"A chance to live out our childhood dreams."
That's how Franklin senior linebacker Jake Fernandes put it after the cohesive, physical and talented Sabers earned their first WIAA State Finals berth since 2006 when they hammered a game Mukwonago team, 35-8, in a state division 1 semifinal at Kettle Moraine Friday night.
"It just takes your breath away," said Fernandes. "It's something you work for since youth football. Something you dream about as a little kid."
"Now we get to play for that chance."
Fernandes was part of mauling, speedy, aggressively physical defense that didn't let the Indians, who had scored 90 points in their last two playoff wins combined, find the end zone until Franklin had hit them with the running clock at 35-0 early in the third quarter.
For their efforts, the Sabers (12-1) will now get a chance to dethrone defending champion Arrowhead (12-1) in the WIAA State Division 1 championship game at Camp Randall in Madison at 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22, the final prep football game of the season.
Arrowhead downed Hudson, 38-14, this night.
It's a special moment for Franklin head coach Louis Brown, who was the defensive coordinator in 2006 when the Sabers defeated Brookfield Central for the D2 title in arguably the greatest championship game in the WIAA playoff's 37-year history.
He has spoken passionately about this 28-man senior class, the largest in school history and about its place in the great concept and beating heart of the program known as "Saber Nation".
After the game, he spoke at length about all the great players, all the other players of the "Nation" who had worked hard, who strove and did all the right things but who couldn't quite reach the promised land of Madison. One of those, former all-state offensive tackle Levon Myers, was in attendance this night, cheering the team on.
"They're great people," Brown said, "but this is a special group. They refuse to take it easy. They know and believe in what we're trying to do. They know they can't loaf and get it done."
Led by the coldly efficent offense paced by three-year starting quarterback Sean McGuire, the Sabers never let the Indians believe they were in the game.
McGuirre calmly led a six-play, 60-yard drive on Frankllin's first possession and ended it with a nine-yard scoring strike to fellow senior Austin Meyer.
A series later, the pair were back at it, as Meyer roared right past a Mukwonago safety and McGuire dropped the ball deftly over his shoulder for a 60-yard back-breaking bomb.
It was 14-0, there was still 4:13 left in the first quarter, but you could hear the bus warming up for Madison.
"It was just fun football tonight," said McGuire. "We were just out there giving it our all. Give credit to Mukwonago, but our big boys up front on both sides of the ball of just took care of business."
McGuire would be quietly efficient this night, completing 12 of 17 passes for 172 yards and three TDs. Meyer would catch an impressive nine balls for 134 yards.
"That second score was just huge," said offensive line coach Mike Beck. "We knew that they were a run-based team and after that, they couldn't keep doing the things they liked to do."
His players agreed.
"It was what we call physical Saber football," said safety Jared Karow. "We pushed ourselves through rain and cold weather for something like this."
"We knew we just had to keep executing," said Meyer.
Which on a balmy (45-degree) mid-November night, the Sabers had little trouble doing.
A series later, it was 21-0 as running back Chad Walton did most of the heavy lifting in a five-play, 68-yard drive. He broke off runs of 34 and 23 yards before McGuire snuck in from a yard out.
As McGuire noted, the big guys were having a good day. They did their part on special teams a sequence later, taking advantage of a bad snap to block a punt. Three plays later, Walton (17 carries for 133 yards) was in from a yard out and it was 28-0 late in the second quarter.
Saber fans started counting the moments and mentally packing their bags for Madison when McGuire and the offense went 69 yards in seven plays to open the second half. When McGuire hit Nick Plath on a 14-yard TD pass at the 9:19 mark of the third, the running clock was in order and the countdown to Camp Randall began in earnest.
"This feels great," said Beck. "These kids just worked so hard. We had a good week of practice. The weather was horrible for the first half of it, but the kids didn't care. They had fun."
Because they were with each other.
"At the end of each practice, we use a certain breakdown," said Meyer. "It's 'Together'. That's because we're one group. We're best friends. We hang out together. We're the most tight knit group in the state and we're hoping that something like that can lead us to a state title."
Which Fernandes and McGuire see as a fulfillment of a dream.
"We've been through a lot," said Fernandes, "but we still have a long ways to get to the title. It's been a goal of ours all year. We need to keep a level head and be ready to play our game."
And if they just happen to win that game?
"It would be a once in a lifetime dream," said McGuire.
Your link to the biggest stories in the suburbs delivered Thursday mornings.
Enter your e-mail address above and click "Sign Up Now!" to begin receiving your e-mail newsletter Get the Newsletter!
- Football: Poll: Which area team will win a state football title?
- Sport Shorts: Oct. 23, 2014 issue
- Franklin girls cross country team wins 5th straight SEC title
- This SEC title a special one for Franklin football team
- Football: Preps football photos of the week: Week 9
- Franklin closes in on SEC title with win over Indian Trail
- Sport Shorts: Oct. 16, 2014 issue
- Franklin's Bartels inspires, qualifies for state tennis tournament
- Football: Preps football photos of the week: Week 8
- Franklin football team outlasts Indian Trail, 31-24, closes in on SEC title