Chris Zblewski got the Falcons there, but Caleb Glennon finished the job.
Glennon filled in for the injured Zblewski and quarterbacked the Amherst football team to its first-ever state championship, a 19-7 win over Lancaster Nov. 15 in the Division 5 state championship game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.
“Last night, I slept about four hours and probably woke up about eight times,” said Glennon, who completed 13 of 21 passes for 129 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“I started to get more comfortable after the first series on offense,” he said. “Connor (Zblewski) was talking to me the whole time helping me figure everything out.”
Zblewski injured his ankle the previous week in the Falcons’ 34-6 playoff win over Colby, but Glennon wasn’t sure he’d get the start until the day before the championship game.
“He was day-to-day all the way up until yesterday,” Glennon said. “He wasn’t sure. He tried yesterday and said, ‘I’m out.’ Up to that point, it had been 50-50. He said we could do this.
“I thought we were going to come out a little shell-shocked,” he added. “We did when we first walked in, but we did a good job of settling down once the game started. I don’t know, I was feeling it. There’s no other explanation.”
Both teams came into the game with 12-0 records.
Amherst struck first its first drive on Glennon’s 40-yard TD pass to Joel Biadasz with 5:15 to go in the first quarter to cap a nine-play, 66-yard drive.
Neither team scored again until Lancaster tied the game with 3:11 remaining in the third quarter. The Flying Arrows took over at the Amherst 36-yard line and Nate Tranel connected with Troy Baker for a touchdown on the first play of the drive.
The Falcons responded with a nine-play, 73-yard drive, as Glennon and Max Strand hooked up for a 6-yard score with 2 seconds to go in the third quarter. Lancaster blocked Garth Groshek’s extra point attempt and the Falcons went into the fourth quarter up 13-7.
As good as Glennon was running Amherst’s offense, he also came up with one of the game’s biggest defensive plays, as he picked off an A.J. Day pass to set the Falcons up at the Lancaster 28-yard line. Ryan Makuski took a handoff from Glennon and threw a 15-yard scoring pass to Joe Biadasz with 2:18 to go in the game to give the Falcons a little breathing room.
Biadasz ended the Flying Arrows’ next drive with an interception to give the Falcons the ball at their own 29-yard line with 1:24 on the clock.
That’s when Amherst coach Mark Lusic sent Chris Zblewski in to take a knee for three plays. His official statistics for the game weren’t impressive – three carries for minus-12 yards – but he was glad to get into the game.
“I knew there’d be like a .001 chance that I’d be able to do anything, but I was able to go out there,” Zblewski said. “My doctors said it’s remarkable that I’m out there walking. It was frustrating that I didn’t get to play, but Caleb was great and the defense was solid as usual. We prepared him throughout the whole season just in case something like this would happen.”
Zblewski hobbled over to Max Strand at the end of the game and jumped into his teammate’s arms.
“We joked about that all year,” he said. “If we ever got a kneel-down, I was going to run to him and jump into his arms. I wanted to do it against Stratford, but I don’t know what he did, he turned around and ran to the sidelines or something. We looked at each other and I knew it was going to happen. I just hopped over to him and jumped right into his arms.”
“That’s all he wanted to do, he asked me if he could take a knee,” Lusic said. “He had tears in his eyes, I said, ‘Relax, it’ll come.’ He’s a tremendous player. I don’t know if Amherst will ever see a player like that as quarterback. He was unbelievable. He held his head high, he helped Caleb, there were no hard feelings. Caleb told him, ‘You got us here, I’ll finish the job.’ What a wonderful moment.”
“It was different being on the sideline, but my role didn’t really change,” Zblewski said. “I was able to tell coach what their offense and defense was doing. I was able to go in and do what I could do to help the team.”
Lusic went with Glennon behind center instead of the Falcons’ regular backup, freshman Garret Groshek.
“He’s a heck of a player,” Lusic said of Glennon. “Most teams would love to have a backup quarterback like that. His composure was unbelievable. (Groshek’s) still a freshman. He can run the ball, but the throwing’s not there yet. I knew Caleb could do it. He’s a tremendous player.”
The Falcon defense stopped Lancaster on fourth down four times in the game and held the Flying Arrows to 215 yards.
“The defense, that was unbelievable,” Lusic said. “That kept us in the game. We kept them out of the end zone in the first half and made enough plays on offense. If they give us an opportunity, we have to get off the field because that team is so explosive. Doug Spadoni, my defensive coordinator, that’s his game plan.”
“The defense, that was unbelievable. That kept us in the game. We kept them out of the end zone in the first half and made enough plays on offense.”
“Our offense struggled a little bit with their defense,” Lancaster coach John Hoch said. “They really came at us and we just couldn’t get any momentum going.”
“If they give us an opportunity, we have to get off the field because that team is so explosive,” Lusic said. “Doug Spadoni, my defensive coordinator, that’s his game plan.”
The Falcons mustered only 182 yards of offense, including 38 on the ground.
“I knew when we came in that we had talent,” said Lusic, who has a 26-7 record in three years as coach. “We basically had a JV team (three seasons ago). These guys get all the credit. They believed in what we were coaching them. Our season was only 15 weeks long, but it was really a year. After we lost to Brillion last year, we started in the weight room that Monday. I had a packed house.”
Lusic, Spadoni and another Amherst assistant, Rudy Pate, were assistants under Waupaca coach John Koronkiewicz before heading to Amherst.
Koronkiewicz and his Comets were able to watch Amherst’s win at Camp Randall a day before Waupaca played Catholic Memorial for the Division 3 state title.
“I’m happy for everybody over there,” Koronkiewicz said. “They’re champions because they played a heck of a game. I’m happy for the coaching staff and probably a little jealous, too.”