Lights on or off, praise was in order for Saturday playoff football
Both Homestead and Bay earn compliments
In an odd pairing of events, the staff at UW-Oshkosh's Titan Stadium turned off the scoreboard lights just moments after the Homestead football team's clinical and precise 49-8 WIAA Division 2 state semifinal rout of Marshfield on Saturday, a brilliant and beautiful late fall day.
They did it so fast that scarcely anyone in attendance who wanted a picture of the final score had time to do it as the Highlanders earned their fifth state finals berth since 1999 in remarkably easy fashion.
But in turning off the lights, perhaps the Oshkosh staff was being courteous of the Marshfield fans who had a long, sad drive home later that day.
Among the Homestead fans in attendance who may have wanted to keep the lights on a little longer was former Highlanders quarterback Casey Barnes, who led the Highlanders to a state runner-up slot in 2007 and a state championship in 2008.
He was exceptionally pleased with the eight-for-eight, 176-yard passing performance the Highlanders turned in this day. He was no doubt picturing in his mind his great semifinal day against Middleton four years ago, when he and receiver Mike Collins decimated a fine Cardinals' team in another Homestead state semifinal win.
Barnes laughed and noted that after one long Homestead completion that coach Dave Keel never let him go deep as often as he would have liked.
"I always wanted to go deep," Barnes said with a big smile on his face.
He hopes that current Highlanders signal-caller Jake Laihinen will get a few more chances to go long in Friday's final against Waunakee (12-0).
Bay falls in dramatic game
Meanwhile, a couple of hours and about 90 miles to the south, the fans from Waunakee and Whitefish Bay were streaming out the narrow path that led to Watertown Plank Road from Wisconsin Lutheran College's stadium after witnessing something more dramatic and intense in execution but more melancholy in outcome for the local fans.
The lights, including those of the scoreboard were still on in the dimming of the day. Only a handful of people were still on the field recalling the very recent, very memorable events as Waunakee extended its state-record-tying 48-game winning streak with an epic, 35-28 overtime D2 state semifinal decision over Bay.
Among those that could still be seen was Blue Dukes quarterback Grant Menard, who was getting his injured ankle looked at by soon-to-be-retired Bay trainer Elaine Gonya. Menard had hurt it with about five minutes to go, but still led Bay to two touchdowns in the last 2:30 to tie the score and force overtime.
He threw an interception in the overtime but had still won the respect and admiration of the thousands in attendance at the game for his grit and tenacity.
Which led to an interesting meeting while he was still getting treatment on the bench.
The great Wisconsin State Journal prep sportswriter Dennis Semrau, who has seen all things marvelous, sublime and not so in Madison area sports for many years and who was covering Waunakee this day, approached Menard with a grin on his face.
He gave Menard a fist bump and told him in effect: "That was outstanding, sir. You impressed me."
At that moment, a small smile may have even crossed the still frustrated Menard's face, as he realized he was getting a compliment.
Shortly thereafter, Menard got up to join his teammates on the bus ride home. His ace running back and friend Rashadeem Gray provided him with an escort.
When informed of Semrau's compliment to Menard, Blue Dukes coach Jim Tietjen noted: "That's just awesome."
Record winning streak
And in walking back to the car, I passed an older gentleman in a purple Waunakee pullover and matching baseball cap.
He offered an assessment of the just finished contest.
"Heck of a game, heck of a game," he said. "Just outstanding. Both teams left it entirely on the line there."
It was Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Rice, the father of current Warriors' coach Pat Rice. The elder Rice noted that with that epic win, his son's Waunakee team has now tied the state record winning streak mark held by his late, dear friend Ron Rubick at Manitowoc.
Rubick's Ships won three D1 titles in a row from 1984-86 during their streak, almost identical to Waunakee's three consecutive D2 crowns.
When informed that Waunakee's opponent in the state finals will be Homestead, Bill Rice chuckled and asked if Highlanders coach Dave Keel, who worked with both Rices at coaching clinics many years ago, was still using the numerical system of calling plays that he taught him.
When informed of this request, Keel just laughed and laughed.
"Yes, but we have made some modifications to it," he said. "Bill's a good, good man."
And it seemed there were many out there just like him this past Saturday, witnessing greatness and doling out some well-earned compliments.
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