KIMBERLY - Beau Ash has spent his high school career running through defenses as a quality running back and delivering hard hits as a linebacker, but the Waupaca senior did something Friday night he likely never dreamt of and the result has the Comets returning to the Division 3 state championship.
Ash kicked a 22-yard field goal with 1 minute, 9 seconds to play, lifting Waupaca to a thrilling 16-14 Level 4 win over West De Pere at Papermaker Stadium, ending the Phantoms' 39-game winning streak and their bid for a third straight title and a fourth straight state title appearance.
"It's unreal," Ash said. "There are no real words to explain what I'm feeling right now. I'm speechless. I really can't think of anything to say."
Most 22-yard field goals aren't looked at as such great kicks but this one was for two reasons: First, it was game-winning points in a Level 4 playoff game and second, it was Ash's first field goal ever.
"Last week (in practice) I started kicking field goals," said Ash, who has kicked off this season. "Coach (John Koronkiewicz) decided to put me in. This was my first field goal ever."
Earlier in the game, Waupaca had an extra point blocked and for a while that play looked like it would be the difference in the game and end Waupaca's season. But after Waupaca prevented West De Pere (11-1) from scoring on its seventh straight drive the Comets took over at their own 36 with 4:16 to play in the game.
Knowing how good West De Pere's defense has been all season, allowing 6.3 points per game, Waupaca was facing its biggest challenge of the season. But quarterback Sam Menzies engineered a drive with 3-for-3 passing for 42 yards and rushing for 12 yards.
Waupaca eventually drove to West De Pere's 5-yard line which is where the game-winning field goal was set up. Expecting the regular kicker to come out and kick, Koronkiewicz went with Ash.
"He just came out and said, ‘You're kicking it,'" said Ash, who had 12 carries for 159 yards.
Call it the gutsiest call of the season.
"I just had a feeling," Koronkiewicz said. "He's the kind of guy who's been around a long time. He was here in 2009 as a freshman when we lost this very game to West De Pere. Sometimes you leave it up to your players. Big games, big plays make a difference. Big players make big plays."
That wasn't Ash's only big play of the game. On the second drive of the game Ash scampered 92 yards for the game's first touchdown, sending West De Pere a message this wasn't going to be easy.
"Our line did a great job getting holes. I just made a cut, broke a tackle and ran in for a touchdown," Ash said.
West De Pere responded with touchdowns on back-to-back drives, including an 87-yard scoring strike from Matt DeBaker to Connor Konshak to lead 14-7. However, Waupaca scored a touchdown with 31 seconds left in the second quarter to go into halftime trailing 14-13 as the extra point was blocked.
The rest of the game, Waupaca gave West De Pere a little of its own medicine. The Phantoms rely heavily on the run and couldn't sustain any consistency on the ground.
"We just couldn't generate any offense in the second half," West De Pere coach Bill Turnquist said. "Just a couple key plays made the difference."
That kept Waupaca in the game and on its last drive it faced a do-or-die situation. The Comets had to at least get into field goal range and they did behind Menzies, who was the holder on the game-winning field goal.
What was going through Ash's mind with a trip to the state championship on the line?
"Just put it through," said Ash, who estimated he kicked six field goals recently in practice. "I've been there for four years. I just had to put it through for my team."
Then it was up to Waupaca's defense to thwart a last-minute comeback. The Phantoms had just two first downs in the second half before the final drive, but then DeBaker (11-for-29, 149 yards) started pecking away, throwing short passes on down-and-outs, mostly to Konshak.
The Phantoms reached the Waupaca 37 with 15 seconds left, but after an incomplete pass, DeBaker was intercepted, ending West De Pere's splendid 3-year run.
"This means a great deal for everybody," Koronkiewicz said. "I couldn't ask for anything more than to make a (state) trip to Madison. That's everybody's dream at the beginning of the year."
The dream came true, but no question Waupaca never thought it would reach the state championship game because of the kicking of Beau Ash. Even Ash would've never dreamt that.
Guess you can say Beau knows kicking.
- Notes: The 16 points scored by Waupaca were a season-high against West De Pere. The previous high was 14 by Shawano. … The 14 points scored by West De Pere were the second-fewest it scored this season. The Phantoms were held to 12 in a 12-7 win over Seymour. … West De Pere's last loss came in the 2009 state title game, 34-27, to Reedsburg. ... Phantoms RB Zach Rothering had 115 yards on 20 carries. ... Connor Konshak had 7 catches for 133 yards for West De Pere. ... West De Pere (2010 and 2011)
- and Waupaca (2006 and 2008) have won four of the last six Division 3 state titles. … Waupaca plays the winner of Mount Horeb/Barneveld-Catholic Memorial next Friday at Camp Randall Stadium at 10 a.m.
WAUPACA 16, WEST DE PERE 14
Waupaca…....... 7 6 0 3 — 16
West De Pere…7 7 0 0 — 14
WAU: Beau Ash 92 yard run (kick good), 7:04. WAU 7-0
WDP: Connor Konshak 87 yard pass from Matt DeBaker (kick good), :23. Tied 7-7.
WDP: Zach Rothering 8 yard run (kick good), 10:06. WDP 14-7.
WAU: Nate Nelson 5-yard pass from Sam Menzies (kick blocked); :31. WDP 14-13.
WAU: Ash 22 yard field goal; 1:09. WAU 16-14.
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay
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