By Steve Ellingboe
Individual honors are fine, but for members of the 2015 Amherst Falcons football team, this year was all about the gold ball. And by the end of the year, there was no doubt about it, as Amherst claimed the title as the top-ranked high-school football team in the state.
The Falcons completed a perfect 14-0 season last month, when they overwhelmed a previously undefeated Spencer-Columbus team, 42-0, at Madison’s Camp Randall Stadium to capture the Division 5 state championship—the school’s second state title in four years.
In winning the gold ball, the Falcons shut out a Rockets team that, until that night, had averaged 42 points a game. It was a totally dominating performance that was acknowledged a few days later when, MaxPreps, the nationally respected sports website named Amherst the number one high school football team in Wisconsin—regardless of division.
It was a tremendous honor for a Division-5 school, but not totally surprising, when you consider that Amherst was led by the state’s offensive player of the year, quarterback Garrett Groshek. The senior standout was given the honor by the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association (WFCA) a week before the state title game in Madison, where all his talents were on full display.
In their victory over Spencer-Columbus, the Falcons scored on their first six possessions, and Groshek was involved in every score—running for the first two touchdowns and then passing for the next four.
The tone of the game was set early when Groshek stiff-armed and muscled his way into the end zone on a 29-yard keeper for the Falcons’ first score. A few minutes later, Groshek put Amherst on the scoreboard a second time with a 78-yard run, giving the Falcons a 14-0 lead after the first quarter.
Amherst scored two more times in the second quarter when Groshek found Amaziah McCall in the end zone on a 12-yard pass and then threw a strike to Josh Cisewski for a 17-yard touchdown to make the score 28-0 at the half.
McCall scored again on the Falcons’ first possession of the third quarter when he caught a 23-yard pass from Groshek in the end zone to cap an eight-play, 80-yard drive and extend the lead to 35-0. On Amherst’s next possession, Cisewski scored his second touchdown on a 33-yard pass play from Groshek to end the scoring at 42-0. As he has been most of the season, Amherst kicker Cameron Gaulke was perfect on all six extra-point attempts.
Most of the second half was played with a “running clock,” the “mercy rule” in Wisconsin high-school football that prevents a team ahead by 35 points or more from running up the score even higher.
With the contest safely in hand, the Amherst starters were pulled from the game in the fourth quarter to give the younger players a chance, but as the clock was winding down during the Falcons’ last possession, senior quarterback Groshek took the field one final time to take the last snap and kneel down in the “victory formation” to close out the Falcons’ perfect season.
The Amherst win was a thoroughly dominating performance -- especially in a state championship game against an undefeated team that had steamrolled every previous opponent. In shutting out Spencer-Columbus, Amherst held the Rockets to just 124 yards of total offense, limiting them to just 67 yards on the ground, far below their 311-yard season average.
The Rockets’ only real scoring threat came in the second quarter when running back Hunter Luepke returned an Amherst kickoff 67 yards to the Falcons’ four-yard line. But the drive evaporated four plays later when, on fourth and goal, the Amherst defense forced Luepke to fumble just before he reached the end zone, and Ben Gutschow recovered the ball for a touchback.
The stifling Amherst defense, led by all-state lineman Tyler Biadasz, forced two more Spencer-Columbus turnovers in the game, with Gutschow and Amaziah McCall both grabbing interceptions.
The Falcons, meanwhile, racked up 410 yards of total offense, with 238 yards coming on the ground. Groshek rushed 12 times for 161 yards, while Brandon Piotrowski ran the ball 14 times for 78 yards. Passing the ball, Groshek completed 11 of 14 attempts for 172 total yards. He connected with five different receivers: Josh Cisewski, Amaziah McCall, Mitchell Glodowski, Dalton Nemzoff and Hunter Warner. Groshek’s 333 all- purpose yards was a Division-5 state championship record.
“It was a heck of a team effort,” Amherst coach Mark Lusic told reporters after the game. “I’m so proud of our guys. What can you say about this senior class. They were here when they were freshmen, and now they win it again as seniors.”
The Falcons also reached the championship game last year, but had to settle for the second-place silver ball after falling to Lancaster 41-21. It was a memory that Lusic recalled in his comments to reporters after this year’s victory.
“I’ll be honest,” Lusic said. “When we lost that game last year, I met with the seniors a week later and said, let’s not lie to ourselves, our goal is the state title. They all went yeah, and that’s the last we talked it about the rest of the year. We never mentioned it again until right now. It’s a great win and another gold ball.”
