Transferring the momentum Nov. 16 in the WIAA Division 6 state championship football game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison was a two-step process for St. Mary’s Springs.
First, the Ledgers caused a huge fumble by Iola-Scandinavia’s plowhorse running back, Bryce Huettner, late in the second quarter that stalled a promising drive by the Thunderbirds.
Second, the Ledgers capitalized on that miscue, turning it into a touchdown and the lead with 2 seconds showing on the clock in the first half.
“That took a lot of wind out of their sails,” 47-year Springs Coach Bob Hyland said. “We were ready to go after that.”
St. Mary’s Springs used the seismic momentum shift and controlled the third quarter en route to a 35-12 state championship victory. It was the 15th state championship for the Ledgers (seven in WIAA and eight in WISAA), and capped a 14-0 season.
Clay Schueffner, who led the Ledgers with 14 tackles on defense and rushed for 88 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries on offense, forced the game-changing fumble, which was recovered by Mitch Waechter, who had an unbelievable all-around game. When Huettner fumbled at the Springs 19-yard line with 2:56 left in the half, the Thunderbirds led 12-7.
They wouldn’t score again.
“That got us back on offense, and we scored on that,” Waechter said. “We just needed something to get us on fire.”
The Ledgers drove the 81 yards in 12 plays and took the lead for good when Waechter connected with Cade Christensen on an acrobatic 7-yard touchdown pass with two seconds left on the clock.
“They came out pounding it down our throats at the beginning of the game,” Christensen said. “To get a score and go ahead before the half was huge.”
Waechter finished with two passing touchdowns (both to Christensen), a rushing touchdown (with 8:16 left in the third quarter to put the Ledgers up 21-12), and a receiving touchdown (on a pass from Christensen), and accumulated 240 yards of total offense (142 passing, 60 rushing and 38 receiving).
“He’s a great football player, no doubt about it,” Christensen said of his junior teammate.
One of the biggest problems for the Ledgers in the first half was their inability to get off the field as Iola-Scandinavia converted 5-of-9 third downs in the first half and had a 16:38-7:22 time off possession advantage. The Thunderbirds were 0-for-4 on third down in the second half.
The Ledgers turned the tables in the ball-control game in the third quarter as they held the ball for 9:54 of the 12 minutes in the period and led 28-12 after Schueffner’s 5-yard run off left tackle with 13 seconds left in the period.
“To come out with that momentum and put another score on the board was critical for the game,” Christensen said.
Hyland is now 451-105-2 in his 47-year career and is the fourth-wnningest active coach in the United States. This season marked the 10th consecutive double-digit victory season for the Ledgers, who have gone 129-7 since 2008, winning six state titles in that span.
Hyland added the continuity on the coaching staff was the key to keeping the program among the state’s elite year after year and decade after decade. He noted the newest coach on the staff, defensive coordinator Zach Wilderman, has been with the program for seven years.
The players notice, too.
“Lot of hard work by the players, summer, offseason,” Christensen said. “The hard work the coaches put in all year round. It’s amazing the dedication they have to this team.”