Reedsburg came just one play — one, agonizing play — from potentially winning its first state title in 2008.
The Beavers entered the 2008 Division 3 state championship game at 10-3 on the season and coming off a 40-20 upset of previously unbeaten and defending state champion Wisconsin Lutheran in the state semifinals. Things wouldn’t get much easier in the championship game, where they would face off against 13-0 Waupaca.
The Comets appeared to be in clear command with a 21-7 lead late in the third quarter, but Reedsburg scored on the first play of the fourth quarter to slash the deficit to 20-14. The Beavers would drive down the field again late in the game, scoring again on senior quarterback Tyler Mazur’s third one-yard touchdown run of the day with 2:59 remaining to pull within 21-20.
An offside penalty against Waupaca gave the Beavers the ball inside the two for the conversion attempt. Knowing his team could possibly be just 54 inches from a state title, Reedsburg head coach Brian Pottinger made a fateful decision: he pushed all his chips in and decided to go for two and the lead.
The ball went to sophomore halfback Matt Lennon on the two-point try, but he was brought down almost immediately in the backfield by Waupaca defenders. Pottinger’s gamble hadn’t paid off.
Reedsburg got the ball back one last time, but a Mazur interception with just under a minute to go ensured that the Comets would win their second state championship in three years.
“I think (the loss) probably ate at me more than anybody,” Pottinger said. “I’m the one that’s calling the plays and making the decision there about going for two at the end.”
Despite the disappointment of the loss, Pottinger maintains that he still has no regrets about the decision to go for two.
“There were no regrets for going for two at all,” he said. “You’re always going to question yourself as a coach because you didn’t get it, (question) the play call, but … never regretted for a second going for two.”
Even more important to Pottinger was being able to take a step back and appreciate the journey the Beavers went on that year in, what was at the time, the most successful season in program history.
“I’m sure a lot of people were disappointed, myself included, but you get that far — you really got to take a step back and look at the big picture of the whole season,” Pottinger said. “Yeah it was disappointing to lose that game, but what an incredible journey it was with just a great group of kids.”
The next step was putting that state runner-up campaign (both the good and the bad) behind them as they prepared for the 2009 season.
The Beavers returned a boatload of talent from their 2008 team, especially on defense, and had high expectations for themselves, but also knew a return trip to state was far from a given.
“Of course all those kids had that expectation that they wanted to be back (at state). Obviously it’s a difficult path with the conference we’re in and the teams we played in the playoffs the previous year were coming back with strong teams as well,” said Reedsburg assistant coach Matt Delkamp. “It was going to take a lot for those kids to get back there, but they had that goal from the get-go as a team.”
Though the expectations were high, there were several speedbumps along the way during a 6-3 regular season.
The year began with a narrow 17-14 road loss to Monona Grove, who ended up starting the season 11-0 before bowing out in Level 3 of the Division 2 playoffs. The Beavers went on to beat Fort Atkinson, Portage and Sauk Prairie by a combined margin of 126-19 to improve to 3-1.
Next up was the first significant setback of the season: a 22-21 loss to Oregon. Both Shane Rockweiler, a senior co-captain who played fullback and linebacker on the 2009 team, and Delkamp pointed to the Oregon loss as a point in the season where they realized things had to change if they were going to reach their full potential.
“That was like the breaking point, I feel like, in the season where it was upsetting because their team wasn’t a highly-regarded team,” Rockweiler said. “After that, Coach Pottinger cut down on platooning. He was platooning players before that — I basically had played fullback the first three games — and then after that game we lost to Oregon he decided ‘we maybe need to move you to both sides of the ball’. That was kind of the point in time where he finally gave into that and I think it helped us immensely.”
At the time, Rockweiler admitted that the chances of making it back to a state championship game seemed awfully faint.
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“It was pretty upsetting, especially as a senior,” he said. “You want to go back to the state championship and at that point, looking at it, I did not expect us to get back to the state championship. I felt like there was no way.”
But they couldn’t dwell on the loss for long, as the very next week came the ultimate test: a meeting with Pat Rice’s Waunakee Warriors, who brought a 44-game conference winning streak with them into Reedsburg.
In what wound up being a low-scoring affair, the Beavers controlled the time of possession and set themselves up with a chance to pull off the upset in the game’s closing minutes.
The Warriors had taken a 10-9 lead with a little over five minutes to go on a field goal. But Reedsburg put together a 12-play, 65-yard drive capped off by Andy Huber’s one-yard touchdown plunge with 14 seconds left to stun Waunakee 15-10 and reaffirm the Beavers’ belief in themselves.
To put the win in perspective: Waunakee would go on to win its next 48 games on its way to three consecutive Division 2 state titles from 2009 to 2011 and a state runner-up finish in 2012.
A 28-0 loss to DeForest brought the Beavers back down to Earth in a hurry, but they recovered to beat Mount Horeb/Barneveld and Baraboo to close the season, grabbing them a share of the Badger North crown alongside Waunakee and DeForest.
Reedsburg began its postseason with an easy 35-0 drubbing of Wisconsin Dells in Level 1 of the playoffs. After that, the Beavers would need to hit the road for the remainder of the postseason, a potentially daunting task for a team that went 2-3 away from home during the regular season.
However, it didn’t faze the Beavers.
In Level 2, Reedsburg downed a Pewaukee team that featured future Wisconsin Badgers and Los Angeles Chargers fullback Derek Watt by a final score of 14-7. A 27-14 win over Jefferson the following week in Level 3 set the stage for a meeting with Waukesha Catholic Memorial in the Division 3 state semifinals in Middleton.
What nearly turned into another dose of heartbreak instead resulted in the most iconic drive in Reedsburg football history.
Matt Lennon, who had been stuffed on the two-point try in the 2008 state title game, lost a fumble late in the fourth quarter that nearly brought the Beavers’ redemption story to a screeching halt.
After the fumble, Catholic Memorial faced a fourth and 4 at the Reedsburg 9-yard line. Rather than attempt the field goal to put themselves up seven, the Crusaders instead went for the kill shot on fourth down.
The Reedsburg defense rose to the challenge, snuffing out a run play in the backfield to turn the ball over on downs and give themselves one more chance at a miracle drive. The situation was daunting, as the Beavers trailed 13-9 and needed to drive 90 yards in a little over 90 seconds.
Eight plays later, they had methodically marched down the field to glory.
With six seconds left, quarterback Chad Mazur, who had taken over from his brother Tyler at QB following his graduation, found Lennon on a short pass. Lennon sprinted toward the end zone and stretched for the goal line, breaking the plane for a go-ahead touchdown with only one second remaining.
“We did the two-minute drill every day in practice,” Mazur said. “Everyone from Reedsburg remembers the last call of that game. That was probably one of the best high school memories that I ever had, and it wasn’t even in the state championship game.”
In their second straight state title game appearance, Reedsburg cashed in with a 34-27 win over West De Pere, who would go on to win back-to-back state championships in 2010 and 2011. The Beavers had their first state title and had exorcised the demons of 2008’s heartbreaking loss.
Since then, Reedsburg has come close to recapturing that high — with back-to-back state semifinals appearances in 2014 and 2015 — but the 2009 state title remains its only one. As you might expect, that entire journey, from the heartbreak of 2008 to the ultimate thrill of 2009, still resonates strongly a decade later.
“It’s almost like you take it for granted until later on after some time and you’re able to absorb and look back on it,” Pottinger said. “There are a lot of programs that don’t even get to experience something like Camp Randall. And for our community to be able to do that two years in a row was pretty special.”