Two weeks in a row now, the Whitefish Bay football team played in historic WIAA playoff games.
Last Saturday, it beat Brookfield East, 40-21, to advance to level 3 of the playoffs for the first time in their school history. Had the Spartans won that game, they would have made the same claim.
And this Friday night, playing their first home playoff game in over a decade, the Blue Dukes and Waterford (11-1) were both striving to make the WIAA state semifinals for the first time each.
But this time around, it was Waterford who broke through the historic barrier, forcing three Bay interceptions and grinding out first down after first down in a physical 17-0, WIAA Division 2, Level 3 victory.
It was like the banner that hung in front of the Wolverines' student section.
"Waterford football: History in the making"
It was a frustrating end to a fine close to the season for the Blue Dukes, who had a sign of their own on the stands, thanking the small number of seniors (seven) on the team, who helped make this first November playoff game in Bay history a reality.
"They (the Woverines) played tough tonight," said a terse Blue Duke coach Jim Tietjen, who saw his team's season end at 7-5. "It was their night. They had nice athletes, they were big and strong upfront and they tackled well."
With the win, Waterford will advance to a WIAA state semifinal game next week against the winner of Green Bay Southwest (9-2) and Cedarburg (9-2), a game that will be played on Saturday.
First-year Waterford head coach Adam Bakken was pleased with his team's versatility, as it posted its second straight tournament shutout. Waterford had routed Southern Lakes Conference rival Wilmot, 52-0, last week.
"They (the Blue Dukes) had a good defensive scheme," he said. "They clogged the middle and challenged us to try and run outside. It's a credit to how physical our line was that we were able to drive on them and it also showed that we don't have to score a bunch of points or have to drop back and pass 35 times a game in order to win."
But it was his defense that Bakken was most pleased with. The Blue Dukes, who scored on seven straight possessions to start the win over East last week, pounded on the Wolverine door on their first possession, but were turned back when Rashadeem Gray was stopped a yard short at the Waterford eight on a fourth and three sweep.
"It was a down and distance sort of thing and we wanted to establish a little control," said Tietjen of eschewing the short field goal attempt. "They just played tough defense (against our run) all night."
"These guys hit hard," Gray could be overheard saying on the sideline after one frustrating carry.
It would be the first of three serious Bay threats that the Wolverines would stymie this night.
Bay then stopped a Waterford drive with a fumble recovery, but shortly thereafter, the Wolverines pushed ahead for good with a 36-yard field goal by Nick Wirsching at the end of the first quarter.
Two series after that, Waterford established a precedent it would repeat time and again, as it ground out an impressive 14-play, 76-yard drive that concluded at the 3:35 mark of the first half on a one-yard TD run by bruising tailback Greg Steffens to give the Wolverines a 10-0 advantage.
Steffens, who almost never went down on first contact this night, finished with 114 yards on 28 carries.
"I just try to keep my legs pumping as hard as I can and try to get as much as I can get (out of a given play)," said the 6-0, 180-pound senior.
Bay tried to close the gap at the end of the first half, driving to the Wolverine 28 but a deep ball into the end zone by quarterback Grant Menard was fought for by Bay receiver Darrein Walker and Waterford defensive back Matt Briggs with Briggs winning the battle as the two hit the Lubar Stadium turf.
It would remain 10-0 at the break.
"We were able to stop their run pretty much most of the night and our pass defense is just getting better all the time," said Steffens.
After the teams traded interceptions to start the second half (senior Patrick Rose snagged the one for Bay), the Blue Dukes created their best opportunity, forcing a short punt and taking over at the Wolverine 35 with 2:23 left in the third quarter.
Seven plays later, Bay found itself with a third and goal from the Wolverine five. Menard rolled out to his left on a play-fake, but the Wolverines did not bite and linebacker Jordan Underly snagged Waterford's third pick of the night in the end zone with 11:16 left in the contest.
"The guys did a nice job on that play," said Bakken. "We were in our goal-line defense but we had people back. Our linebacker (Underly) made a great read on the ball."
Waterford then put the game away with a backbreaking 15-play, 80-yard drive, all on the ground save for a spectacular 21-yard catch by end Dustin Schindler that along with a late hit penalty, gave the Wolverines a first and goal at the Bay six.
Two plays later, quarterback Zach Fisher burrowed in from a yard out and the game was over.
Bakken could not have been prouder of his defense, which held the Blue Dukes to just 238 total yards.
"To hold that team, with all that speed, scoreless, was just a testament to how focused we were and how well we ran our schemes," said Bakken.
Tietjen knew which was the better squad this night.
"That's a fine football team we lost to," he said. "That running back (Steffens) kept moving the sticks and 12 (Schindler) made an absolutely great catch among three of our guys. ...They just did what they had to do."
Bay was led by Gray with 69 yards on 14 carries while senior Deontaye Brown had 66 yards on 17 tries.
Your link to the biggest stories in the suburbs delivered Thursday mornings.
Enter your e-mail address above and click "Sign Up Now!" to begin receiving your e-mail newsletter Get the Newsletter!
- DeKeyser to lead experienced Whitefish Bay girls this winter
- Whitefish Bay swimmers rebound, advance seven entries to state
- Whitefish Bay girls CC team not quite healthy enough to win state
- Football: Homestead football team just a little bit better against Bay
- Football: Preps football photos of the week: Level 2
- Road warrior Bay unit stuns Oshkosh North, 28-0
- Bay girls CC team is looking for second state title
- Football: Whitefish Bay makes a memorable trip north
- Football: Preps football photos of the week: Level 1
- Football: Poll: Which area team will win a state football title?