by Jessica Gutschow
The Amherst Falcons’ unbelievable, undefeated, 2015 state championship season was truly something special. But this year, against all odds, the 2016 Falcons made it back-to-back state titles by defeating Cedar-Grove Belgium and finishing 13-1 on the year. Going into this season, the Falcons had graduated 15 seniors from its 2015 team, four of whom were featured in last summer’s WFCA All-Star game, including two who were recruited by the Wisconsin Badgers. Not only did this 2016 team have to step up to fill in the holes, but they also had to face the incredible standard set by the 2015 squad’s perfect 14-0 season.
Serving as one of the Amherst football managers for my third year in a row, I was fortunate enough to witness another historic season in the making, from a sideline perspective. In Amherst’s first game of the 2016 campaign they were scheduled to face an Omro team steamrolled by the 2015 Falcons 45-7. And this year’s rematch could not have been a more perfect testament to this 2016 team’s true grit. After an ugly game of penalties and interceptions, the Falcons mustered a 27-13 victory over Omro. The next week though, the Falcons fell on their home field for the first time in five years. Even though the 20-17 loss came against one of the best teams in the state – St. Mary’s Springs – Amherst’s first two games of 2016 left the Amherst community questioning how good this team might be.
“When we lost to St. Mary’s Springs, it felt horrible … the loss kind of made me start thinking, ‘What if we couldn’t make it to state?’ but it also made us come together more as a team. And then the weeks flew by and I had no doubt we could do it again,” said senior captain Chris Thomas.
As the season wore on, the Falcons started gaining momentum and were beginning to form what looked like another winning team. By about the halfway point of the season, the Falcons had found their identity and tallied a respectable 173 points compared to their opponents’ 55. They now had the full attention of the conference and the state. The Falcons went on to win the CWC-8 conference title for the third year in a row going a perfect 6-0 in conference and demolishing Wittenberg-Birnamwood in the last conference game of the season, 42-6.
This team had now proven it meant business.
The 2016 playoff schedule featured two rematches from the 2015 playoff run … Spencer/Columbus Catholic and Winnebago Lutheran. The Falcons plowed through the first four levels of the playoffs much more easily than anyone had expected, averaging about 42 points per game. Amherst’s leader on offense, senior quarterback Brandon Piotrowski slowly closed in on Garrett Groshek’s single-season passing record of 2,398 yards.
As the final seconds of the Level 4 state semifinal game clock ran down, it became apparent that this Falcon team was destined for another chance at a gold ball in Madison. What awaited them, however, would prove to be the match-up of the season. Senior-laden Cedar Grove-Belgium showcased one of the best passing quarterbacks and receiver groups in the state. QB Josh Weiss had 4,231 yards on the season and a completion rate of 71 percent, nearly doubling Amherst’s passing output on the year. At the end of a nail biting first half, Amherst led 28-14. Cedar Grove-Belgium answered, however, with two touchdowns in the third quarter to tie the game and took the lead with another TD in the fourth. Down 35-28 Piotrowski ran for a touchdown to tie the game at 35. Amherst then recovered a Cedar Grove-Belgium fumble deep in Rocket territory and pushed the ball down to the 9-yard line. With only 9 seconds remaining, Amherst junior Carter Zblewski kicked the game-winning field goal to secure the gold ball for Amherst once again.
“When the ball went through the uprights, I simply felt happy … It was amazing to finally have won,” said Zblewski. “When I lined up for the kick, I wasn’t nervous at all because we practice field goals all the time. I felt the whole team believed in me from start to finish.”
For those keeping track, Amherst has now won three state championships and a state runner-up in the last five seasons going a combined 64-4 during that five-year span.