WIAA PLAYOFF FOOTBALL: Waukesha West 31, Waterford 28

No-quit Wolverines almost pull off miraculous comeback

Adam Bakken paces before giving his final postgame speech of the 2018 season Friday night. (Rick Benavides/SLN)


By Mike Ramczyk


WATERFORD – High school coaches aren’t just building and developing players.

With all the guiding, coaching, talking, sometimes yelling, they may not even realize it, but they’re building and developing adults to put into the world and contribute to society.

Waterford varsity football coach Adam Bakken paced back and forth, searching for the right words to give his Wolverines moments after a heartbreaking 31-28 WIAA Division 2 playoff loss Friday night, but when he finally spoke, suddenly the score didn’t matter.

“The way that everyone, starters, backups, the way everybody competed today…you know what most teams would’ve done, down 10 points with less than a minute left? Quit,” he said with an emotional passion as players knelt and fought back tears.

“Lay down, roll over, but we didn’t, we did the opposite. If we play them 10 times, we win five. I don’t get overly emotional, but I can honestly say that, and I told you this this summer, it’s the highest character, best group of seniors collectively, that I’ve coached anywhere. And you’re pretty damn good football players, too.”

Those kinds of words and emotions will come out after a team does what Waterford did in the final two minutes Friday night in front of a packed house on a cool, comfortable fall night.

Seemingly dead in the water after Waukesha West’s juggernaut offense scored a third touchdown of the second half at the 5:25 mark, the Wolverines were down 31-21 and missed a 40-yard field goal with a mere three minutes on the clock.

But the defense stepped up and got the ball back with 2 minutes to go, and that’s when senior quarterback Joe Schauer, who ran for a score in the first quarter, went to work through the air.

Schauer played his best game of his career, constantly rallying his troops back from large deficits in the second half.

With a pass rusher in a full spring ready to lay him out, Schauer delivered a perfect spiral near midfield to a streaking Tanner Keller, who reversed fields and faked out a few West defenders all the way down to the West 12 for a 50-yard gain with about 40 seconds to play.

Then, after a timeout, Schauer dropped back and fired a bullet to the left pylon, where Josh Szeklinski ran a crisp route and caught the 12-yard score to cut the lead to 31-28 with 36 seconds to play.

“It was a lot of fun, we’ve been working on that 2-minute ‘O’ all season, and we finally got to use it and make it happen,” said Schauer, who finished with 159 yards passing (13-17) and two touchdowns. “I saw they were in man, so I was making my calls. Then coach called a whisper seam up the middle, so I threw it to Tanner. Then I hit Josh for the touchdown. I was just doing what I could.”

Waterford seniors take one final knee after Friday’s game. (Rick Benavides/SLN)

“We’re family, and I’ll never forget this group of guys.”

Waterford employed what looked a bit like a rugby scrum, with all 11 players packed tight at midfield, before kicker Mike Durand approached the football.

The onside kick went straight upfield, bouncing twice and passing the first line of West returners.

But after roughly three seconds, what looked like a promising opportunity was snagged by a diving West player, who secured the ball.

Waukesha ran out the clock, and Waterford’s eight-game winning streak came to a crashing halt.

Senior safety Willie Ketterhagen, who made a clutch interception just before half and broke up a potential touchdown pass in the second half, said West receiver Trae Tetzlaff, who caught seven balls for 120 yards and two touchdowns, was a handful.

West’s balanced offense also featured running back Sam Mikulak, who pinballed his way in and out of traffic behind a massive, athletic offensive line to the tune of 199 yards on 31 carries.

“I’m glad I was able to play my career with these guys, I love these guys,” Ketterhagen said. “Defensively, we did a real good job in the first half. Second half, we struggled stopping their stuff outside. They were making all the right calls.”

“Tetzlaff is a great player, super athletic, really fast. He runs his routes extremely crisp. We had Josh over the top, our best corner, and we tried man and zone on him.”

The teams traded touchdowns in the first quarter, then a Brent Bartlet field goal gave West a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter.

Dominic Miller gave Waterford its only lead, 14-10, with a 2-yard score just before half. On the play, Schauer pretended to run, approaching the middle of the line like a quarterback sneak, but he then pitched the ball to the right to Miller, who walked into the end zone.

The trickery didn’t stop, fitting as Halloween is four days away, as the Waterford offense executed two more hook-and-ladder plays in the second half.


West takes over

But the West Wolverines came out firing in the second half, scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions.

After holding Waterford to a 3-and-out to start the third quarter, a steady mix of Mikulak and Tetzlaff got West inside the Waterford 10.

But the Wolverines’ defensive line clamped down and set up a 4th-and-Goal from the 6 with 4 minutes in the third.

Brooks Blount got the shotgun snap and found Tetzlaff, who drifted in between zone coverage in the back of the end zone for the score, which gave West a 17-14 lead.

After another Waterford 3-and-out, West drove another 50 yards in 3 minutes, culminating with a 2-yard touchdown run and a 10-point lead.

Schauer, forced to pass, showed poise and pocket presence while showing off his strong, accurate arm.

He lived on the wheel route to Tanner Keller, who finished with 214 total yards, and on a critical third down, Schauer dropped a beautiful lob pass into the bucket to Keller, who ended up gaining 40 yards on the play.

A few plays later, Miller pounded it in from 2 yards to cut the deficit to 24-21.

But West answered immediately, keeping the Waterford defense off balance and scoring on a Mikulak 7-yard score.

On the ensuing Waterford possession, it advanced to the West 23 before the drive stalled on 4th-and-8.

Waterford elected to kick a field goal, but the long, 40-yard attempt fell inches shy of the goal post.

West racked up 379 total yards to Waterford’s 331.

Waterford lost a fumble, but it was the game’s only turnover.

Keller ran for 113 yards on 14 carries, and Miller finished with 43.

Keller also led in receiving with 101 yards on three catches, while Szeklinski added nine catches for 52 yards.

For Bakken, this group was so special, it made him a better coach.

“I want to thank you for, Number 1, after the last couple years, making me want to coach again. Take that away, how much we care about you, how great of kids you guys are, and at the end of the day, you’re one of the best teams that’s played at Waterford,” Bakken said.

“You should be damn proud of that, because I know I am of you guys.”

The Waterford player did one final breakdown before everyone walked slowly, and painfully, to midfield for one last huddle and breakdown.

They didn’t want to leave the football field, knowing for many it would be the last time they played the game they love.

Bakken and other coaches embraced the seniors one by one, thanking them for their four years of commitment and hard work.

For Ketterhagen, Waterford football will forever live in his heart and mind.

“This was huge for us, from two years not winning conference after winning five years in a row,” he said. “It was really big coming back and winning conference. A lot of big games, great games. And playing on TV was awesome.”

Joe Schauer lunges ahead for a touchdown run in the first quarter. (Rick Benavides/SLN)