Blue Dukes leave it all on field, coming up just short of state finals berth
Three-time champ Waunakee wins in OT
Whitefish Bay - Perhaps Whitefish Bay senior quarterback Grant Menard summed it up best.
"I have no regrets; absolutely no regrets. We gave it our all," he said following a thrilling, yet heartbreaking, 35-28 loss to Waunakee on Saturday in a WIAA Division 2 state semifinal game at Wisconsin Lutheran College Stadium.
"Waunakee, they're a fabulous team, outstanding. We played our hearts out. We could have won that game. But we left it all out on the field. And I have no regrets."
Even as the Blue Dukes came up just inches short of their first-ever WIAA state finals berth.
Yes, Waunakee is an outstanding team. The Warriors tied the state record with their 48th straight victory and have won the last three WIAA State D2 Championships.
But the fact of the matter is, coach Jim Tietjen's Blue Dukes had them on the ropes early and then again in the final minutes of the game as the Warriors earned a berth in their fourth straight state D2 finals game, this time against Bay's archrival Homestead (11-1) at 1 p.m. Friday at Camp Randall in Madison.
Gray has big first half
Bay let the Warriors know early that it was no pushover when Rashadeem Gray scored on a 17-yard run just 2:01 into the game to give the Blue Dukes a 7-0 lead. He had 118 yards rushing in the first half.
Waunakee tied the game on an 11-play, 80-yard drive, topped off by a 1-yard run by running back Tyler Reynolds with 4:49 left in the quarter.
Bay then went 66 yards in seven plays, getting the lead back on a quarterback sneak by Menard at the 11:57 mark of the second quarter.
But then the Warriors went 60 yards in 12 plays, the big play being a fake punt that the up-man, Dalton Kind, took and raced around left end 20 yards to set up a first down on the 25-yard line.
Finally on third and 16 the Warriors took a timeout and quarterback Will Decorah came out and lofted a 31-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Kruser in the right end zone. Two Blue Dukes were on the spot, but somehow Kruser came up with the football.
So with 15.6 seconds left in the half, Waunakee tied the game at 14-14.
And after the first quarter, Waunakee turned its championship defense into high gear, as the likely all-stater Gray had only 18 more yards for the game.
And at the start of the second half, after a six-play drive which ended in a Bay punt, the Warriors went 61 yards in eight plays and scored on a quarterback sneak by Decorah to take a 21-14 lead at the 6:29 mark.
After Bay went three and out on the next drive, Decorah tossed a 4-yard TD pass to Michael Meffert to end an eight-play, 76-yard drive for a 28-14 lead with 48 seconds left in the third period.
Neither Tietjen nor Menard felt the devastating catch before the half hurt the Blue Dukes mentally or emotionally.
"I don't think it took anything out of our kids, but they (Waunakee) came out and really went after it," Tietjen said. "Our kids were playing hard. They (Waunakee) gave us a shot and we had to overcome it."
Menard rallies Blue Dukes
With 5:15 left in the game, Menard then took over and worked his magic.
First he drove 53 yards in seven plays, tossing a 5-yard score to Darrein Walker to cut the lead to 28-21 with a 2:30 left to play.
On the second-last play of the drive, Menard rolled left was tackled and rolled his left ankle.
Tietjen then showed tremendous faith in his outstanding defense, when he kicked off to the Warriors, knowing one first down would spell doom for his ballclub.
Led by linebacker Steven Baldwin and defensive lineman Trenton Triggs, the Blue Dukes held Reynolds to one, zero and two yards and forced a punt.
With the line of scrimmage the 19-yard line, Waunakee's Troy Laufenberg then shanked a punt to the right, which hit on about the 30-yard line and bounced back down the left sideline, before the Warriors could stop it on the 13-yard line.
The ball traveled a minus-6 yards.
"I didn't realize how close we were," Menard said. "I was sitting on the bench having my ankle looked at. I looked over at the ball and we had it at the 13-yard line. I said 'Let's go, we got this' and we punched another one in."
It took only three plays for Menard, playing in the shotgun because he had no mobility to hand the ball off, to rifle a pass to tight end Jackson Weber, who made an amazing catch to tie the game at 28-28 with 32.9 seconds left to play.
"This is my senior season. I'm going to battle until I die for these boys," Menard said. "I just had to fight through it. I didn't have any other choice."
Menard's gutsy play didn't surprise Tietjen.
"He's been our leader all year," the veteran coach said. "There's not much we can say about it. He does a great job; made some throws when we needed it. He's carried us all year, against Homestead and whoever else."
Unfortunately, the overtime ended quickly, following a Decorah 15-yard TD pass to Kruser, Menard was intercepted in the end zone to end the game.
Tietjen then talked about his troops afterward.
"I expect them to play hard," he said. "They scrapped, made some mistakes, but came back and that was where we wanted to be."
Which was within shouting distance of the pinnacle of state football.
"This is what you want," added Tietjen a day later. "As a coach you want to be involved in the heat of battle, to be going back and forth against a good coach (Pat Rice) and a good team with so much on the line."
- With additional reporting by Steven L. Tietz
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