WAUNAKEE — The explosiveness of the Waunakee football team’s offense and its return game has been well-chronicled.
But no one should sleep on the undefeated Warriors’ defense, led by Badger North Conference Defensive Player of the Year Reed Ryan and all-conference Defensive Lineman of the Year Chase Maier.
Top-seeded and host Waunakee demonstrated how dominating it could be on defense, shutting down second-seeded Monona Grove’s high-powered offense during a 33-7 victory in a WIAA Division 2 quarterfinal game Friday night.
“That was a really great showing of what we can do when we are all firing on all cylinders and feeding off of each other,” the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Ryan said after leading a formidable charge by the defensive linemen and linebacking corps, including senior Blake McCurdy.
The Warriors limited Monona Grove, which entered averaging more than 40 points per game, to a season low in points; held the Silver Eagles to 204 yards; forced three turnovers; and didn’t allow a touchdown until 2 minutes, 46 seconds remained while Waunakee’s reserves were playing.
That defensive effort was complemented by four touchdown passes thrown by Warriors senior quarterback Jarrett Wulf, including two to senior tight end Josh Block.
And that propelled the defending Division 2 state champion Warriors (12-0) into next week’s semifinal round with a stunning result against the Badger South Conference champion Silver Eagles (11-1).
“They have a defensive line that is really good,” Monona Grove coach Brandon Beckwith said. “Reed Ryan is a very explosive player. I actually thought I saw more explosion from him tonight than I have in a long time. I think he had an extra gear tonight.”
Waunakee advances to play Brookfield Central at 7 p.m. Friday at Oconomowoc in a game that is a rematch of last year’s title game won 14-13 by the Warriors.
Waunakee coach Pat Rice, whose defense has six shutouts this season, said it was his team’s best defensive effort of the year and called it “a special night for these guys.”
“We were very excited,” Rice said. “I thought our kids played their hearts out. I thought we had a number of them step up. … We talked about being patient and understanding it was a snap-to-snap thing.”
Ryan, who has orally committed to North Dakota State, said the Warriors got more wound up with each day of practice leading up to Friday’s game.
“We knew it would be a great game,” Ryan said. “We just came to the table and just wanted to be ready to go — I guess just feeding off that and getting a little more hungry.”
Waunakee assigned senior Sawyer Maly, the Badger North’s Offensive Player of the Year as a receiver who plays part-time on defense, to shadow Monona Grove’s 6-7 receiver Sam Hepp. Waunakee came up with two interceptions — by junior Jacob May and Maly — and recovered a fumble (by Maly).
“Sawyer is special,” Rice said. “Sawyer is a tremendous defensive player. We felt that was a matchup we had to take care of because Hepp is really good.”
The Warriors owned the field position battle in the first half while building a 17-0 lead.
They began slowly, missing a field goal and losing a fumble at the Monona Grove 24-yard line. In addition, receiver Austin Keller was sidelined in the first quarter with an apparent left ankle injury.
Waunakee struck first on Wulf’s 52-yard touchdown pass to Maly with 1:03 remaining in the first quarter. Wulf stepped up in a congested pocket, and found Maly open after two Monona Grove defenders collided. Maly raced down the left sideline for the score.
Block turned a middle screen into the Warriors’ second touchdown. Wulf connected with the 6-1, 181-pound Block, who maneuvered his way through traffic, picked up some blocks and then turned on the jets for a 70-yard score with 10:38 left in the second quarter.
Senior kicker Reese Marek’s 38-yard field goal capped Waunakee’s first-half scoring 1:59 before halftime. Ryan’s sack of Monona Grove senior quarterback Jordan Bishop on third-and-5 had halted the Silver Eagles, forcing a punt that led to more good field position for Waunakee and setting up the field goal.
"He's a monster," Rice said when asked about Reed's performance in the game.
The Warriors opened a 33-0 lead in the second half on Nate Stevens’ 36-yard field goal and touchdown passes from Wulf to Block and junior receiver Caden Lewis.
Monona Grove junior Brady Killerlain raced 65 yards with a screen pass from Bishop and Killerlain later finished that drive with a 1-yard run with 2:46 left.
Beckwith said Waunakee’s narrow 23-20 victory over DeForest last week might have awakened Waunakee.
“I think they did wake a beast,” Beckwith said. “They are very solid.”
Monona Grove 0 0 0 7 — 7
Waunakee 7 10 16 0 — 33
W — Maly 52 pass from Wulf (Marek kick)
W — Block 70 pass from Wulf (Marek kick)
W — FG Stevens 38
W — FG Stevens 36
W — Block 7 pass from Wulf (Marek kick)
W — Maly 28 pass from Wulf (run failed)
MG — Killerlain 1 run (kick good)
First downs — MG 8, W 9. Rushing (Att.-Yds.) — MG 27-74, W 38-113. Passing yards — MG 130, W 268. Passes (Comp.-Att.-Int.) — MG 10-26-2, W 11-19-0. Fumbles-lost — MG 1-1, W 1-1. Penalties-yards — NA.
Rushing: MG, Killerlain 12-39. W, Ross 17-66.
Passing: MG, Bishop 10-26-2-130. W, Wulf 11-19-0-268.
Receiving: MG, Killerlain 2-64. W, Block 5-104.