Wolverines pull away with 27 unanswered points

My24 TV host Mike McGivern and the Waterford football team share a laugh during a live postgame interview Thursday night at Waterford Union High School. (Rick Benavides/SLN)


By Mike Ramczyk


WATERFORD – It was a big stage thanks to local Milwaukee television station My24 carrying the game live, and the Lake Geneva Badger football opened the game like a team desperate for its first win of the season.

The three-time defending Southern Lakes champs, who haven’t missed the playoffs once in Matt Hensler’s 12-year tenure, were 0-2 and facing their biggest rival, Waterford, on the road.

So they drove the ball all the way down to the 1-yard line. But on the next play, the Badger ball carrier fumbled and Waterford recovered.

The sloppy start became an overall theme for the unofficial SLC championship game, as the winner historically tends to take the title.

Badger turned the ball over four times, including a two interceptions in a row in a 27-0 Waterford third quarter, and the Wolverines rolled to a 41-20 victory on a cool, late summer night that saw temperatures dip into the 50s.

Waterford head coach Adam Bakken wanted this one bad, as evidenced by several triumphant leaps after touchdowns throughout the night. After the game, he warned his team that the only thing that can derail their two-game win streak momentum is doing something stupid over the tempting Labor Day weekend.

Mostly, though, he was just happy to knock off the Wolverines’ biggest nemesis over the past decade.

It was the first time Waterford beat Badger since 2014. Lake Geneva leads the series, 6-4, since the teams rejoined the Southern Lakes Conference in 2009.

“We’re healthy,” Bakken said during the postgame huddle. “We played hard. We beat the three-time defending conference champions. You should feel very good, very proud of yourselves. That’s a hell of a win.”


Badger starts strong

While both teams exchanged fumbles early, Lake Geneva cracked the scoreboard first.

Badger junior quarterback Grant Dumez scored from 1 yard out to make it 7-0 with 5 minutes before halftime, but the Wolverines answered quickly.

Junior running back Tanner Keller, who finished with 190 yards on 18 carries and four touchdowns, tied the game at 7-7 on the ensuing possession.

The teams were deadlocked at the half.

For Keller, who now has 400 rushing yards in the past two games, it felt good to finally beat the Badgers.

“As a junior, it feels great because all these years, it’s always been a close game,” Keller said after the game. “I’ve always been watching, and we always ended up losing. But I’m so glad I’m here now, the seniors and the team really stepped it up and we won.”

Senior cornerback Josh Szeklinski said the team didn’t have a big, loud halftime speech or a panic session, and the guys knew they weren’t meeting expectations.

So in the third quarter, all it took was one drive, a two-play, 12-yard series thanks to a muffed punt return, to give Waterford a 13-7 lead, thanks to a Keller 5-yard scamper at the 6:11, and then the flood gates opened.

Waterford stopped Badger for a 3-and-out before Dominic Miller busted off a 59-yard touchdown run down the left sideline, a play in which he looked to be down but broke a tackle and sprinted the final 25 yards.

With a 21-7 lead, Badger quarterback Connor Clifford was under pressure and gifted a floater directly at Szeklinski, who returned it deep inside Badger territory.

Shortly thereafter, Keller poured it on with a 15-yard rushing score to make it 28-7.


Szeklinski seals the deal

On the next Badger drive, Clifford again made an ill-advised throw, another ball that hung up and allowed Szeklinski to pick it off, and he took it to the house, 85 yards, thanks to a convoy of green jerseys, and a close contest was officially a blowout in a matter of one quarter.

“We knew we had to cover them,” Szeklinski said. “I saw the ball, went out and got it and had some great blocks. I got it to the house.”

“Going into the year, the whole goal is conference champs. We knew Badger would be right there with us. Week 1 (a loss) doesn’t matter. We gotta go out there and make plays. It was the O-line and running backs putting points on the board. Big game, big win.”

Keller added another 51-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, where he simply outran the defense.

Badger had 19 first downs to Waterford’s eight, but the Wolverines won the turnover battle, 4-1.

Waterford only out-gained Badger, 377-358.

Willie Ketterhagen caught two balls for 76 yards to lead Waterford.

Miller added 76 rushing yards on eight carries.

““Turnovers, it was 100 percent the turnovers,” Badger coach Matt Hensler said in a GazetteXtra article. “You’re not going to beat any good team with four turnovers. You’re probably going to be 50-50 if you can beat a good team with one turnover. Four? A zero percent chance. If one of them is on (their) 1-yard line and one is inside your 10? What’s worse than zero percent?”

Waterford continues its murderer’s row of opponents, with a pivotal SLC contest against Wilmot next Friday.

What will it take to keep up their winning ways?

“Our bonding is really picking up,” Keller said. “I think we’re really working as a team since Week 1.”