Waupaca football fans arriving a few minutes late for the Comets’ first playoff game probably looked twice at the scoreboard.
After one quarter, the Comets found themselves on the short end of a 13-0 score Oct. 25 against Antigo in a Division 3 matchup at Haberkorn Field.
However, Waupaca regrouped and sent the Red Robins home with a season-ending 34-23 defeat. The 10-0 Comets will now travel to Seymour at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1, to face the 8-2 Thunder, a 45-14 winner over Medford in another Level 1 playoff. The winner will play the winner of the Appleton Xavier/West De Pere game, also slated for Nov. 1.
“You don’t really worry, you just kind of keep playing out there,” coach John Koronkiewicz said after watching his team overcome 7-0, 13-0, 20-13 and 23-13 deficits before scoring the game’s final 21 points.
“That’s all you can do,” he said. That’s the game of football.”
Antigo’s Ryan Fassbender set up the Red Robins’ first touchdown with an interception on Waupaca’s opening drive. Jake Zabrowski scored from 10 yards out and the visitors had a 7-0 lead. Antigo added to the lead on its next drive on Jake Maly’s 14-yard run, but the two-point attempt failed.
A pair of Nate Jenson TD runs of 37 and 4 yards tied the game at 13-13 in the second quarter, but Antigo struck again shortly before halftime, as Matt Wolter found Trevor Seis for a 25-yard TD pass that gave the Red Robins a 20-13 lead at the break.
“We gave up that one right before the half, which is a heartbreaking kind of touchdown to give up,” Koronkiewicz said. “That really could have been a back breaker, but you have to give our guys credit. We’re very resilient. We just keep plugging away, come up with a play, make a play and score enough points to get out of here with a win.”
Antigo’s Josh Hale went down with an injury in the first half and didn’t return.
“That hurt them,” Koronkiewicz said. “He’s a tremendous football player offensively and defensively.”
The Comets had injury issues of their own to deal with, as they played without starting linebackers Zander Neuville and Andrew Schuler-Jones.
“We had two linebackers that weren’t out there today,” Koronkiewicz said. “Alex Grall had to come up and play outside linebacker for a while, then we moved Jenson to outside linebacker. Travis Blank came in and I thought did a tremendous job. That’s what you’ve got to have: guys that can step up and make plays.”
Ashton Barske kicked a 30-yard field goal in the third quarter to give the Red Robins a 23-13 lead, but those turned out to be Antigo’s final points of the season.
Antigo came up short on a fourth-and-1 from its own 15-yard line and Waupaca took advantage of the short field, as Jenson hit Nate Nelson for a 6-yard scoring pass on fourth down.
The Comets added two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter on Jenson’s 17-yard pass to Neidert that gave the Comets their first lead of the game and Jenson’s 2-yard keeper following a Red Robin fumble at their own 3-yard line late in the game.
“We were hoping we’d get one up over the top,” Koronkiewicz said of Neidert’s score. “Their safety actually played it a little better that time than on the previous play, that’s why we ran it to the back of the end zone. Bryce is a playmaker. That’s why we put him in. He had a great interception early in the contest. He makes plays. You have to have guys in the playoffs that can step up and make plays. There’s no question about that.”
Although the Comets outgained the Red Robins 255-152 on the ground and 99-88 through the air, the Comets were also flagged for 16 penalties for 130 yards.
“It was a physical game, a lot of bumps and bruises out there,” Koronkiewicz said. “Hopefully, they’ll be able to rest up, ice themselves and do all the things they need to do to get ready because they don’t get any easier. You take a look at our bracket, whoever we play, you have to go toe-to-toe. That’s what we were able to do.
“I thought it was a great effort the entire game,” Koronkiewicz said. “It took us awhile to figure out what they were doing. That’s a pretty good football team and we saw that on film. They’re very physical. It’s a grinding kind of game. We found something that worked and we went to a different formation that we actually put in this week. We put the balls in the hands of our horse – Jenson – and he came through and made play after play after play.”
Besides completing eight of 20 passes, Jenson also led all rushers with 180 yards in 31 carries. Nelson added 50 yards on only four carries.
“I think our defense played exceptional football in the second half,” Koronkiewicz said. “We took away a lot of things that they tried to do. We went to basically a man coverage and our guys did a good job in the secondary. That allowed us to keep more people in the box and take away some of that run game. They definitely sliced us in the first quarter, but we were able to take that away.”
The Comets will now face a Seymour team that finished third in the Bay Conference behind Hortonville and West De Pere.
“You start with 32 in your bracket and now you’re down to 16,” Koronkiewicz said. “You just hope you can find a way to keep that run going.
“This is a big win for us,” he added. “To be honest, it could have easily went the other way. It says a lot for our character. That’s why we pride ourselves on playing four quarters. If we can hang around long enough, we feel as if we can come back and win. That’s a great quality to have.”
• Waupaca High School will sell advance tickets to the Seymour game during regular school hours today (Thursday, Oct. 1) and until noon Friday, Nov. 1, in the school office. Tickets cost $4 for adults and students. A seat on a spectator bus for high school students is available for an additional $5.
• The WIAA has increased ticket prices for Level 3 and Level 4 playoff games starting this season. If the Comets advance, tickets for the team’s Level 3 game will cost $5 for adults and students.