Falcons bounce Badger in historic season opener

Members of the Westosha Central football team celebrate in the endzone after defeating Lake Geneva Badger Friday to open conference play 1-0

Team bests Lake Geneva for first time in 14 years

By Jason Arndt

Football history could have repeated itself in Westosha Central’s Sept. 25 season opener at Lake Geneva Badger.

The Falcons, who entered play without a win against Lake Geneva Badger since 2006, fell into a 12-0 deficit after Badgers’ Keegan Huber returned an 88-yard kickoff for a touchdown and followed up with a Seth Johnson 35-yard fumble return in the first quarter.

But the Falcons didn’t buckle, regained composure and rallied to an eventual 41-39 defeat of the Badgers, thanks to 34-20 second half explosion and key defensive stops with less than two minutes left of regulation.

Westosha Central’s victory snaps a 14-year skid against Lake Geneva.

The Falcons will next play Oct. 2 at Elkhorn, which lost a tight contest, 42-41, against defending Southern Lakes Conference co-champion Waterford on Sept. 25.

First-year coach Jared Franz, who captured his first career victory, credited his team’s resilience for the historic win.

“We were playing a really tough opponent, Badger is a very good program, they are very disciplined,” Franz said. “We just wanted to come out and compete no matter who the opponent is.”

The Falcons found a way to compete even when they fell in an early hole at the start of the game.

“The kick return to start the game was like, ‘Oh boy.’ That is one of the mental things,” said Franz, who told his team it had plenty of time to bounce back.

The Falcons, down 12-0 entering the second quarter, trimmed their deficit to 12-7 on a 37-yard run from quarterback Michael Mullholon and an extra point kick by Ben LeFebve.

Badger, however, answered with less than 30 seconds in the first half when Cole Berghorn punched in a 1-yard score to carry a 19-7 edge into halftime.

The Westosha Central defense, which allowed 237 total yards to an often potent Badgers, played a critical role in keeping the contest close in the first half.

“Our defense really saved us in that first half,” Franz said. “They were just playing hard, it was not x’s and o’s, they were doing the small details.”

Second half rally
The Falcons started the second half on a surge by rattling off 20 unanswered points, starting with a 59-yard score from Jakob Simmons, who finished the contest with 136 yards on 14 carries along with three touchdowns.

Mulhollon followed up with a 3-yard run and later connected with Jack Rose on a 38-yard strike to take a 29-17 edge after three quarters of play.

The Falcons quarterback went 9-for-15 in pass attempts for 152 yards while adding a team-leading 151 rushing yards on 26 carries.

Mulhollon, credited by Franz for his decision-making, played wide receiver for the Falcons last year before returning to his natural position of quarterback.

“I have been a quarterback my whole life, ever since like fourth grade,” he said. “It was pretty much going back to normal for me.”

In the fourth quarter, however, Badger pulled the contest within one after quarterback Tannor Garrels scrambled for a 6-yard touchdown.

But for every Badger score in the final frame, Westosha Central had an answer for, with Simmons adding his second touchdown on 24-yard run.

While Berghorn scored on a 17-yard run, Simmons responded once again, this time for a 10-yard touchdown.

Garrels, who led Badger with 21 carries for 115 yards, added the contest’s final touchdown before Westosha Central clamped down on defense.

The Badgers, who trailed 41-39 at 1 minute, 25 seconds, blocked a punt to gain possession at the 25-yard line.

Lake Geneva then drew a holding call and lost 10 yards.

With no timeouts left, Garrels had no option but to throw desperation passes, all of which were incomplete.

Badger coach Matt Hensler attributes the loss to mental miscues, including seven penalties, which cost the team 77 yards.

By contrast, Westosha Central committed five penalties for 22 yards.

“Tonight’s game felt like a scrimmage with the amount of mental errors and assignment errors we had,” said Hensler, adding some players had rattled nerves.

“We played a lot of new guys tonight and saw a lot of jitters. It is what it is for a first game.”

Establishing the run
Westosha Central outran the Badgers on the ground with 344 team rushing yards compared to Lake Geneva’s 185.

Most of the Falcons yards came in the second half, where according to Mulhollon, the offensive line stepped up and created seams for Simmons.

“Our line saw what they were doing, (the Badgers) were blitzing, so we decided to switch our plays up. After that, (Simmons) just ran right through them.”

Mulhollon said Simmons’ performance on the ground did not come as a surprise since he grew up playing with his running back.

“He is a bulldog, he runs through everyone,” he said. “He opens everything for us as a team.”

The second half running game comes courtesy of patience and persistence, according to Franz.

“We just have to establish the run, you can’t abandon it just because it is not working right away,” he said. “We just talked and decided to be patient.”