Waterford erases 21-7 second half deficit, will play #1 Monona Grove

Ben Michalowski is fired up after a second half touchdown Friday night. (Rick Benavides/SLN)

 

By Chris Bennett and Mike Ramczyk

sports@southernlakesnewspapers.com

WATERFORD – Every armchair quarterback that ever screamed, ‘Why didn’t they go for two?’ got their wish answered in Friday night’s WIAA Division 2 Level 1 playoff game between Burlington and Waterford at Waterford Union High School.

After scoring a touchdown in overtime to put the score at 28-27 in favor of Waterford, Demons coach Steve Tenhagen and the Burlington coaching staff went for two points – and for the win.

The Wolverines’ defense held off Burlington and lived to play another day.

Waterford (8-2), seeded fourth in its playoff bracket, will play Friday at No. 1-seeded Monona Grove. The Silver Eagles (10-0) routed Wilmot 42-12 Friday at Monona Grove.

The game between Burlington (6-4) and Waterford turned into a contest of frantic momentum swings, with the players spurred on by an engaged – but seemingly undersized – crowd.

Wolverines coach Adam Bakken admitted to being at a loss for words following the victory. Waterford trailed Burlington 21-14 with less than four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

“I don’t know of any team I’ve ever coached that I’ve been more proud of after a win than this one right now,” Bakken said. “It was a fantastic effort.”

Tenhagen said the Demons ran a rub switch passing play on the two-point conversion. The play is inspired by the offense run by Clemson in the Tigers’ 35-31 victory over Alabama in the NCAA Division 1 title game in January.

Tenhagen said the Demons used the play on the goal line all season, and practiced it every week.

The play sent receivers on crossing routes through the back of the end zone, and provided Demons quarterback Nick Klug variations for switches on defense, particularly in the defensive secondary.

Waterford foiled the Demons’ plans when the Wolverines applied just enough pressure to Klug to force an early throw. The pass on the two-point conversion, intended for tight end Joe Tully, was batted away by Waterford’s Zak Slusar.

“I thought Burlington would go for the tie,” said Slusar, who managed a deep drop at outside linebacker to gain enough depth to knock down Klug’s pass, which was intended for the end zone. “It was do or die. It was advance or season over. We really believed in each other, and we got it done.”

Waterford totaled 224 rushing yards, and Burlington senior linebacker Nate Crayton admitted the Wolverines wore the Demons down.

“I think that we were all tired to be honest,” Crayton said. “But that didn’t really stop us. We had to stop the run and we did for a little bit, but they just kept taking it to us.”

“We played the best we could. They didn’t know what was happening at first.”

Waterford players celebrate as Burlington players struggle to move moments after Waterford’s win Friday night. (Rick Benavides/SLN)

Two-point play called to protect defense

The Wolverines’ sideline and fans erupted when the ball hit the turf. Tenhagen explained the Demons’ decision in candid detail.

“You can’t second-guess yourself,” Tenhagen said. “We decided, as a staff, to go for it, not thinking we could stop them in the next overtime (possession). Obviously, we didn’t convert.”

After Tanner Keller tallied a 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, Ben Michalowski added a 1-yard scoring run at the 5:41 mark of the fourth, and Waterford and Burlington ended regulation tied at 21-21. The Wolverines took the ball first in overtime. High school football overtime rules state each team gets the ball on the 25-yard line for alternate possessions.

Like scores – field goal for field goal, touchdown for touchdown – extend the overtime. The overtime ends when one team stops the other from scoring.

Waterford rode the hot hand of Ben Michalowski in overtime, even opting for direct snaps to the senior running back. Michalowski eventually scored on a three-yard run to give Waterford a 28-21 lead.

Michalowski said the rivals are friends off the field, but on the field Friday it was all business.

“We’re known as rivals but off the field we hang out,” he said. “On the field, it’s go time. It was a very intense game.”

Burlington junior Julian Luciano juggles the football Friday night. (Rick Benavides/SLN)

The Wolverines’ run game in overtime affected the decision of the Demons’ staff to opt for the two-point conversion.

“It had to do with what they did in the series before,” Tenhagen said. “We were tired, we were gassed. We didn’t think we were going to stop them.”

The Demons played decidedly more physical than in the regular season meeting between the two squads. Waterford won 31-14 Sept. 15 at Burlington.

Tenhagen attributed the Demons’ edge to a young team coming of age. The difference in the style of play did not go unnoticed by Bakken, who said Friday’s game is the best he’s seen Burlington play.

Waterford senior offensive lineman Zach Stiewe said the Demons presented a stiff challenge.

“Their front four was blasting us left and right,” he said. “At halftime, we talked about how we needed to unite and work as one. I went up to my linemen and said, ‘You guys promise me this ain’t my last half?’ and they said yes.'”

 

Questionable call

Michalowski tied the score at 21-21 with 5:41 left in the fourth quarter on a drive extended after a questionable taunting penalty on the Burlington defense during a sack of Waterford quarterback Joe Schauer.

The Demons’ coaching staff claimed Michalowski taunted after his touchdown run, which serves to underscore the heightened atmosphere of the game.

The Demons outgained the Wolverines, 274-229. Each coach admitted his squad made its share of mistakes.

Keller rushed for 105 yards on 22 carries and scored once. Michalowski rushed for 91 yards on 19 carries and scored three touchdowns.

 

Klug passed for 163 yards and three touchdowns. Grant Tully rushed for 76 yards on 13 carries and caught four balls for 31 yards. Joe Tully caught six passes for 57 yards and a score and Nick Webley caught four passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns.

The Wolverines lost 24-14 to Monona Grove last season at Waterford in a first-round playoff game. The Silver Eagles advanced to the Division 2 title game and lost 42-36 to Brookfield East.

Waterford has won seven straight games.

“We’re a family, we really are,” Slusar said. “We’re real close, and we have guys getting really hype before the game. We all believe in each other, and that’s what you need to get it done.”

Harrison George (23) takes down a Waterford running back Friday night. (Rick Benavides/SLN)

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