For his part, senior quarterback Garrett Groshek told reporters after the game that the individual honors were nice, but for him, it was all about winning a state title. “Coming into this year, we knew it was gold or bust for us,” Groshek said. “This showed how successful we can be when we’re that determined.”
In post game-interviews, Groshek and other Amherst players spoke about their team becoming more like a family than a team. Early in the season, they were drawn closer together by a tragedy when the father of one of the players, junior center Nicholas Lea, died after a brief battle with mesothelioma, a very aggressive type of cancer. The 45-year-old Robert Lea died on Labor Day, a few days before the Falcons’ game against Bonduel. Lea’s Falcon teammates dedicated the game to Lea, and after the Falcons’ 49-8 win, they presented him with the game ball.
There was another emotional moment later in the season when senior captain and linebacker Joel Oney returned to the team in time for the playoff run after breaking his leg in the Falcons’ first game of the season.
Hours after the game in Madison, when the Falcons’ team bus and the hometown fans returned to Amherst, the victory was celebrated in a joyous and emotional late-night ceremony in the high school gym, where the players and their families and fans gathered to honor Coach Lusic and his state-champion team.
Since taking over the Amherst football program in 2010, Lusic has built the beginnings of a dynasty among small and medium-sized schools in the state, a direction he would like to continue. Later in the week, his team was honored again during a Tuesday afternoon pep rally in the school gym that included classes from every grade. During his remarks, Coach Lusic thanked the school and the community for their support of the football team, and then turning to the section of the bleachers where the elementary-school students were seated, he asked the youth football players to stand. He then turned to the junior-high section and asked those football players to stand, and finally, he asked the 16 seniors on his 2015 state championship team to stand.
With the players still standing, Lusic motioned toward his seniors and told the younger students, “These seniors, these young men right here, have just won a state championship and set a school record for total wins in a season, and over the past four years they have won two gold balls and a silver. These young men were in your spot not long ago. Through hard work and dedication, they were able to accomplish great things. Don’t ever forget that.”
Amherst earns many honors
Amherst’s win over Spencer-Columbus in the state championship game capped a truly amazing year for the 2015 Falcons, who earned many accolades over the course of the season -- both as a team and as individuals.
On their way to a perfect 14-0 season, the Falcons became the top-ranked team in Wisconsin high school football and were the highest scoring team in the state, totaling 736 points for an average of 53 points a game.
Two of their key players, quarterback Garret Groshek and lineman Tyler Biadasz, received numerous honors. Groshek, who threw 41 touchdown passes (with just three interceptions) and finished the year with 3,830 yards of total offense (rushing and passing), was named the state’s offensive player of the year -- a tremendous accomplishment for a Division-5 player. He also won the Dave Krieg Award, given to the most outstanding senior quarterback in the state, and was a unanimous pick for the Associated Press all-state team.
Senior lineman Tyler Biadasz, who is a Wisconsin Badger recruit, was honored with the Tim Krumrie Award as the top senior defensive lineman in the state, and he was also a unanimous pick for the Associated Press all-state team on the defensive line.
Groshek and Biadasz were also named the Central Wisconsin Conference-8 offensive and defensive players of the year, respectively -- both for the second straight year.
They join six other Falcons who also received all-conference first-team honors, including running back Brandon Piotrowski, wide receiver Josh Cisewski, defensive back Amaziah McCall, safety Ben Gutschow, linebacker Austin Boelte and lineman Mike Singer, who was named to both the offensive and defensive squads. All-conference second team honors went to: lineman Nicholas Lea, lineman Chris Thomas, linebacker Bryce Holderman, and wide receiver/defensive back Mitchell Glodowski, who was named for both offense and defense.
The path to the Gold Ball!
Here is Amherst’s perfect 14-0 season that ended with the Division 5 state championship:
- Aug. 21 vs. Omro, 45-7
- Aug. 29 vs. St. Mary’s Springs, 39-14
- Sept. 4 vs. Iola-Scandinavia, 68-27
- Sept. 11 vs. Bonduel, 49-8
- Sept. 18 vs. Pacelli, 56-0
- Sept. 25 vs. Shiocton, 64-0
- Oct. 2 vs. Manawa, 56-6
- Oct. 9 vs. Weyauwega-Fremont, 62-6
- Oct. 16 vs. Wittenberg-Birnamwood, 69-0
- Oct. 23 vs. New Holstein, 49-12
- Oct. 30 vs. Winnebago Lutheran, 47-0
- Nov. 6 vs. Southern Door, 48-27
- Nov. 13 vs. Arcadia, 42-21
- Nov. 19 vs. Spencer-Columbus, 42-0