MADISON – Going into last Thursday evening’s WIAA Division 5 state football championship game against Amherst, the Flying Arrows of Lancaster had been averaging 43.7 points per game, to go along with an average of 404.3 yards of total offense per outing.
Defensively, the Arrows had allowed an average of 7.5 points and 178.2 yards per game during their first 12 games of the season.
Last Thursday at Camp Randall Stadium though, the Arrows ran into a very stingy Amherst defense, who produced just enough offense to collect a 19-7 victory, and the Division 5 state championship trophy.
The Arrows were held to 215 total yards, and scored seven points, while converting on just 2-of-12 third-down attempts, and 1-of-8 fourth-down tries.
It wasn’t Lancaster’s typical offensive highlight reel, but then again, Amherst was no ordinary defense.
Lancaster managed three big pass plays, and one big running play during the entire contest.
The biggest run came on Lancaster’s first possession when senior halfback Troy Baker took off for a 26-yard gain on the second play from scrimmage.
The three pass plays were a 36-yard touchdown pass from Nathan Tranel to Baker in the third quarter, A 49-yard pass play from A.J. Day to Hunter Budack in the second quarter and a-34-yard pass from Day to Baker in the third.
Those four plays accounted for 145 of Lancaster’s 215 total yards.
“They really came at us, and we just couldn’t get any momentum going,” said Lancaster head coach John Hoch.
“We just couldn’t get the play to happen when we needed to. Our defense played exceptionally well most of the game, and they came up with some big offensive plays that hurt us, but our offense struggled a little bit against their defense,” added Hoch.
Lancaster’s only score came on a trick play, when sophomore Nathan Tranel took a backward pass from Day, and then threw the ball to senior Troy Baker, who scored on the 36-yard play.
The score occurred with 3:11 to play in the third quarter, and after Hunter Budack made the extra-point kick, the two teams were knotted at 7-7.
Amherst wasted little time answering with the go-ahead score, as they put together a nine-play drive that covered 73 yards. The extra-point kick failed, giving the Falcons a 13-7 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The final 12 minutes were full of action, and got off to a nerve-wracking start.
On their first possession of the fourth quarter, Lancaster was faced with a fourth-and-six from the Amherst 46-yard line.
Sensing perhaps that his team needed an emotional boost, coach Hoch elected to attempt a fake punt, which led to an eight-yard loss.
Senior Kile Jerrett prevented Amherst from taking a two-score lead when he blocked a 20-yard field goal attempt with just over five minutes to play in the game.
But, on the very next play, Amherst intercepted Lancaster quarterback A.J. Day at the 32-yard line, and returned it four yards to the 28.
Taking their time down the field, Amherst ran seven plays before being set up with a fourth-and-seven from the 15-yard line, and 2:24 showing on the clock.
Instead of attempting another field goal that would have been from 32 yards out, the Falcons elected to go for it on fourth down.
Amherst completely caught Lancaster out of position on a halfback pass for a 15-yard score, giving the Falcons a 19-7 lead with 2:18 to play in the game.
On their final offensive drive of the night, Day completed 2-of-5 passing attempts for 16 yards, but the drive ended with his second interception of the game, this one coming with 1:24 to play.
Out of timeouts, Lancaster could do nothing but watch the Falcons run out the clock to claim a 19-7 victory.
For many of the Lancaster seniors, the loss was more than they could take, as tears streamed down their faces, while holding that silver trophy.
“It’s hard to end like this in my senior year,” said a sobbing Kile Jerrett. “We expected a lot more, and we gave it all we had. It’s just tough to end this way.”
“We did take second, but we didn’t want to settle for anything less. We worked hard in the offseason, and ever since we were young we had a dream of playing for a state championship and winning that gold ball. We just came up short,” Jerrett added.
A.J. Day, though upset about the loss, handled it with great maturity not usually seen by an 18-year-old athlete.
“We came out and we did our best,” Day said. “We did what we were taught, and we got beat. It sucks, but we did what we could. It hurts, it hurts a lot, but the sun is going to come up tomorrow.”
“It was a great ride, especially after last year losing the way we did, and getting back here, it’s something that doesn’t happen very often,” Day added.
After rushing for 154 yards and two TDs a week earlier against Brillion, Day was held in check for -11 yards on 12 rushing attempts.
Through the air he completed 5-of-19 passing attempts for 108 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.
Baker was the team’s leading rusher with 65 yards on eight carries, while sophomore fullback Tyler Glass, who rushed for 111 yards and two TDs a week earlier, had 26 yards on 11 carries in the state championship game.
Lancaster concluded the game with 71 yards rushing on 34 attempts, while Amherst managed just 38 yards on the ground off 35 attempts.
Hunter Budack was the team’s top receiver with three receptions for 65 yards, while Baker had two catches for 70 yards and Jerrett one for nine yards.
The team’s top tackler was sophomore safety Andy Ryan, who finished with 10 stops, while senior linebacker Connor Flynn had seven. Fellow linebackers Cody Glass and Mitchell Schildgen each had six tackles, Glass with a sack.
For a senior class who has played in back-to-back state championship games, they really do have a lot to be proud of, even if they didn’t carry home the gold ball.
“They worked hard,” said coach Hoch of his seniors. “The seniors worked for four years to hopefully get here. They get here and they end up short of their dream or goal, so we just have to go from there.”
“There’s no silver lining in this, but by the time we take the ride home back to Lancaster in an hour and a half, we’ll feel a lot better.”
Amherst 19, Lancaster 7
(WIAA D5 State Championship game from Thursday, Nov. 15, at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison)
Lancaster 0 0 7 0 - 7
Amherst 7 0 6 6 - 19
A - Biadasz, 40-yard pass from Glennon (Groshek kick)
L - Troy Baker, 36-yard pass from Nathan Tranel (Hunter Budack kick)
A - Strand, 6-yard pass from Glennon (kick failed)
A - Biadasz, 15-yard pass from Makuski (kick failed)
First downs - L 8, A 7. Rushing - L 34-71, A 35-38. Passing yards - L 144, A 144. Passes - L 6-20-2, A 14-22-0. Fumbles-lost - L 0-0, A 0-0. Penalties-yards - L 5-45, A 4-20.
Rushing - L: Troy Baker 8-65, Tyler Glass 11-26, Kile Jerrett 1-(-4), Brett Snider 2-(-5), A.J. Day 12-(-11); A: Glennon 2-27, Zbiewski 8-21, Makuski 2-4, Konkol 1-1. Passing - L: A.J. Day 5-19-2, 108, Nathan Tranel 1-1-0, 36; A: Glennon 12-21-0 129, Makuski 1-1-0, 15. Receiving - L: Hunter Budack 3-65, Troy Baker 2-70, Kile Jerrett 1-9; A: Makuski 7-38, Biadasz 5-93, Konkol 1-7, Strand 1-6.