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Late in the fourth quarter, Reedsburg was in a position to potentially secure a homecoming win for the ages. Instead, the Beavers fell just short of an upset of a Badger North stalwart.

A 64-yard go-ahead touchdown pass from Caden Nelson to Isaac Schaaf in the waning minutes of regulation helped top-ranked Waunakee (7-0 overall, 5-0 Badger North) escape with a 35-28 win over the Beavers (5-2, 3-2) Friday, October 4 at Millennium Field in Reedsburg.

On two separate occasions Friday night, Reedsburg had to claw its way back from a 14-point deficit.

Early in the first quarter, the Warriors jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead thanks to a 37-yard touchdown run by Nelson and an eight-yard touchdown dash by senior running back Cole Mobley.

The Beavers finally got on the board courtesy of a three-yard touchdown run by senior running back Casey Campbell. A Max Tully interception on the ensuing Waunakee drive set up an eventual seven-yard touchdown run by Campbell to level the score at 14-14 with 2:07 left in the first quarter.

The Warriors would retake the lead on Nelson’s eight-yard touchdown pass to Schaaf midway through the second quarter. They would tack on another pivotal touchdown right before the halftime break. With 0.4 seconds left in the half, Nelson found sophomore wide receiver Andrew Keller for a five-yard touchdown pass to extend the Waunakee advantage to 28-14 at the half.

On the first drive of the second half, Reedsburg answer again with another Campbell rushing touchdown from eight yards out to reduce to the deficit to 28-21. The Beavers were gifted another golden scoring opportunity when Waunakee turned it over on downs after a snap to the punter sailed over his head and he had to just fall on the ball.

The Beavers started in Waunakee territory, but turned it over on downs when Campbell was stuffed on a 4th and 1 run. Reedsburg senior Austin Peters, who was celebrating his birthday Friday, came up with a huge interception of the subsequent Warriors drive and returned it all the way to the Waunakee 12-yard line.

But on a third-down run from inside the 10, the Warriors jarred the ball loose and recovered the fumble to preserve their tenuous lead for the time being early in the fourth quarter.

After a Waunakee punt, Reedsburg had another crack at a game-tying drive. On a crucial 3rd and 10 from the Waunakee 25, senior tight end Alex Kruser made a spectacular catch along the sidelines to set up 1st and goal at the 9. This helped set up Campbell’s fourth touchdown of the night: an eight-yard touchdown run with 4:30 remaining to tie the score at 28-28.

At this point, the homecoming crowd was in a full frenzy and the Reedsburg sideline fully amped up, as an upset felt within its grasp. The Beavers needed to make one more stop against a Waunakee offense that was held in check throughout the second half to set up a chance at a game-winning drive.

They nearly did just that, bringing up a 3rd and 6 for the Warriors at their own 36. On the biggest play of the night, Schaaf got loose behind the Reedsburg secondary and Nelson found him on a deep pass, which Schaaf took home for the 64-yard score to give Waunakee the 35-28 lead with 3:11 to go.

As deflating a moment as that was for the Beavers coming off the emotional high of tying the game just moments before, the game was not over yet. On the first play of the next Reedsburg drive, sophomore running back Griffen Elder ripped off a 42-yard run to the Waunakee 32 and put the Beavers right back in business.

Three plays later came a critical 4th and 1 for Reedsburg. Needing a first down to keep its hopes alive, the Beavers saw their hopes dashed when the Warriors stuffed them at the line for a turnover on downs. Waunakee picked up a first down on its next drive to fully ice the game and escape Reedsburg with a narrow victory and its perfect record still intact.

“It was just a gutsy performance. Reedsburg played well and they deserve a lot of credit,” said Waunakee head coach Pat Rice. “The flexbone is a difficult offense, when it gets rolling, to defend. Defensively, they played well too.

“I’m so proud. We backed into one of our own punts, we had fumbles, we had damn near a pick six — the fact that we stayed in there and found a way to win is really a credit to these kids.”

For the Warriors, Nelson finished 15 of 24 for 182 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions through the air and ran for 140 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Mobley added 123 yards and a touchdown on 27 rushes and Schaaf caught five passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns.

The Reedsburg rushing attack was led by Campbell, who accrued 58 yards and four touchdowns on 14 carries, and Elder, who finished with 158 yards and 10 rushes.

The game was a Badger North instant classic. Rice and Reedsburg head coach Brian Pottinger have squared off plenty of times over the years and there is a clear mutual respect between the two programs. For all their battles, Rice ranked this one right near the top.

“It’s right up there,” Rice said. “Obviously there’s some things we could do better and I’m sure (Pottinger) is saying the same thing that Reedsburg could do better. But you talk about two groups of kids giving it their all and battling and not giving in and responding — they score to tie it and we come right back and hit a big pass play and then they come right back — it was just an exciting game. I think the two teams have a lot to be proud of.

“It was an instant classic. I don’t want to live through it again, though. I think I lost some hair.”

While playing so well against an opponent ranked No. 1 in the entire state among Division 2 teams is unquestionably a good sign for the overall state of Reedsburg’s team, trying to parse out moral victories isn’t easy after such an agonizing defeat.

“We lost. I’m not taking any moral victories out of this,” Pottinger said. “We competed. I was happy with the way our kids competed when we were down two touchdowns twice and battled back. That’s what we take out of it, but the bottom line is we just didn’t quite get the job done.”

The Beavers remain one win away from qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2016. They’ll get another crack at it when they host the Baraboo Thunderbirds (1-6, 1-4) Friday, October 10 at 7 p.m. at Millennium Field in Reedsburg.

Follow Zach Rastall on Twitter @zrastall17 or contact him at 608-697-7943.

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