MADISON – The chant drifted down from the stands on this November evening, enveloping the Kimberly football players and coaches as they huddled near midfield at Camp Randall Stadium.
“Three-peat! Three-peat! Three-peat!”
It was music to the ears of the Papermakers, as they reveled in their improbable come-from-behind 49-42 victory over Arrowhead in Friday’s WIAA Division 1 state title game.
The victory cemented Kimberly’s third consecutive state title, a feat accomplished by only seven other teams in state history. The win also extended Kimberly’s winning streak to 42, leaving the Papermakers only six wins away from tying the all-time state mark.
But even all those accomplishments pale when it comes to the particulars of this game. It was a contest that saw the two-time defending state champs teetering near oblivion.
The Papermakers, for the first time this season, found themselves trailing by more than two scores, down 42-21 late in third quarter, only to somehow rally by scoring 28 points over the final 13 minutes, 14 seconds to net the exhilarating win.
“I’ve never been a part of anything like this. I don’t know if I ever will again,” Kimberly coach Steve Jones said. “I’m just so proud of these kids. They didn’t flinch. They stayed the course. They responded the right way. And part of me believes that this game tonight was won back in August, when we talk a lot about the leadership stuff and how we respond to situations because our kids responded unbelievably tonight.
“The sideline never got down. The kids believed and continued to believe that we were going to win, no matter what and they performed when they needed to.”
Critical to the rally was the play of Kimberly’s defense, which had been blistered by Johnny Duranso and the Arrowhead passing attack for most of the game.
Duranso set a Division 1 record with 275 yards passing while also throwing for three touchdowns, including two to Justin Peret, who finished with five catches for a state-record 173 yards.
When Duranso scored on a 5-yard touchdown run with 4:15 left in the third, the Warhawks’ 42-21 lead appeared insurmountable.
“It was tough not to get down,” Kimberly receiver Jordan Janssen admitted. “We’re high school kids and we’re trying not to think bad about the situations. Being leaders on the sideline, I know me and Blair (Mulholland) were trying to get everybody fired up.”
Not only did the Papermakers (14-0) get fired up, they caught fire on offense, defense and special teams.
Mulholland started the charge with a 17-yard touchdown run that capped a 10-play, 96-yard drive with 1:14 left in the third and got Kimberly to within 42-28.
Kimberly’s Tyler Staerkel blocked a field goal attempt on Arrowhead’s ensuing drive that gave the Papermakers new life. What followed was a 12-play, 80-yard drive that ended on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Danny Vanden Boom to Janssen that pulled Kimberly to within 42-35.
With momentum swinging to the Papermakers sideline, coach Jones called for the onside kick, which was recovered by Kimberly’s Charlie Biolo with 5:38 left in the fourth.
From there, it was Mulholland powering his way behind his offensive line on runs of 11, 12 and 16 yards that got Kimberly to the Arrowhead 7. Vanden Boom found Janssen again on a nifty fade for the tying score with 2:43 left.
Kimberly’s defense played much better in the fourth and forced an Arrowhead three-and-out, giving the Papermakers the ball back with 1:40 left at the Kimberly 23.
Rushes of 13 and 9 yards by Mulholland got things going for Kimberly and a 26-yard Vanden Boom pass to Janssen put Kimberly in the red zone at the Arrowhead 18.
A screen pass to Mulholland for 13 yards set up Mulholland’s 1-yard plunge with 11 seconds left that netted the win for Kimberly in dramatic fashion.
Mulholland had an epic day, finishing with 341 yards on 46 carries, both single-game records in Division 1. He also scored first-half touchdowns of 40 and 74 yards to finish with four touchdowns, tying a state record.
“I didn’t really think it was possible,” Mulholland said of his team’s comeback. “Arrowhead’s an amazing team and I think the defense really turned around in the second half and that started making us offense guys say, ‘Hey, our defense is turning around and we have to pick it up.’ And I think that’s what really did it for us.”
Janssen caught 10 passes for 125 yards and a Division 1 state record three touchdowns. Vanden Boom, a junior standout, finished with 255 yards passing on 18-of-31 passing with three touchdown passes.
Janssen, in particular, showed toughness by playing the game with a separated AC joint in his right shoulder.
“I was just kind of being a warrior out there tonight,” he said. “My team needed me to make some plays and I think I did.”
Arrowhead (12-2) was stymied throughout the fourth quarter as Kimberly’s defense rose to the occasion.
“We knew it was do-or-die and it was our time to go,” Papermakers junior defensive lineman Logan McCormick said. “We hadn’t been playing well the whole game. I just told the guys that we had to do it. We had to get it done. And the boys got it done. I couldn’t have been more proud of them.”
The game was a rematch of last year’s D1 championship, which Kimberly won 31-6. The Papermakers also won the D2 title in 2013. Kimberly also set the single-game state record with 582 yards on offense and the 954 combined yards set a state title game record for all divisions. The Papermakers’ 49 points were also a state mark in D1, as was the 91 combined points.
“It feels great,” Kimberly senior offensive lineman Mickey Steger said. “It feels like (Arrowhead) is becoming a rival to us because we’re playing them so much. But they’re great competition and a top-notch team.”
Jones said that his players showed resiliency and focus.
”“We talk about ‘E plus R equals O,” Jones said. “So the event, plus the response equals the outcome. And ‘R’ is the variable that you can control. So if you respond the right way in life and in football games, that’s going to dictate the outcome. Sometimes you can’t control the events and we were down at halftime and I said that was done. But how are we going to respond was going to dictate the outcome of the game our kids responded unbelievably.”
K: Blair Mulholland 40 run (Adam Stage kick)
A: Nick Bastien 1 run (kick failed)
K: Mulholland 74 run (Stage kick)
A: Justin Peret 25 pass from Johnny Duranso (John Mack kick)
A: Duranso 1 run (Mack kick)
K: Jordan Janssen 11 pass from Danny Vanden Boom (Stage kick)
A: Jake Hower 34 pass from Duranso (Mack kick)
A: Peret 58 pass from Duranso (Bastien run)
A: Duranso 5 run (Mack kick)
K: Mulholland 17 run (Stage kick)
K: Janssen 7 pass from Vanden Boom (Stage kick)
K: Janssen 7 pass from Vanden Boom (Stage kick)
K: Mulholland 1 run (Stage kick)
Total net yards
Rushing — Kimberly: Blair Mulholland 46-341, Hunter Selle 1-3, Danny Vanden Boom 4-minus 17. Arrowhead: Johnny Duranso 12-46, Nick Bastien 11-28, Spencer Papandrea 1-10, Zachary Hastings 1-6, Tyler Jones 1-4, Carson Myers 1-3.
Passing — Kimberly: Vanden Boom 18-31-255-0. Arrowhead: Duranso 11-16-275-0.
Receiving — Kimberly: Jordan Janssen 10-125, Mulholland 4-49, Selle 1-33, Keegan Downham 1-26, Douglas Greeninger 1-12, Tyler Verstegen 1-10. Arrowhead: Justin Peret 5-173, Tyler Jones 5-68, Jake Hower 1-34.
Tackles — Kimberly (solo-assists): Kyle Mayfield 8-3, Alex Warzyn 4-1, Tyler Staerkel 2-2, Logan McCormick 3-0, Hunter Selle 3-0, Parker Schuh 2-0, Boyd Dietzen 2-0, Bailey Marasch 1-1, Troy Argall 1-1, Charlie Biolo 0-2, Brady Heimer 1-0, Connor Zirpel 1-0, Brady Longsine 1-0, Trevor Williamson 1-0.
Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-1000, ext. 558, or email@example.com; on Twitter @PCRicardo