning score in Burlington's victory over Wilmot. (Earlene Frederick/Standard Press)

Burlington senior Hunter Melby fights his way for a touchdown Friday night. The running back had the game-winning score in Burlington’s victory over Wilmot. (Earlene Frederick/Standard Press)

 

By Mike Ramczyk

Sports Editor

When Burlington High School football coach Steve Tenhagen finally got off Frank Bucci Field in Wilmot Friday night around 10:15 p.m., his cell phone had blown up with more than 30 text messages.

Congratulations came from former teammates, players, friends and family. Everyone – and yes, even Tony Romo called his friend – wanted to talk to the man of the hour after the Demons made history in one of the most exhilarating, epic games in program history.

Burlington outlasted Wilmot, 42-35, in four overtimes, and the Demons clinched their first Southern Lakes Conference championship since 1996.

SPORT CHECK LOGO webOn the last Burlington conference title team, Tenhagen, a senior, was the top receiving threat for Romo, a junior. The conference championship was expected in those days, the good old days of Burlington’s SLC dominance under legendary coach Don Dalton.

“We want to bring the good old days back,” Tenhagen said Tuesday night. “This is special to do it in our first year with the program.

“It’s stuff you cherish,” he added. “It’s difficult to win titles. The goal was to come here and win. We knew we had great coaches and kids. But we’re not done yet. We want to win the title by ourselves.”

Burlington will have a chance to win the SLC outright with a victory over visiting Elkhorn Friday night at Don Dalton Stadium. A loss means a potential four-way tie with Elkhorn, Waterford and Wilmot.

“This is why you play,” Tenhagen said. “We want to take care of business and get a home playoff game. It’s good to turn around and play a big game after a big win. We can’t get to a place where we can relax.”

In the fourth overtime Friday night, when Wilmot’s receiver caught a potential game-tying score but landed out of bounds, Burlington players and students rushed the field in excitement.

“It was a great feeling,” Tenhagen said. “Watching them celebrate makes all of the hard work worth it.”

Back in 1996, the Demons started 0-2 before a signature victory over Lake Geneva Badger got things rolling.

This season, Burlington began the season 0-2 and 1-3, and Tenhagen wasn’t sure of the team’s identity.

“We had to figure out who we were after starting 1-3,” he said. “We were looking for a big moment, and beating Waterford, the defending champ, on the road was huge. The team started believing.”

That unity and conviction has the Demons on a four-game win streak, complete with a blowout, a last-minute, comeback victory and a three-hour marathon.

Burlington will advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2012 and only the second time in nine seasons.

This is a team of quick studies, players who have learned a brand new system with a brand new coaching staff. There’s never a week off in the new-and-improved SLC, and the Demons will have the same approach against the hungry Elks, a team with everything to play for.

Regardless of Friday night’s outcome, the good old days are back.

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