One team stands in the way of an undefeated regular season and an Eastern Valley Conference championship for the Waupaca Comet football team.
The Comets can win the EVC outright and cap an 8-0 season Friday, Oct. 12, with a victory at Ripon. The Tigers are 1-6 overall and 1-5 in conference play, while Waupaca is coming off of a 28-21 win Oct. 5 over Fox Valley Lutheran.
The win over the Foxes wasn’t easy, as Waupaca had to overcome a 14-0 deficit.
“They are a very talented football team,” coach John Koronkiewicz said. “I said at the beginning of the season that they have some good players on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. They’re a playoff-caliber football team that, unfortunately, won’t be in the playoffs. That’s the way football goes. You have to earn your way in. We earned a victory here tonight.”
FVL got on the scoreboard on the final play of the first quarter, as Jacob O’Kane found Mitchell Olson for a 15-yard scoring pass. Mitchell Tiedt returned an intercepted pass 26 yards with 3:41 to go in the first half and the Foxes had a two-score lead.
Waupaca cut into the lead before halftime, however, as Alex Hoffman caught a 30-yard TD pass from Sam Menzies with 1:50 remaining on the clock.
“They had us stymied for most of the first half,” Koronkiewicz said. “There was an important interception to give us the ball right before the half. We put those points on the board in a pretty well executed two-minute system. That was important.”
Nate Nelson scored from 3 yards out with 4:27 remaining in the third quarter to tie the game at 14-14 and Menzies added TD runs of 10 and 5 yards in the fourth quarter.
Menzies’ second score with 7:37 to go in the game followed a Josh Houtman interception in front of the FVL bench.
“That was a great play even to get to the football, let alone intercept it,” Koronkiewicz said. “Those were big points right there.”
The Foxes weren’t finished, as O’Kane connected with Jeremy Schwebs for an 11-yard score with 5:06 to play.
Nate Jenson picked off another O’Kane pass late in the game while the Foxes were driving for a game-tying score.
“Nate gives us a little more size out there,” Koronkiewicz said. “They had to throw it over the top of him. He can run with the ball, he’s a pretty good blocker, he’s a tight end, he’s a flanker. Defensively, he’s plays D-end and outside linebacker and we put him in at corner today.”
The Comets outgained the Foxes 210-46 on the ground, but FVL had a 179-107 advantage through the air.
“We threw the ball, which we had to do because they had seven or eight guys that were up near the line of scrimmage all the time taking away part of our option,” Koronkiewicz said. “Our receivers made some big plays when they had to. That was the difference in the football game.
“This was a big character test for our football team,” he added. “Things weren’t going our way in the first half. We fell behind 14-0. Lesser teams might begin to question their ability, but to the credit or our seniors and our leadership, they kind of rallied the guys and you saw a great performance in the second half.”
Koronkiewicz said his team can’t take Ripon’s 1-6 record for granted.
“They’re very good at running the football and that’ll be our challenge this week, to see if we can stiffen against the run,” he said. “They played Freedom to a 22-20 defeat last week. They went for a two-point conversion to tie it up and just missed. That’s their last home game, that’s their Senior Night, those are always emotional and the kids always play hard. All football games are tough. That’s why you have to show up on Friday ready to go.
“We keep our hopes alive to have an undefeated season,” he said. “I told the guys that’s a possibility. That’s put them in rarer positions in history. I like history and I hope they do, too. You can’t take a championship lightly. I listed all the years that we won or shared championships. I said, ‘You can be in that group.’ You have to earn it. I think we earned it tonight.”