At the end of Saturday’s WIAA Division 2 Level 2 playoff game, the public address announcer at Waukesha West congratulated both teams and told the fans they just witnessed something special.
Indeed it was special as third seeded Watertown (9-1) outlasted seventh seeded Waukesha West (5-5), 54-49.
Down 33-14 at the half, Watertown was mostly held in check by West’s smothering defense, turning the ball over on three different occasions.
“We talked about at halftime, we just played our worst first half of football,” Watertown coach Benji Kamrath said. “We had some turnovers. Uncharacteristic of us. Waukesha West did a great job of executing and making some big plays.”
With 5:48 seconds remaining in the half, West’s defense got a hand on a Watertown pass and West senior Abe Gustafson snagged it out of the air, running 60 yards for the score.
West junior quarterback Drew Rhodes found senior tight end Dylan Chmura for a 13-yard score and another for 8 yards in the first half. Sophomore wide receiver Chase Scharnek burned any would-be tackles for a 32-yard touchdown at 8:26 left in the second quarter. Scharnek also found his way for an 86-yard score in the third quarter.
West’s running game was effective in the first half as senior Bronson Semerau (119 yards rushing) darted down the field on his team’s first offensive play of the game for 53 yards and the score.
Then the second half arrived.
Watertown senior quarterback Tarek Yaeggi, who had two touchdowns and 252 passing yards in the first half, torched West for another 310 yards and five touchdowns in the second half of play.
The 562 yards improved Yaeggi’s average passing yards to 304.4 yards per game. “That’s not me at all,” Yaeggi said. “That goes out to our wide receivers and our lineman. Our lineman did a great job. Those defensive linemen for Waukesha West are very good.”
West was dealt a major blow in the second half when Semerau left the game with an injury in the opening series and never returned.
“Whenever you replace a player with a player that hasn’t had a lot of reps, then it’s a little different,” West coach Steve Rux said. “Bronson is a two-way player, so you lose two positions and special teams as well.”
With Semerau out, West took to the air for the majority of the second half.
“They (Watertown) were going to play man coverage, we knew that,” Rux said. “We’re trying to run the football, but they’re stacking the box and they’re saying, 'Hey, we’re going to gamble.’ We were able to make some things happen in the passing game.”
West found themselves trailing 48-42 early in the fourth quarter when Austin Della, Semerau’s replacement, hit a wall of Watertown linemen, bounced back and kept driving his feet forward for the 9-yard score.
The 49-48 lead for West didn’t last long, as Watertown senior Jacob Lauersdorf rumbled 63 yards to set up a 5-yard Yaeggi touchdown pass to senior Jerry Williams with 6:53 left in the game.
Down 56-49, West got one more crack to take the lead.
Rhodes (316 passing yards) zipped a pass to senior wide receiver Steve Drida, who was finally tackled on the Watertown 28 yard line, good for a 37-yard gain.
A run for no gain, a 5-yard pass and two incompletions ended the drive and ultimately the season for West.
“I thought we had a chance late in the fourth quarter there,” Rux said. “We weren’t able to convert. Even if we would’ve scored, who knows what would have happened. Might have been two more scores at the end.”
Rux thought his players put up a good fight against a tough Watertown squad.
“I’m proud of the way our guys played,” Rux said. “We played against a very good football team who has won a lot of football games. Not too many teams have been able to hang with them, but our guys were able to tonight.”