What makes the Waunakee football team so special?
Following a dominant performance in all phases of the game Friday afternoon, Warriors junior tailback Leo Musso offered his take after rushing for 146 yards and two touchdowns during an impressive 48-7 pounding of Cedarburg at Camp Randall Stadium.
"Everybody is hungry and everybody gets their shot and they take it. I think that's what contributes to our success," Musso said after Waunakee (14-0) successfully defended its WIAA Division 2 state title and won its fourth state championship overall.
"I'm really grateful I got to do that with the guys I'm playing with. It's real special and real fun."
Musso had the numbers of his starting offensive linemen — Eric Alfson (53), Jacob Ohnesorge (57), John Oyer (67), Zach Statz (68) and Jay Mazanet (72) — shaved into his head in their honor just for the championship game.
"The Hogs open up the holes. I get the easy job, I just run behind them," said Musso, who wanted to add No. 4 for starting tight end Austin Maly but ran out of room. "It thought it would be cheaper than taking them all out to dinner."
The fun for Waunakee began on its first possession when quarterback Hunter Darger hooked up with Maly, a University of Wisconsin recruit, for a 21-yard scoring strike less than 2 minutes into the game.
"We played with heart. That's all you could really ask for in a team," said Maly, who finished with five catches for 127 yards to tie the Division 2 state finals record for receiving yards set last year by teammate Derek Straus.
The Bulldogs used a 21-play, 88-yard drive that consumed 10 minutes, 54 seconds to pull even on quarterback Ryan Ramuta's 1-yard sneak with 5:55 left in the second quarter.
But that was all the scoring Cedarburg (12-2) could muster.
"That defense flows really well, and they got a big D-line so their linebackers fill (the gaps)," said Cedarburg running back Logan Lauters, who ran for 116 yards — nearly 80 below his season average — on 33 carries and finished as the state's top rusher with 2,655 yards. "They're a very physical team. Not many teams can match up with that team."
Waunakee regained the lead for good at 14-7 lead on Bryan McCarthy's 1-yard TD run with 22 seconds left before halftime.
But Warriors coach Pat Rice issued a challenge at halftime that his squad took to heart.
"We knew we could play better. It had to start with the defense," Rice said. "We needed to be more aggressive and more physical at the line of scrimmage. Once we took over the line of scrimmage and our playmakers made some plays, we were in control."
Jared Staege intercepted Ramuta's pass on the Bulldogs' opening drive of the second half, and Musso made it 21-7 with a 5-yard TD burst.
"The defense really needed to come up with a big stop," said Staege, who was one of four Warriors with an interception in the second half. "(Jacob) Soper got up and batted it down and I saw the play and just dove on it. We got in the end zone on that possession so it was big."
Once the Warriors got rolling, nothing Cedarburg did seemed to matter.
Staege added a Division 2 record 66-yard punt return for a touchdown following Cedarburg's next possession. Max Chamberlin returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter as Waunakee won back-to-back titles for the first time in program history.
"As soon as we won the state title last year, we took everything down the next day. There were at least 50 guys in the weight room the next day getting after it," Staege said. "They were eager for it to be their turn to do this. That's what the Waunakee program is all about."
The Warriors, who are 49-3 over the last four years, have won 22 games in a row since a 15-10 loss to Reedsburg on Oct. 2, 2009.
"Good things happen sometimes to good people and the group I've got in the locker room are good kids," Rice said. "You saw tears in all their eyes and it's because it's over and how special this season has been for all of them. It's been an unbelievable year."