Amherst football falls to Springs in State Quarterfinals
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
The third-ranked Amherst High School football team had its run of three consecutive WIAA Division 5 State Titles come to an end with a loss to top-ranked Fond du Lac Saint Mary’s Springs in a WIAA Division 5 Level 3 Playoff Game at Lomira Friday, Nov. 2.
Reigning Division 6 State Champion Springs (12-0) held on to a 6-0 lead until late in the fourth quarter, when it scored a touchdown to go up 12-0, and went on to a 12-0 win to end the Falcons’ season at 9-3.
“We were down 6-0 with five minutes left in the fourth, we were within striking distance, and offensively we just couldn’t get going,” said Amherst football head coach Mark Lusic. “We had terrible field position the whole game, and we just couldn’t sustain a drive, and just fell short.
“But I’m proud of our guys, they played their tails off,” he said. “We just didn’t get the victory.”
Springs carried a 25-game win streak into Friday night, as it averaged 40.7 points and allowed 6.5 points a game this season, including a 34-0 win at Amherst in Week 2 of the regular season Aug. 24.
With a trip to the State Semifinals on the line, the game remained tied at 0-0 until late in the first quarter, when Springs senior quarterback Mitchell Waechter scored on a one-yard touchdown run with 2:15 left in the first quarter to put the team ahead 6-0, which it remained after the extra-point kick was blocked by sophomore Bryan Groshek.
The score remained 6-0 heading into halftime, as Springs had 91 yards of total offense in the first half, and Amherst had 56 yards.
“At halftime we were talking, and defensively it was just, ‘more of the same,’ just making sure we don’t give up the big play,” said Lusic. “And then offensively, we had some things that we tried, and we just couldn’t sustain a drive.”
Neither team’s offense threatened in the second half, until Springs drove deep into Amherst territory midway through the fourth quarter.
Facing third-down and five from the Amherst 10-yard line with just over five minutes to play, Waechter completed a pass near the five-yard line to senior running back Marcus Orlandoni, who barreled into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown reception to give Springs a 12-0 lead with 5:09 to play after the extra-point kick was blocked by senior Josh Rieck.
The Falcons drove to the Springs 30-yard line on the ensuing possession, but a fourth-down pass fell incomplete in the end zone to turn the ball over on downs with 3:02 remaining, and Springs was able to run out the rest of the clock on offense to advance to the State Semifinals with a 12-0 win.
“Defensively, we played lights out,” said Lusic. “We had a good game plan and the kids executed it. The biggest difference from last time to this time is we tackled much better, and we double-teamed their top receiver, which gave us a chance to not give up the big play.
“Offensively, we just couldn’t get multiple first downs to sustain a drive,” he said. “That was kind of our issue all year; scoring points were always at a premium for us. They’re a good team and they locked us down, and it’s disappointing that we didn’t move on, but I’m proud of our guys.”
The loss ended a season that began with the Falcons looking to replace 20 of 22 starters from a year ago, when they went 13-1 to win their third consecutive State Title.
“From start to finish, we probably had the biggest growth by all of my teams in my nine years,” said Lusic. “A lot of these guys at the beginning of the year, they believed that they could be good, but I don’t know if they really, truly believed it.
“And as the season went on and we got better and better and better, I think they started to believe, and by Level 3, they totally believed that we could make a run,” he said. “And it was hard, we were replacing all of those starters, and we started from scratch. We started with guys who have never played varsity football before, it wasn’t like we had a bunch of guys coming back that played some, it was basically no experience on the field anywhere. And it showed at the beginning of the year, but I give the guys credit, they hung in there and it got better, and we just ran into a darn good team.”
Two of the Falcons’ losses this season came to Springs, with the other against Division 6 top-ranked Iola-Scandinavia (12-0), while the loss Friday night was the first time since 2011 that Amherst didn’t advance to the State Semifinals.
During that span, the Falcons won the State Title in 2012 and finished as the State Runner-up in 2014, before they won the last three State Titles and went a combined 77-5 over those six years.
“Every year is so different that you don’t really think about it, but it has been a heck of a run,” said Lusic. “To win three in a row, it’s hard winning one, and to be there for four years in a row and win three out of the four, and four out of six, it’s not easy.
“My daughter was in tears on Friday, she had a hard time understanding that you don’t get to go to state every year, it’s not like a rite of passage or something, and I tried to explain to her that it’s really hard to go,” he said. “But it was a tremendous run.”