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MOUNT HOREB — The Baraboo High School football team showed Friday that it is ready to play with the big boys. At least for one half.

After years of battling to stay out of last place in the Badger North Conference, the Thunderbirds have a different look to them more than halfway through the 2018 season. Baraboo nearly had a statement win on Friday, taking Mount Horeb/Barneveld to the edge before giving up 24 unanswered points and suffering a 24-14 road loss in Mount Horeb.

“That’s a good team,” Baraboo coach Steve Turkington said after the loss. “We held them to low points until late and we moved the ball against them. It’s just a matter of sustaining that over the course of a 48-minute game.

“We talked about beating ourselves. A lot of missed blocks and a lot of missed tackles… That’s really what it amounted to.”

The T-Birds (2-3, 2-1 Badger North) set the tone early, marching down the field behind the strength of their offensive line.

Joe Zemanovic got it started, returning the opening kickoff to the Mount Horeb/Barneveld 42-yard line to put Baraboo in business. Then the linemen got to work, as the T-Birds bulldozed their way down to the 14-yard line.

The first passing play of the game came on a fourth down. Senior quarterback Brock Turkington turned to senior tight end Caden Blum, an Air Force Academy commit who got behind the defense and caught a 14-yard touchdown pass. Graham Langkamp tacked on the extra point and Baraboo took a 7-0 lead with 7 minutes remaining in the first quarter.

The first-possession touchdown put the host Vikings, who notched a 45-0 win at Baraboo last season, on notice.

The Baraboo defense also showed it wasn’t going to get gashed on Friday, stuffing a pair of runs before Pablo Ramirez broke up a third down pass to end Mount Horeb/Barneveld’s first drive. The T-Birds were forced to punt on their second possession, but they had announced their presence.

The next game-breaking play went the Vikings’ way, as Charlie Fish intercepted a Turkington pass in the back of the end zone with 9:39 to play in the second quarter.

The Baraboo defense had an answer. Zemanovic grabbed hold of the Vikings running back and Josh Beale knocked the ball loose. Baraboo recovered the fumble near the Mount Horeb/Barneveld 30-yard line and made the Vikings pay.

The offensive line paved the way and Baraboo stood at the doorstep after fullback Tyson Fry carried it down inside the 1-yard line. Turkington snuck it in on the next play and Langkamp kicked the extra point to give Baraboo a 14-0 lead with 5:15 remaining in the half.

Malcolm Reed gave Mount Horeb/Barneveld (4-1, 2-1) a shot in the arm by returning the ensuing kickoff to near midfield. The Vikings mounted a quick drive and Fish caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from Ethan Post to pull Mount Horeb/Barneveld to within 14-7 with 2:06 to play in the half.

Baraboo maintained the one-score lead at halftime, but it didn’t take long for Mount Horeb/Barneveld to pull even in the third quarter. Post and Fish connected for another 8-yard touchdown pass and Cristian Pertusatti added the extra point to tie the game at 14 with 9:44 to play in the third.

Baraboo’s first offensive possession of the second half was a three-and-out. They got the ball right back, however, as Baraboo sophomore defensive back Owen Nachtigal intercepted a pass at the 10-yard line on the next play.

The offense stalled again and the Vikings took over looking for their first lead of the night. They got it, as Pertusatti buried a 45-yard field goal to give Mount Horeb/Barneveld a 17-14 lead with 9:04 remaining in the game.

Mount Horeb/Barneveld’s next offensive play went for 71 yards, as senior running back Malik Winston caught a pass and took it to the end zone to give the Vikings a 24-14 lead with 5:23 to go, securing the win.

“It was visible that they were playing at a different speed than we were late in the game,” Turkington said of what happened in the second half. “We looked like the fatigued team.

“It’s just the mental focus and effort that we have to have on every snap. … We did some things really well, and then the next play we wouldn’t. Focus from one play to the next is the key.”

The T-Birds had entered Friday 2-0 in conference play, tied with Waunakee for first place after notching convincing wins over Beaver Dam and Portage the last two weeks.

The T-Birds, who had been on their first two-game winning streak since September 2011, haven’t won three straight games since they beat Mount Horeb/Barneveld, Sauk Prairie and Portage in consecutive weeks in Oct. 2006. Baraboo is still within reach of its first WIAA playoff berth since 2006.

“We’ve got to stay healthy,” Turkington said. “We’ve got some guys that are banged up, some key players. So we need some guys to step up and we need to find out who wants to do that going forward.”

Baraboo will stay on the road to face DeForest in a Badger North game next Friday.

“We’ve got a really tough team next week,” Turkington said of DeForest. “We’ve got to buckle up the chin strap and get ready to play.”

Follow Brock Fritz on Twitter @BrockFritz or contact him at 608-963-0344.

Capital Newspapers Regional Sports Reporter