Reedsburg came just one play — one, agonizing play — from potentially winning its first state title in 2008.
The Beavers made it all the way to the state championship game against undefeated Waupaca that year and faced a critical moment after scoring with 3 minutes left to cut their deficit to 21-20. After an offside penalty against Waupaca, Reedsburg head coach Brian Pottinger elected to go for two and the lead.
The ensuing run play was stuffed and Reedsburg fell short of its ultimate dream.
“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 sting of the defeat, Reedsburg had to put the loss behind it and focus on reaching its full potential in 2009.
The Beavers returned a boatload of talent from their 2008 team and had high expectations for themselves, but also knew a return trip to state was far from a given.
“It was 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.”
The expectations were high, but there were several speed bumps along the way during a 6-3 regular season.
After a season-opening 17-14 loss to Monona Grove, 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.
Shane Rockweiler, a senior co-captain who played fullback and linebacker on the 2009 team, admitted that the chances of making it back to a state championship game seemed awfully faint following that loss.
“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 would end 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 5 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.
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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 regular season and grab a share of the Badger North crown.
After routing Wisconsin Dells in Level 1 of the playoffs, Reedsburg 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. 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 6 seconds left, quarterback Chad Mazur, who had taken over from his older brother Tyler at QB following his graduation in 2008, 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 1 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.”