It became evident early in the season that the Eastern Valley Conference’s 2013 football championship would come down to Waupaca or Appleton Xavier.
Although Waupaca needs to defeat Fox Valley Lutheran in the regular season finale to win the crown outright, the Comets clinched at least a share of it Oct. 11 with a 36-20 win over the Hawks. A full house at Haberkorn Field watched the Comets come back from two scores down – twice – and outscore Xavier 29-8 in the second half.
“It was a great, great performance by our football team,” coach John Koronkiewicz said. “It’s not as hard to be great if you have great people around you. No task is too difficult if everybody does a little part of it and that’s what happened tonight. Everybody did their share and we come out of here with a hard-fought win against a great Xavier team.”
Waupaca and Xavier came into the game ranked second and fourth, respectively, in the Associated Press state football poll. However, the teams went into the second quarter scoreless.
Xavier got on the board in the second quarter on Matt Ferris’ 27-yard touchdown pass to Keaton Clark and Ferris’ 1-yard quarterback keeper. However, the Hawks failed on their two-point conversion attempts after both scores and had to settle for a 12-0 lead.
Waupaca finally got on the board with 22 seconds to go in the first half on Nate Jenson’s 28-yard pass to Nate Nelson. Nelson tacked on the extra point and the Comets had cut the lead to 12-7 at the break.
Any momentum Waupaca took into the second half didn’t last long, however, as Levi O’Brien’s long kickoff return set up a 7-yard TD pass from Ferris to Matt Kinderman to make it 20-7. The pair also hooked up on the two-point conversion, but they turned out to be Xavier’s final points of the game.
Jenson found Bryce Neidert for a 59-yard touchdown pass to make it 20-14 and Waupaca took the lead for good on Jenson’s 15-yard run after the Hawks turned the ball over on downs.
Waupaca added two more scores in the fourth quarter on Jenson’s 9-yard run and Zander Neuville’s 15-yarder.
Koronkiewicz said he team wasn’t fazed with being down by two scores.
“What you have to go in those situations is just don’t panic,” he said. “Our guys and our coaching staff are pretty good at not panicking. The score right before the half was a critical play, to go down 12-7. Even though we gave up the score to start the third quarter, we still thought we were still within striking distance. We saw a couple of things that worked at the end of the (second) quarter, so our offensive production picked up in the second half.”
The Comets also made some defensive adjustments for the second half.
“Our defensive ends didn’t rush quite as hard because they were going upfield and their running game was kind of sliding in behind our penetrating defensive line,” Koronkiewicz said. “We kind of stayed more along the line of scrimmage and I think that made a difference. We took away a little more of their short game that hurt us in the first half and made them throw the ball deep.”
Ferris came into the game with 33 touchdown passes and only four interceptions, but Waupaca’s Andrew Schuler-Jones came up with a pick that set up Jenson’s TD run in the fourth quarter. Alex Grall also picked off Ferris to end another Xavier drive.
Ferris completed 32 of 52 passes for 251 yards, but misfired on a number of long plays during the game.
Jenson completed only three of 12 passes for 103 yards, with most of them coming on Neidert’s touchdown.
Waupaca did have success on the ground, outgaining the Hawks 260-76. Jenson led the way with 104 yards, while Nelson was right behind him with 99.
Waupaca will close out the regular season at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18, at Fox Valley Lutheran, while the Hawks will host Berlin.
“I told the guys that some days are bigger than others,” Koronkiewicz said. “This was a big one because we’re talking about playing at home, Parents’ Night, a conference championship in all likelihood, a (playoff) seed down the road. We got it all.”