By Jennifer Eisenbart

Sports editor

The turf at Camp Randall Stadium can be both welcoming – and unforgiving.

The Waterford Union High School football team learned the latter lesson Nov. 18, running into a stingy Waunakee defense – and a brick wall in search of the school’s first state football title.

The Warriors, the two-time defending state champions entering the game, held the Wolverines to minus-15 yards rushing for the contest and cruised to their third consecutive title, 45-0.

Waunakee finished the season undefeated at 13-0, while Waterford dropped to 12-2.

There were several components to the loss. Waterford coach Adam Bakken said he didn’t see a lot of nerves out of his team, and that the Wolverines warmed up well.

But when the game began, the Wolverines just could not establish their running game. For a team that entered the game with three rushers capable of 200-yard games, it was a big disappointment.

“Obviously, they did things differently at the line of scrimmage than what we anticipated,” said Bakken. “They’re three-time-defending state champs for a reason, so we give them a lot of credit.

“But on the same hand, our kids showed no quit,” Bakken added. “We never gave up, which is what I wanted to see in the second half.

The Waterford running game spent most of its time futilely trying to cope with a swarming Waunakee defense, but still managed to stay close in the first half. A series of three plays, though, allowed the Warriors to stretch the lead to 24-0 at the half.

Trailing just 7-0, the Wolverines undercut a passing route, and senior Matt Briggs came up with an interception for Waterford. However, on the very next play, Waterford quarterback Zach Fisher got his pass tipped at the line of scrimmage, giving the Warriors the ball back.

Waunakee then drove down the field with relative ease, captain the drive with a one-yard touchdown run by Max Chamberlin.

After the two teams exchanged defensive possessions, Waterford looked to have the Warriors stopped at 31-yard line. But kicker Jack Russell converted a 48-yard field goal – a new Division 2 record.

Finally, with less than 30 left in the half, Waunakee quarterback Hunter Darger came up with a 16-yard touchdown run.

Combined with Russell’s spot-on kicking performance (all eight of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks and he hit every extra point in addition to the record-setting field goal), the Wolverines just couldn’t come up with a way to counter.

“We didn’t come ready to play,” said senior running back Greg Steffens. “I think we were overwhelmed being here.

“They’re a great team,” he quickly added. “We just didn’t play our game today.”

Waunakee standout running back Leo Musso accounted for four of Waunakee’s seven touchdowns – including the final three of the game that set up the running clock in the fourth quarter.

Musso finished the contest with 27 carries for 181 yards, a new Division 2 record.

With Waterford’s running game unable to produce much, Fisher tried to pick up the slack. He completed 15 of 24 passes for 122 yards, but also got sacked three times and spent a good portion of the game scrambling for time to pass.

Dylan Dessart had six receptions for 59 yards, while Dustin Schindler had four receptions for 39 yards.

Fisher tried to stay positive afterward.

“We didn’t play our game,” he said. “I still love these guys.

“It’s a great accomplishment for our school,” he added. “It’s a great group of guys. We’ll remember this forever.”

Dessart also enjoyed the experience, albeit not the loss.

“It’s definitely a great experience,” said Dessart of making the trip. And advice for next year’s team?

“Off-season is key,” he said. “Work hard all year.”

Bakken wanted to stay focused on what his team accomplished this season, which included a 10-game winning streak and a tie for the Southern Lakes Conference title.

“It’s about Waterford and what we’ve accomplished this year,” Bakken said. “I think after the initial shock of not playing well goes away, I think the kids will be able to say, ‘We had a pretty darned successful year.’

“We did something that’s never been done in school history,” he added. “There’s a lot of things to be proud of.”