Bangor’s Luke Reader breaks free on a 57-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of the Cardinals’ 37-14 victory over Black Hawk at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. It was Bangor’s second state football title.
MADISON — It’s a senior class that spent four seasons contributing to two WIAA Division 7 state football championships.
From Garrett Krueger and Caden Servais to Drew Johnson and Luke Reader to Adam Tallman and Caden Servais — and everyone in between — the Bangor High School football program has made a lasting mark on the area landscape.
The Cardinals, just like they have all season, brought a balanced effort and performance to the field for the final time as a group and turned it into a 37-14 victory over Black Hawk at Camp Randall Stadium on Thursday.
Bangor (14-0) ran the ball well, and passed it when necessary. It tackled well and limited big plays that were the norm all season for the Warriors (13-1), who entered the game averaging 51.3 points and 430.5 yards per game.
The maximum number of games the Cardinals could have played with this senior class was 56. They played 53 and won 51 of them.
Seniors were all over the turf Thursday morning, but Reader — a starter since he was a sophomore and special-teams contributor as a freshman — found a way to stand out in the biggest game and in front of the biggest crowd of the season.
It was by design, of course. Reader didn’t have to carry the ball much during the regular season, but coach Rick Muellenberg and his staff knew what would make a difference in big games.
“We knew he was capable of games like this,” Muellenberg said of Reader, who carried 26 times for 185 yards and two touchdowns, but set the tone by breaking free for a 57-yard TD run on the second play of the game. “We had a lot of games where we could spread the ball around, and he didn’t touch it much.
“When we’ve given him the ball a lot, he’s always come through like he did today.”
Reader is grateful for the opportunities when they come. He isn’t hung up on the touches he gets, even as a senior.
“It’s about the team,” Reader said after Thursday’s win. “That’s what I care about.”
Reader carried the ball 139 times — 12.6 times per game — and averaged nearly 10 yards per attempt the first 11 times Bangor played this season.
And during quarterfinal, semifinal and championship wins over Edgar, Abbotsford and Black Hawk?
Reader carried 89 times for 521 yards and scored six touchdowns. The numbers would have been higher had sophomore Carter Horstman not punctuated his season with season highs of 144 yards and three touchdowns on Thursday.
“He’s an amazing athlete, and I have never played with anyone so gifted,” Horstman said. “He’s a great teammate, and I can’t think of other words good enough to describe him.”
Dangerous is one. His speed, instinct and power took him to the end zone frequently in 14 games.
Reader scored 38 touchdowns this season — 31 rushing, 3 receiving, 3 on punt returns and 1 on an interception return.
Dependable, while not as flashy, is another. The Cardinals have always been able to count on Reader for a big performance when needed.
He rushed for 115 yards against an Edgar team that was allowing 34.5 rushing yards per game and scored a touchdown and two two-point conversion that night against a team that allowed two TDs and no conversions in its previous 11 games.
Reader followed that up with 406 yards and five touchdowns in semifinal and championship games against opponents allowing 14 and 8 points per game, respectively.
Memorable is the last word we’ll use to describe Reader.
Like previous Coulee Region running backs like Holmen’s Seth Wilson or Central’s Lamont Murphy and maybe even former teammate Andrew Piske, the quick gasp of anticipation accompanied each handoff he took from Drew Johnson the last two seasons.
Reader had the ability to turn any carry into a 90-yard run or any kick or punt return into an 80- or 90-yard touchdowns. Each touch was truly a threat to the opponent.
He finishes his career with 67 touchdowns and 3,628 rushing yards before turning his attention to the basketball team, which will spend its winter trying to qualify for the Division 5 state tournament for the first time since 1936 after losing in the closing seconds at its last two sectional finals.
That will be another legacy left behind by Reader, who was still waiting for the championship — and everything he and his classmates had been through the last four years — to hit him early Thursday afternoon.
“He’s a special one,” Muellenberg said. “There’s no doubt about that.
“There are so many good things to say about him. I could go on and on with them.”