Javian Dayne had to admit it that at halftime Friday afternoon, the situation looked dire.
Half a game later, the skies at Camp Randall Stadium were dark, a chilly mist was falling — but Dayne’s Waunakee football team was bright and shiny gold.
WIAA Division 2 state championship gold.
A remarkable second-half turnaround led to a 14-13 victory over Brookfield Central in the title game.
“There weren’t a lot of adjustments. It was all heart,” said Dayne, who scored both of Waunakee’s touchdowns in the fourth quarter and totaled 107 yards on 29 carries. “It was, ‘Don’t worry about the first half, just go out there and play for your brothers.’ ”
At halftime, the Warriors (14-0) had been outscored 13-0 and outgained 247 yards to 59. They also were out-produced, 15 first downs to three; and out-possessed, 17 minutes to 7.
“We felt like we were rocked a little bit and (barely) hanging in there,” Dayne said. “We were a little shaken. We never saw a defense that good.”
Brookfield junior quarterback Drew Leszczynski ran for a 9-yard touchdown and caught a 20-yard pass from Wildcat back Zach Heckman in the first half, capping drives of 9 and 97 yards that saw Central (13-1) convert on third or fourth down eight of 10 times.
But state championships aren’t decided at halftime. As the Warriors buckled down and bonded together, cracks started to show in Brookfield Central’s veneer.
“We did make some adjustments on defense, some things to control their jet sweep,” Waunakee coach Pat Rice said. “But it was a lot of heart, mostly.”
Over the second half, Waunakee held Central to 63 yards and five first downs while forcing one costly turnover and taking full advantage of Central’s kicking trouble.
Lancers senior Rade Latinovich missed an extra-point kick after Central’s first touchdown, and then missed two field goal attempts — from 33 yards with 21 seconds left before halftime, and from 25 yards with 1:08 left in the third quarter.
“We made a lot of great plays, but we couldn’t make the last one,” said Lancers coach Jed Kennedy, who previously won a Division 1 state title with Kenosha Bradford. “We missed an extra point, missed two field goals, had a first-and-goal at the 3 and didn’t score.”
The key factor was the Waunakee defense, which sealed the outside to shut down Central’s productive jet sweep, got after Leszczynski to produce three sacks and held Central to 2-for-8 conversions on third and fourth down.
Waunakee’s first drive produced more yardage than its entire first half, though Dayne was stopped short on a fourth-and-1 try from the 9.
“We talked all week about being able to hang in there and have a chance at the end,” Rice said. “And when we got that first score, you could just feel the momentum shift our way.”
The first Waunakee score was made possible by junior defensive lineman Reed Ryan and senior defensive back Jeremy Werner.
Lancers junior receiver Julian Banda tried a jet sweep from the Central 27, but found himself surrounded 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage. As he tried to adjust, Ryan slammed into him from behind, jarring the ball loose — and Werner picked it up and stumbled 4 yards before falling at the Central 14.
“Coach is always saying, ‘Chase the ball down from behind,’ ” said Ryan, who totaled seven tackles, five for loss, and two sacks. “I saw him and I thought ‘blood in the water,’ and then the ball was on the ground.”
Said Werner: “I saw Reed coming and I thought, ‘I’d better be ready if he can pop the ball loose.’ I saw the ball and said, ‘I’m not giving this up.’ ”
Added Dayne: “I was on the bench drinking some water and I saw Reed force the fumble and Jeremy grab it and I thought, ‘He’s going house (touchdown).’ ”
Dayne covered the 14 yards on three carries, including a 3-yard run to make it 14-7 with 11 minutes to play.
After a three-and-out on Central’s next possession, the Warriors responded with an 11-play, 58-yard drive capped by a 1-yard Dayne run — and a go-ahead, extra-point kick by junior Reese Marek.
Unlike the first half, it was Waunakee senior quarterback Nate Carter who made two key third-down passes on the winning drive. He hit junior Sawyer Maly for 36 yards to the Central 13 on third-and-15 and threw for 7 yards to junior Austin Keller on third-and-8 to the 4. Dayne picked up the first down and scored two runs later from the 1 with 5:24 remaining.
“The offensive line gave me time, and we got some (pass-route) matchups we thought we could win,” said Carter, who threw for 115 yards. “And the defense was unreal.’
The finish was unreal for Rice, who has led the Warriors to a 273-40 record, 21 playoff appearances, six state titles and three runner-up finishes in his 26 years.
There’s talk going around that Friday’s game might have been Rice’s last. When asked on Friday, he chuckled for a second and put off the answer.
“I don’t know. I’m just going to enjoy this for now,” Rice said. “I promised my wife I wouldn’t talk about that today. Today’s about what those guys just accomplished.”
Brookfield Central 6 7 0 0 — 13
Waunakee 0 0 0 14 — 14
BC — Leszczynski 9 run (kick failed)
BC — Heckman 20 pass from Leszczynski (Latinovich kick)
W — Dayne 3 run (Marek kick)
W — Dayne 1 run (Marek kick)
First downs — BC 20, W 10. Rushing (Att.-Yds.) — BC 50-204, W 35-97. Passing yards — BC 106, W 115. Passes (Comp.-Att.-Int.) — BC 10-24-0, W 8-21-0. Fumbles-lost — BC 1-1, W 0-0. Penalties-yards — BC 6-51, W 8-55. Field goals — BC 0-2 (Latinovich 33 miss, 25 miss). Fumble recoveries — SP 1 (Werner). Tackles — BC, Leszczynski 9, Blamer 6, Meves 5, Jennings 5. W, Smith 12, Pahnke 7, Ryan 7, STatz 7, Kvalo 7, Madonia 6, Steffen 6. Sacks — W, Ryan 2, Thole 1.
Rushing: BC, Heckman 29-186, Leszczynski 14-50, Banda 6-14, Vandenberg 1-0. W, Dayne 29-107, Johnson 4-2.
Passing: BC, Leszczynski 9-23-0-98, Heckman 1-1-0-8. W, Carter 8-21-0-115.
Receiving: BC, Banda 5-62, Cooney 2-3, Heckman 1-20, Meves 1-13, Leszczynski 1-8. W, Maly 3-64, Beier 2-23, Zuhde 2-21, Keller 1-7.