There’s no “D” in the words Waupaca Comet football, but there probably should be.
Once again, the Comet defense rose to the occasion Nov. 2 in a 20-6 Level 3 win over Medford at Haberkorn Field.
Next up for Waupaca is two-time defending Division 3 state champion West De Pere. The 11-0 Comets and 11-0 Phantoms will meet at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6, in a Level 4 matchup in Kimberly, with the winner advancing to the state Division 3 championship game against Waukesha Catholic Memorial or Mount Horeb/Barneveld.
“It was a marvelous defensive performance out there because they have big, strong kids up front and their running back (Cole Loertscher) is very gifted,” coach John Koronkiewicz said. “Our guys had to stand toe-to-toe. It was a slugfest in there. It was a physical, physical, physical contest the entire game.”
Although the Comets won the game by two scores, Medford had the advantage in field position, as the Raiders started drives at the Waupaca 35-, 13-, 33-, 38-, 41- and 42-yard line.
The Comets found the end zone on their first drive, as Sam Menzies and Nate Nelson connected for a 44-yard touchdown pass that turned out to be the only score of the first half.
“I told (the defense) at halftime that they were going to have to step up and maybe win the game for us,” Koronkiewicz said. “I think they did because we had our backs against the wall. We had a hard time moving those guys out. We made two plays on offense to make a difference and that’s what you have to do to win.
“The first play out there was a perfectly thrown ball and a beautiful catch to get us on the board early,” he added. “From that point on, it was pretty much a defensive struggle. They made a couple of adjustments at halftime. They decided they were going to run the football and were able to. We made an adjustment to prevent them from continuing with that kind of sequence.”
The Raiders got on the board with Loertscher’s 11-yard TD run in the third quarter, but Waupaca’s defense stopped him short on the two-point conversion attempt. Menzies threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Alex Hoffman on the Comets’ next drive, but Loertscher was able to block Nelson’s extra point kick and Waupaca had to settle for a 13-6 lead.
Zander Neuville’s interception and 32-yard return capped the scoring in the game’s final minute.
It was one of six turnovers – five interceptions and a fumble – for the Raiders.
“The last one by Zander was a thrill to see because that was the first breath I took the entire contest,” Koronkiewicz said.
Neuville and the Comet defense held the Raiders to four first downs, with two of them coming on Medford’s touchdown drive.
“You have to give credit to both of our defensive tackles,” Koronkiewicz said. “Levi Petroske and Mitch (Grorich) are both undersized in there. They were going up against guys that were 250, 260, 300 pounds. Our two defensive ends, Marshall (Montgomery) and Caleb (Kiesow) do a fantastic job, our linebackers are about as good a group as we can ask for and our secondary played superb. You can’t really ask for much more than that. Offensively, we had to find a way to put points on the board and we ended up getting two of them.”
Loertscher, the offensive and defensive player of the year in the Great Northern Conference, came into the game averaging 140 yards a game, but was held to 91 yards.
“We had a pretty good scheme,” Koronkiewicz said. “To the credit or our guys, they were responsible for a lot of the calls that were made out there defensively. We said, ‘These are the different formations that you’re going to see and you’re going to have to make some adjustments based on the formation. After they run it for a while, we can help you out if you have a problem, but I think you have to be able to see that.’
“That tells you we have great maturity and great intelligence on the part of our defensive team,” he said. “They do a wonderful job as far as their knowledge of the game. That was really the key. You can’t give a back like that any running room. We did a nice job of squeezing everything we could. He got us on a couple of cutbacks, but a good back is going to be able to do that. He had to work for every yard he got.”
Medford had a 175-137 advantage in total yards. The Raiders outgained the Comets 133-39 on the ground, but Menzies threw for 98 yards.
West De Pere has won its last 39 games, including a 25-7 Level 3 win over Plymouth.
“Both No. 1s in the bracket made it through, so we look forward to the challenge of playing the two-time defending champs and seeing what happens,” Koronkiewicz said. “You take a look at history, we’re one of the last teams to give West De Pere a loss in 2008. They haven’t lost too many since then. I think our guys will be up for the challenge.
“Defense allows you to move on, it really does,” he said. “It wasn’t always pretty, but our guys have a great deal of heart. We’re going to Level 4. If we manage to find a way to win, to be part of that environment, there’s nothing like it. I can tell you from experience.”