The Aquinas High School football team’s 42-8 romp over Lancaster on Thursday night in the WIAA Division 5 playoffs was one of the most complete wins Blugolds coach Tom Lee has seen from his team over the past few seasons.
That’s high praise in its own right, but it’s all the more impressive when considering only three Aquinas seniors were on the field for most of the game.
“We think that there are good times ahead for us if we keep on the right path,” Lee said.
The Blugolds certainly took another step down that path this season.
With Thursday’s victory, Aquinas finished the year at 5-3 to clinch back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2007-08, and the team won multiple playoff games in the same season for the first time since 2007, a year it won a state title.
All while battling injuries — notably to standout senior running back Will Cambio and members of the offensive line — and getting major contributions from players who will return next year.
It’s a striking difference from just four years ago, when the team forfeited a game.
“When you have a little success, man, it’s easier to get kids to go, ‘Yeah, I’ll come in the weight room, and I’ll join the team, and I’ll practice at Houska Park next to the sewage disposal,’” Lee said.
And more success could very well be on the Blugolds’ horizon.
Sophomore quarterback Jackson Flottmeyer, who threw three touchdown passes against Lancaster, will be back next season, as will two of his favorite targets: junior wide receivers Quinn Miskowski and Chris Wilson.
That’s not to mention the return of players such as sophomore Calvin Hargrove, who made a name for himself at running back and linebacker, and junior running back Joe Penchi, who came on strong down the stretch, along with the bulk of the offensive line and a litany of defensive playmakers.
The seniors will undoubtedly be missed, and Lee said they’ve played an equally important role off the field — from encouraging classmates to join the program to fostering a culture that works for the Blugolds.
“If you would have seen them at practice on Wednesday, sometimes you just want to strangle them because they’re just so loose,” Lee said. “And then if you would have seen the pregame (Thursday), Lancaster is very buttoned up and serious. And our guys are out there, they’re playing touch football, and it’s almost like you want to be like, ‘Be more like the guys on the other side.’
“But if you do that … you can’t take away their personality. And that’s who they are. I figure if we put our thumb on them, man, we stifle all the good stuff we get out of them, too. So we kind of let them go.”
ONALASKA CLOSES SEASON ON HOT STREAK: Before this season began, Onalaska coach Tom Yashinsky got a glimpse of the resilience his team would show throughout the year.
With the Hilltoppers’ weight room closed over the summer, players were forced to get creative with their workouts. Perhaps none was more creative than Sam Pica, who put full water bottles in a backpack and went on hikes and ran hills.
Flash forward to mid-October, and Onalaska was 2-2 after a last-second loss to St. Croix Central, with those losses coming by a combined nine points. But the Hilltoppers responded by winning their last four games of the season, including two in the playoffs, despite having to pause activities for a week because of COVID-19.
“They never gave up on the hope of the season — even when us coaches, adults, maybe some of us did,” Yashinsky said.
The team’s offense was nearly unstoppable over the four-game winning streak, as it averaged 52.3 points per game over that stretch, while the defense saved its best performance for the final two quarters of the season.
After leading Baraboo 28-26 at the half of Thursday night’s Division 2 playoff game, Onalaska kept the Thunderbirds scoreless in the second half while the offense continued its tear en route to a 50-26 win.
It was the first game of the year, Yashinsky said, that the team wasn’t missing any of its offensive weapons, and the Hilltoppers spread the ball around.
Junior quarterback Ayden Larson threw for 246 yards and three scores, and five receivers caught passes, led by junior Michael Skemp’s seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Senior running back Albert Romero led the ground game with 90 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries.
“It just shows you what we can do when we’re clicking on all cylinders,” Yashinsky said. “We were hard to defend down the stretch, when Albert got going, when we got Landon (Peterson) back, when Michael Skemp came back. It was a lot of fun to watch those guys in action and just stick with it.”
BLAIR-TAYLOR SENIORS LEAVE THEIR MARK: Blair-Taylor senior wide receiver Alec Reismann doesn’t remember much from playing football in eighth grade, but he knows this much: The Wildcats were undefeated.
Reismann thought then that he and his classmates could have special careers in high school. Four years later, it’s clear that they did.
Blair-Taylor beat Wisconsin Rapids Assumption 49-0 on Thursday night to cap an 8-0 season — the first undefeated season in program history — just three years after going 0-9 in this senior class’ freshman year.
“We were really doing well then (in eighth grade). We weren’t big kids, but now we’re all grown up,” Reismann said. It’s just been crazy to see us grow and learn and come out here as seniors and have an 8-0 season.”
“We play really well together, and we put in a lot of work,” senior running back Matthew Brandenburg added. “... We’ve been playing together forever. As freshmen, obviously, we’re not too valuable. We kept putting in the work, and by senior year, it just all paid off in the end.”
The contributions from this class are clear on the field — from Brandenburg on the ground and weapons on the outside in Reismann, Matthew Waldera and Kyle Steien to those who put in the work in the trenches, like Garrison Armitage, Micah Nehring, Tyler Thompson and Chris Rogstad. But they’ve also established a blueprint for how those who follow can carry the torch.
“If they just keep lifting and working on their game and just put in the work, I think they’ll have a great future and continue this winning tradition here,” Reismann said.
“I would hold that their character would be their legacy,” Wildcats coach Andy Nehring said of his seniors. “They’re a hard working group. They get along on and off the field.”
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