The St. Mary's Springs football team's senior class had a final game to remember. From the challenge it received from Eau Claire Regis, to the resilience it showed, to, most importantly, the gold ball it hoisted again.
Springs capped back-to-back undefeated seasons by beating Regis, 24-14, in the WIAA Division 6 state championship game Thursday on a clear afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium.
"It's been a fun year. It's really been a blast," said Springs senior linebacker Jacob Schneider. "It feels great to go off on a high note. We wanted that gold ball; we had been working hard all year and it paid off."
But it didn't come easy. Regis outgained Springs by 10 yards and had the game tied late in the first half. It was the Ledgers' closest game since losing the 2010 championship to Edgar.
"It was a war out there," Springs coach Bob Hyland said. "It was a great football game, and they gave us every single thing we could handle, and probably more than we really wanted to."
While the Ramblers (12-1) racked up 315 yards of offense, the Ledgers (13-0) made the big plays when they needed to.
The biggest may have been late in the third quarter. Regis faced a fourth-and-6 from the Springs 18 trailing by a touchdown. Quarterback Adam Loftsgaarden completed a screen pass - his only completion of the game - but Matt Austin and Mark Sutton swarmed to the ball, forcing the turnover on downs.
"That was great. Matt made an awesome read," Schneider said. "They let me through. I thought I was going to get to the quarterback, but really Matt made a great read. He saw the linemen getting out, so he got there and hit him right as he caught the ball."
That set up the game clinching drive.
Springs took over at its own 27 with 1:07 left in the third quarter. After a penalty, a 28-yard pass to Austin gave the Ledgers a first down at midfield, and from there they inched forward. They converted two third downs on the drive, one on a run by Darin Ward and the other a sideline pattern pitch-and-catch from Evan Henderson to Eric Feldner on third-and-10 that moved the ball to the 15.
Stalled at the 7, Springs lined up for a 24-yard field goal attempt. The snap was good, the hold perfect, and Mitch Herron's field goal floated through the uprights.
"As soon as he kicked I don't even think I looked, I knew it was good," said Ryan Grandlic, who holds on kicking plays.
That was actually the second critical, sustained drive of the game. The first set up the game winning touchdown.
Springs, which claimed its 12th overall state title, led at halftime in 26 of its 27-game winning streak and Thursday was no different with the help of a touchdown march late in the second quarter. The Ledgers went 75 yards on 13 plays - 10 of them passes, and Henderson hit Grandlic on a slant pattern for a 6-yard score with just 17 seconds left in the half. All of that while Henderson was playing with a sprained left (non-throwing) shoulder.
"The nitro is our hurry up, we've been perfecting it all year, and even with my shoulder I knew we'd be able to throw the ball," Henderson said. "They were playing way off so we could hit the short routes, work it down the field like we had, and it turned out to be a big touchdown to finish off the half."
It looked early like Springs would have its way with another opponent. A fumble forced by Austin and recovered by Sean Ahern set up a short field with Henderson scoring on an option keep. Springs made it 14-0 when Henderson found Feldner on a slant pattern and he spun out of a tackle and dove into the end zone.
Regis answered with two scoring drives as the Ramblers' offense started to find running lanes in the second quarter. But when the Ledgers were finally threatened they answered.
"It was extremely fun," Schneider said of the challenge. "They made it really close. They had a great offense it was unique but they did it well. ... We played through some injuries and came out on top."
SPRINGS 24, REGIS 14
SMS -- Evan Henderson, 3 run (Mitchell Herron kick), 11:07.
SMS -- Eric Feldner, 16 pass from Henderson (Herron kick) 8:40.
REG -- Khadel Akindolire, 1 run (Cameron Pedersen kick), 6:03.
REG -- Hayden Frey, 5 run (Pedersen kick), 1:56.
SMS -- Ryan Grandlic, 7 pass from Henderson (Herron kick), :17.
SMS -- FG, Herron, 24.
Rushing -- Michael Maenner 9-76, Chris Pica-Anderson 9-61, Sam Bachmeier 7-50, Khadel Akindolire 15-44, Max Sires 4-39, Hayden Frey 9-38.
Passing -- Adam Loftsgaarden 1-3-0-(minus) 9.
Rushing -- Darin Ward 17-95, Ike Floyd 17-56.
Passing -- Evan Henderson 14-18-0-144.
Receiving -- Ryan Grandlic 4-31, Eric Feldner 9-85, Matt Austin 1-28.