It was a case of good news, bad news for the Waupaca football team in its final game of the regular season.
The good news is the Comets improved to 8-0 Oct. 12 with a 55-16 win over Ripon to win another Eastern Valley Conference championship.
The bad news is the Comet defense, which pitched a shutout in the first half, gave up 174 yards and two scores to the Tigers in the third quarter.
Waupaca will host Rhinelander at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19, in a Division 3 Level 1 playoff game at Haberkorn Field. The 3-5 Hodags finished with a 3-3 mark in the Great Northern Conference and had to wait to see if they qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 1989 after ending the regular season Oct. 12 with a 37-7 loss to Medford. Waupaca, on the other hand, qualified for the playoffs almost a month ago and are in the postseason for the 25th time.
Waupaca started the second half at Ripon without most of its starters on defense, but they were back on the field by the end of the quarter after the Tigers had cut the Comets’ lead to 48-16.
“We had to the way they were scoring points on us,” coach John Koronkiewicz said. “They scored two quick touchdowns and are on their way for a third or even a fourth. We had to stop their momentum. We probably made a mistake by putting guys in a little too early. We made wholesale changes where we probably shouldn’t have.”
Waupaca punted after its first possession, but then scored touchdowns on its next seven possessions to take a 48-0 halftime lead.
Nate Nelson scored on runs of 49 and 52 yards; Beau Ash scored from 34 yards out and caught a 23-yard TD pass from Sam Menzies; Nate Jenson and Brando Vasquez caught 9- and 19-yard scoring passes from Menzies; and Menzies found the end zone from 16 yards out.
The third quarter was another story, however, as Ripon’s Hayden Fenner scored on a 52-yard run and Kurtis Brown added a 6-yard TD run.
Menzies capped the scoring in the fourth quarter with a 17-yard pass to Ash.
Menzies finished seven of 12 for 122 yards.
“We have the ability to throw the football,” Koronkiewicz said. “The guys that were in there did a fantastic job and that’s all you can ask them to do. We were a two-headed monster today with the run and pass and hopefully, that will continue.”
Menzies finished with 149 yards rushing, while Ash finished with 96. Jenson and Vasquez each caught two passes for 45 yards to lead Comet receivers.
“You finish a season 8-0, that’s an incredible accomplishment,” Koronkiewicz said. “We’ve been playing football in Waupaca for 71 years and this is the 11th that I know of that we finished our season with a perfect record. We are the undisputed champs of our league and that’s a credit to the guys we have and hard they work.”
Koronkiewicz didn’t have much time to enjoy the win, as he headed to Mosinee the following day for a seeding meeting.
“You realize this is a whole new season,” he said. “All the good teams are in it now. That’s the challenge you have. We talked to our guys this week about preparation. Preparation is very always important and it becomes doubly important when you get to the playoffs. You really have to focus in on what you want to do. A lot depends on who you play and what the matchups will be, just like any other game. You can have a good matchup, you can have a bad matchup.”
Waupaca has made the playoffs each year for more than 20 seasons, which means the Comets have played just about every team in their bracket at some point. Other Level 1 games in the Comets’ group are No. 5 West Salem at No. 4 Rice Lake, No. 6 Osceola at No. 3 Mosinee and No. 7 Onalaska at No. 2 Medford.
“We usually get stuck in the same kind of grouping, schools from our league and the Bay Conference, or we go the other way,” Koronkiewicz said. “For a while there, we were playing Mosinee every year. We’re more likely to run into teams that we haven’t seen in awhile if we do go west and that’s always a possibility.”