MADISON – His ruddy white uniform was a blotchy mix of blood stains, sweat and dampness accumulated from the light falling snow at Camp Randall Stadium.
The state’s best running back and arguably its top player chatted with state media with his chin high, his shoulders broad and magnetic smile for all to see following Kimberly’s wild 49-42 victory over Arrowhead in the WIAA Division 1 state title game that netted the Papermakers their third consecutive state title Friday.
This was Blair Mulholland. In all his glory.
The 5-foot-11, 193-pound senior, set Division 1 state records for carries (46), rushing yards (341) and all-purpose yards (390), while also tying the Division 1 state record for touchdowns (four).
Wasn’t he tired, even a little? He had to be, right? Do you even lift, bro?
“Tired? Not at all,” Mulholland laughed.
Champions never tire, you see. They’re too busy building up their stamina and strength in the offseason. Early morning workouts with weights and conditioning in the summer are the norm for these dedicated athletes, while normal blokes like you and me stumble sleepily out of bed at 9 a.m. to eat a bowl or three of sugary cereal while watching the “Price Is Right.”
These Papermakers put in that work not to look great in their football uniforms. They do it to outplay, outhit and outhustle their contemporaries on the field. And no team has done it better than Kimberly over the past three years.
Kimberly extended its winning streak to 42 games, while also completing its third consecutive undefeated season.
Blair and his merry band of offensive linemen — who he lovingly calls “Hogs” — were able to reach down deep and pull out the mojo they needed to rally against a formidable foe. Even down 42-21 in the third quarter, the Papermakers never stopped working.
They never stopped believing. Never once thought to throw in the towel.
Lesser teams would have. Many have against the talented Warhawks.
Oh, but those “Hogs” never stopped pushing forward. The talented line, comprised of Alec Roehrig, Hunter Kluge, Bryce Walbrun, Mickey Steger, Logan Bruss and Jordan Ries, along with tight end Tyler DeValk and fullback Keegan Downham, provided the creases for Mulholland to run while also giving quarterback Danny Vanden Boom just enough time to throw three touchdown passes, including two critical second-half scores to receiver Jordan Janssen that helped spark the comeback.
“I really wasn’t making the plays. The hogs were making the plays,” Mulholland said. “They really were opening the holes and that’s why you saw me getting downfield and making runs like that. The hogs picked it up in the second half. I trusted them and they trusted me and this is what happens.”
Mulholland did figure critically in the second half, especially after taking a nasty helmet-to-helmet hit in the second half. He was able to shake off the stars floating around in his head to rush for two touchdowns in the half, including the game-clinching 1-yard touchdown with just 11 seconds remaining.
Mulholland also scored on touchdown runs of 40, 74 and 17 yards earlier in the game in a virtuoso performance that left Mulholland with a season total of 2,963 yards rushing, the third-highest in state history. Mulholland’s 48 total touchdowns on the season, including 47 rushing, gave him 294 total points, tied for the fifth-highest single-season total in state history, according to the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association website.
The South Dakota State recruit’s career rushing total of 5,813 yards is the fourth-highest in state history and puts him firmly with the state’s all-time greats.
“He’s a special player and we’re definitely going to miss him,” coach Steve Jones said. “Having him for three years has been a blessing and he’s a workhorse and he’s a fighter and he’s a competitor and you saw his competitiveness shine today.”
Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-1000, ext. 558, or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @PCRicardo