OCONOMOWOC — It hurts. It stings. It’s painful. It’s tear-inducing.
You name it, anyone close to the Waunakee football program is thinking it after Friday night’s 20-13 loss to Brookfield Central in a WIAA Division 2 state semifinal.
But from where the Warriors began the season, coach Pat Rice couldn’t be more proud of his team.
“We lost 19 starters. At the beginning of the year, not many thought we’d be back here,” Rice said. “But we were a tick away from getting (to the title game).
“It’s disappointing, but … I’m proud of our kids. I know it’s disappointing tonight, but it was a great ride.”
Waunakee beat Central 14-13 in last year’s Division 2 title game. Friday’s loss was the first for the Warriors, who finished 12-1 after winning the Badger North Conference title.
“A lot of people thought this would be an off year for us. They made our team proud, they made our town proud,” Rice said. “It’s been a fun year. I’m sad it’s over ... but the type of year they had and the type of kids they are — they made it special.”
Central coach Jed Kennedy coached across the state before taking over the Lancers in 2014. He surely realizes how special Waunakee’s season has been — and he hopes his teams achieve similar success as the Warriors.
“I have great respect for Coach Rice. I grew up as a kid looking up to Coach Rice,” Kennedy said. “I kind of modeled myself running a program like his, being consistently good.”
Early on, the game looked destined for a shootout. Central opened with an 80-yard drive, capped by a 1-yard run by junior Rashad Lampkin. But Waunakee was just as impressive, driving 62 yards on its opening drive and tying the game on a 6-yard pass from senior Jarrett Wulf to junior Will Ross.
That score held until halftime, as both teams managed just 93 yards.
“Our (defense) played nails all night against some good dudes,” Rice said. “They just held in there and kept playing. They kept roaring back and gave us a lot of chances. It was a big night defensively and gave us some chances.”
Lampkin found a cutback lane on Central’s first second-half possession, running 42 yards for a 14-7 lead just two minutes into the half. But Waunakee’s defense recorded two interceptions and a fumble recovery while trailing. The second interception — a nifty grab-and-run by senior Nick Robson — set up Waunakee for a 5-yard touchdown pass from Wulf to senior Sawyer Maly. A bad snap on the conversion left Central with a 14-13 lead — a mirror image of last year’s state-title victory by Waunakee.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see it,” Kennedy said.
But Central answered with a 53-yard pass from senior Drew Leszczynski to senior Connor Kolb for a 20-13 lead.
“They’re good. They’re talented,” Rice said of Central. “They made us work for everything. We made a couple of turnovers to change it our way, but they made a few more plays. It was just two good football teams going at it.”
Central will play Mequon Homestead in next week’s state title game at Camp Randall Stadium. Homestead beat Marshfield 12-7 Friday.
“There are four teams left, and we lost against the team we played in the finals last year,” Rice said. “I think a lot of people would’ve doubted we’d get this far this year. I know the kids are disappointed tonight .. but when you really step away and reflect on the season they had it was amazing.
“We have a lot of tradition here, and they did nothing but add to the tradition.”
After surviving another round with Waunakee, Central is excited to be back in Madison.
“We’ve played 2 games in the last 365 days,” Kennedy said of Waunakee. “I think both of them are in the top five football games I’ve ever been a part of.”
Brookfield Central 7 0 7 6 — 20
Waunakee 7 0 0 6 — 13
BC — Lampkin 1 run (Bloom kick)
W — Ross 6 pass from Wulf (Marek kick)
BC — Lampkin 42 run (Bloom kick)
W — Maly 5 pass from Wulf (run failed)
BC — Kolb 53 pass from Leszczynski (kick failed)
First downs — BC 14, W 6. Rushing (Att.-Yds.) — BC 47-188, W 38-68. Passing yards — BC 90, W 97. Passes (Comp.-Att.-Int.) — BC 4-14-3, W 8-16-0. Fumbles-lost — BC 1-1, W 0-0. Penalties-yards — BC 4-35, W 7-91.
Rushing: BC, Lampkin 28-156. W, Zwettler 9-43.
Passing: BC, Leszczynski 4-13-3-90. W, Wulf 8-16-0-97.
Receiving: BC, Kolb 3-78. W, Maly 4-81.