The leader of this year's Franklin football team, this self-titled "Saber for life," didn't want to take off his helmet Friday night, couldn't bear the thought of leaving Camp Randall Stadium without his teammates, his "brothers."
In the end, quarterback Sean McGuire embraced everyone who wanted to share in the sadness after the Sabers' second-half breakdown in the 45-24 WIAA State Division 1 championship loss to Arrowhead in Madison.
It was all hard to think about. The three interceptions that helped off-set his Division 1 state finals record 250 yards passing and the impressive 427 total yards the Sabers (12-2) put up against the harrowing Arrowhead (13-1) defense.
Fumble, penalties hurt chances
It was also difficult thinking about the critical fumble that prevented Franklin from breaking a 17-all tie in the third quarter and the highly uncharacteristic 10 penalties for 120 yards that always seemed to come at inopportune moments.
Nor did he talk about the interception return late in the third quarter that was called a touchdown, but which upon close video replay was shown clearly to be not. That effort expanded a manageable 23-17 Franklin deficit to a more difficult 31-17 one.
No, McGuire just collected the team for one final breakdown in the corner of the end zone without his helmet on and, through tears, this three-year starter, this WFCA first-team all-state selection, said things like "I love you guys" and "Let's keep this brotherhood together."
Then he strapped his helmet back on and walked off to face the world, as the Sabers could not quite grasp the magic that had garnered them the state Division 2 crown in 2006, while Arrowhead claimed its second straight and sixth overall title.
"I would do this all over again in a minute," he said. "I would come back here tomorrow if I could. It was a tough way to lose, but it was a blessing to play one last game with these guys, especially in Madison."
"In the end, we got worn down by a big, strong team," Coach Louis Brown said, "and that's the hardest thing to think of considering this group of seniors (28 all told). There's a lot of talent in that group and many will really succeed in life."
Arrowhead up early
They just wished they could have succeeded in this game.
Early on, it looked like Arrowhead was going to run away and hide with this one, winning the field position battle and taking a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter on a Johnny Duranso to Jake Miller TD pass. Miller would be a thorn in the Sabers' side all night, breaking a state Division 1 finals record for most receptions with 11 for 96 yards.
His teammate Rick Finco would break the yards receiving record for D1 with five grabs for 113 yards.
But the Sabers fought back as a 24-yard Austin Manning field goal made it 10-3 at the 7:10 mark.
The vaunted Warhawks defense then thought that they had the Sabers in a corner when a punt shortly thereafter ended on the Franklin 3. But any thoughts of Arrowhead turning that into a quick score vanished when McGuire led the Sabers on an impressive eight-play, 97-yard drive.
McGuire set up the score when he executed a perfect play fake and hit Nick Plath on a 23-yard pass over the middle that gave the Sabers a first-and-goal at the 4. Chad Walton then roared around the edge with 2:40 left to tie the score at 10.
"We've been behind all year in big games, so that (the drive) really didn't surprise me," said Brown. "These guys never panic."
Franklin bounces back after miscue
But neither did the Warhawks. The subsequent kickoff went out of bounds giving them the ball at the 35. Shortly thereafter an 11-yard Duranso pass turned into a 26-yard gain when one of the Sabers' personal foul penalties put the ball at the Franklin 24.
A short time later, Duranso hit Miller with a 2-yard slant pass for a TD with just 40 seconds left in the half for a 17-10 lead going into the break.
But the Sabers bounced back again.
They took the opening kickoff of the second half and drove 76 yards in eight plays. A 37-yard pass to Plath put the ball on the Arrowhead 10 and, two plays later, McGuire drove Arrowhead defenders crazy, cutting back to his left on a scramble then back to the right. He was hit at about the 3 but dragged the defenders into the end zone for the tying touchdown at the 8:54 mark.
"I tell you, he's one of the greatest leaders we've ever had," said Brown.
Things continued to go the Sabers way on the next series, as the defense forced a rare three-and-out. In three plays the Sabers were on the Warhawks 12 with a chance to earn their first lead.
But a couple of plays later a screen pass to Walton resulted in a fumble, which ended the opportunity.
That's when the Warhawks started to close the door on Franklin.
They ground out an 11-play, 76-yard drive and took the lead for good at 23-17 with a 4-yard Duranso to Finco pass. Two plays later, the Sabers were in a world of trouble when McGuire threw a rare poor pass into a sea of defenders where the Warhawks' Charlie Reuteman picked it off at the Franklin 44.
He was met inside the 5 by the Sabers' Gavin Boeck. Reuteman collapsed over the goal line and the officials ruled a TD. But on the replay monitor at Camp Randall, it could be seen that he clearly fumbled before the goal line and it may have gone out of bounds in the end zone, which would have resulted in a touchback for the Sabers.
Fans disagreed with TD call
That replay resulted in a chorus of boos from Franklin supporters, but there was no overturning the call and when the two-point conversion was good, Arrowhead was up, 31-17, with 1:09 left in the third.
"We didn't get a good look at the replay," said Brown. "That fumble really turned the momentum and then it started to snowball."
It did, a few series later, when Arrowhead junior running back Cody Sellhausen raced 66 yards with a back-breaking touchdown and a short time later, another Arrowhead pick resulted in a 70-yard TD run by Ty Jager. It was clear by then the gold ball was going back to Hartland.
Walton turned in a tremendous effort, scoring on a 31-yard effort on the last play of the game to make the score more respectable.
"It was a difficult night," said Brown. "We had four or five personal foul penalties and I don't think we had four or five all season. That helped them get field position....Then in the second half they started taking it to us."
Arrowhead finished with 465 total yards as the sophomore Duranso was an impressive 18 of 29 passing for 235 yards and also rushed 19 times for 61 yards.
McGuire, meanwhile, finished 21 of 37 with three picks and his record-setting yardage.
Brown felt for McGuire.
"Ultimately, seeing him struggle like he did (in the second half) was one of the hardest things," said Brown. "Just a great kid."
And he remains a Sabers through and through.
"This program will remain great in the future," said McGuire. "We (the 28 seniors) set the bar high. We just wanted to leave our mark on this great community."
BY THE NUMBERS
PASSING: McGuire, 21-for-37, 250 yards (new Division 1 state finals record), 3 interceptions, 0 TDs
RECEIVING: Robbie Bell, six catches for 84 yards; Plath, 4-79; Austin Meyer, 4-7; Walton, 3-17; Cal Wrobel, 2-33; and Giovanni Flores, 2-30
RUSHING: Walton, 14-85; McGuire 9-61; Boeck 7-38
TACKLES: Alec Jakubowski, eight solo, four assisted (12 total); August Beck, five and four (nine total including two tackles for loss); Chad Kanugh, five and one (six, one TFL); Walton, three and three (six, one TFL); Jake Fernandes, three and three (six); Erik Wimmer, one and five (six)
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