The 2013 Oconomowoc football season will be remembered for a number of games, most notably the 84-82 win over Wisconsin Lutheran in the regular season. But the Level 2 win over Middleton may have been just as epic, given the circumstances.
Oconomowoc and Middleton meet again in Level 1 of the WIAA Division 1 playoffs Friday at Rux Stadium.
It was the last season at the facility before renovations and the installation of synthetic field turf, and the weather was uncooperative, creating sloppy, muddy footing. But that was far from the biggest issue facing OHS. The team was without quarterback virtuoso Canton Larson - whose offensive capabilities helped Oconomowoc greatly in that 84-82 win - after he had been sidelined with a concussion sustained in Level 1 against Madison West.
"Our team knew exactly who was in and who was out, and we're not (going to make) excuses about who's playing and who's not playing," OHS coach Ryan McMillen said after that game.
OHS rallied to beat Middleton, 27-24, and reached Level 3 for the first time since 1987, when OHS went all the way to the state final.
Nate Nord ran for 61 yards and two touchdowns, taking several direct snaps during the game, but Jason Brandl primarily filled in at quarterback and ran for one touchdown and threw for another.
"From Monday to Thursday, we were working on everything we could, just to make sure that everybody was getting the ball, spreading it around, making sure everyone had fresh legs," Nord said after. "It's the ultimate team win. It felt great."
Brandl scored from 18 yards out to account for the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.
"I definitely had a little bit of nerves," Brandl said. "Once I started playing, they all kind of left me. More toward midweek (I knew I was going to play). Early in the week, I had a feeling Canton might come back, but when coach let me know he was going to be out, I got most of the first-team reps."
Larson, now a receiver for UW-Whitewater, had 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 rushing during the season.
Against Middleton, Nate De La Barra ran 125 yards, Logan Ballering blocked an extra point and a punt and Jarek Berg returned a punt to the 17-yard line to set up one score.
Middleton scored four plays into the game and tossed a 78-yard touchdown pass with 1:15 left that tightened the contest, but the ensuing onside kick failed to go 10 yards. OHS also lost its best lineman, Colin Valley, to an ankle injury in the game, and senior Jon Scharnell stepped in wearing the only white jersey in a sea of mud-covered gear.
"He stepped up as a senior," McMillen said of Scharnell. "We're getting these extra weeks in practice that we haven't had in the past. Even if we didn't come in here in the best shape, we're getting stronger and better because time keeps marching. We're cherishing our time with these guys."