Touchdowns on three straight scoring drives to start the second half lifted Bangor to its second Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 7 State Football Championship in three seasons.
The scores came after Black Hawk pulled within two points of the lead early in the second half, before Bangor answered with three unanswered touchdowns to pull away for a 37-14 victory over the Warriors in the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 7 championship game.
The run was typical for the Cardinals, who have been answering the bell with big scoring drives throughout the entire post-season.
Bangor fell behind defending Division 7 champion Edgar 8-0 in a quarterfinals match-up, but responded with a late second-half scoring march and another early in the third quarter on its way to a 16-8 victory.
A week later, the Cardinals broke open a close game with three unanswered scored in the second half on their way to a 30-7 victory over Abbotsford in the Division 7 semifinals at Chippewa Falls.
“I credit the players – they’re the ones who have to do it,” said Bangor head coach Rick Muellenberg.
“We have a belief in our guys. They never get down on themselves or their teammates. I credit our guys with their second-half adjustments,” he continued. “We had some close games in the playoffs and they were able to come out in the second half and carry out the adjustments that we asked of them. I credit our guys for executing those second-half adjustments – that’s been a key to our success.”
Bangor got off to a fast start, when Luke Reader broke free on the second play from scrimmage and scampered 57 yards for a touchdown that led to an 8-0 Cardinal lead just 44 seconds into the game.
The Cardinal defense got a stop on Black Hawk’s first possession of the game and Carter Horstman made the Warriors pay when he scored on another long run – this time from 52 yards out – to extend the Bangor advantage to 16-0 with 8:38 left in the opening frame.
Black Hawk would answer on its next possession, when Michael Flanaga scored on a one-yard plunge and the Warriors tacked on the two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 16-8 with 6:05 left in the first quarter.
The Warriors threatened to tie the game late in the first half, marching to the Bangor 16-yard line in the final minute, but Caleb Miedema picked off a Black Hawk pass in the end zone to end the scoring threat and allow the Cards to take a 16-8 lead into the half.
Black Hawk threatened to tie the game again early in the second half when Brody Milz scored on a one-yard run to cut the deficit to 16-14, but Bangor stuffed the Warriors’ two-point conversion attempt to preserve the two-point lead.
It was all Bangor after that, as Horstman scored on a 16-yard run midway through the third quarter to put the Cardinals on top 23-14.
Two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter – a 15-yarder by Horstman and a nine-hard score by Reader – allowed Bangor to pull away for the win down the stretch.
Muellenberg said the atmosphere going into Thursday’s title game was different than two years ago.
“We had expectations of ourselves that weren’t there two years ago. I think there was a little more pressure on our team,” he said. “We knew we had a good football team, it was just a matter of playing well every week, and thankfully we did.”
The two schools set a Division 7 state championship record with 601 rushing yards.
Bangor finished with 423 yards on the ground, while Black Hawk gained 178.
Reader led Bangor on the ground with 185 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries, while Horstman finished with 144 yards and three scores on 11 carries.
“It feels tremendous again. I felt just as good as the other one – no question about it,” concluded Muellenberg. “I’m just so happy for the players, especially the senior class – it’s something to remember for the rest of their lives. It really is a hard feeling to express. I’m just so happy for the community.”