In the end, this was a story about character.
The character of retiring 42-year Germantown football coach Phil Datka is undeniable, and he has worked hard to pass that on to every team he has led.
"Spirit" and "Pride" being among the key watchwords every fall.
That much was on display before, during and after the Warhawks 41-27 WIAA Level 3 playoff loss to Marquette at Germantown's Datka Stadium Saturday afternoon, which officially and finally put to an end the coach's storied career.
With the win, Marquette (10-2) advanced to a state semifinal against Stevens Point (9-3) next weekend, while Germantown finished its season at 7-5.
The "before" part had the Warhawk public address announcer speaking in glowing terms of the team's overachieving stature, about how the impressive playoff wins over Sheboygan South and rival Homestead extended the career of Datka into another week with still another home game.
One that had fans ringing the outer fences, crowding the special mini-stands set up in the south end zone, getting serenaded by the finely-tuned Germantown "Wall of Sound" marching band.
"It's really something to have a stadium named after you and then having to live up to it," he said afterward, as he was surrounded by close to nine video and still cameras. "I'm not used to this (attention)."
But his team has been getting used to living up to his high standards and did so again during the game, as the stunned Warhawks refused to be fazed by by the laser-beam efficiency of Marquette quarterback John Kopriva in the first half (20 of 24 passing, 261 yards and three touchdowns) that helped put Germantown in a 27-6 hole with 7:29 left in the first half.
All the team did after that was reflect the watchwords of their coach to the letter, as they pushed back hard against their Greater Metro Conference and defending state champion opponents from 35th and Wisconsin.
A 12-play, 70-yard drive was concluded when Alec Richmond bulled his way in from two yards. After Kopriva hit for another TD pass, Germantown responded again, as quarterback Josh Mongan pulled off a startling 25-yard scramble for score that finally closed the door on the breathless first half, with Germantown down, 34-20.
Mongan was doing a solo act today at quarterback as his normal tag-team partner all season, Dylan Krivoshein was in street clothes due to an injury suffered in the win over Homestead the previous week.
"That last drive at the end of the first half was very satisfying as it kept us in the game," Datka said.
Marquette finished with more than 460 total yards of offense but the Warhawks did indeed not back down, as their point total for the game was three more than the Hilltoppers had given up all total in notching a 7-0 record in the Greater Metro Conference.
"I knew that was a team of fighters we were facing," said first-year Hilltopper coach Jeff Mazurczak. "We talk about mental toughness all the time and they showed that to us. I thought we got a little complacent on defense, because they weren't going to go away. That's a real sign of a Datka team."
That thought carried over into the second half as both teams put their hearts on the line.
Warhawk linebacker Dan Olson put the Warhawk faithful into a frenzy with an interception and return to the Marquette 13 on the first possession of the third quarter. The Hilltoppers returned the favor to their fans when they stoned Richmond three plays later on a fourth and one from the Marquette 4.
But the Warhawk defense kept the Hilltoppers bottled up on the next two possessions as Germantown finally pulled to within one score as brothers Alec and J.R. Richmond (seven catches for 115 yards) combined on that old Datka favorite: the halfback option pass.
The deftly pulled off 39-yard TD connection with two minutes left in the third closed the gap to 34-27 and let everyone know that the old coach's last home game was not going to be a boring one.
He even got a small chuckle out of that thought when someone reminded him of it a series later.
Especially when Warhawk Louis Tuszynski recovered the fumble on the Hilltoppers' subsequent kickoff return at the Marquette 45. But the Warhawk enthusiasm was dampened when Mongan was sacked on second down and Germantown was forced to punt.
And as Mazurczak pointed out later, every high school championship in Wisconsin that has ever been won, has been won by a team that could run the ball. So the Hilltoppers took the ball out of Kopriva's hands and turned it over to senior running back Austin Taylor who ran six times on the Hilltoppers subsequent 14-play drive that ate up close to six minutes of precious gametime.
But when linebacker Chasen Brown sacked Kopriva on a third-and-11 play, Germantown had one more chance to prove its character, grinding its way to the Marquette 42 with just more than four minutes to play.
However, when Mongan broke off on his last scramble, he was crunched hard by two defenders at the Hilltopper 38. The subsequent fumble was recovered by Marquette linebacker Jordan McClain. Five plays later, Taylor, who made a fine living on the left-side toss play, took one more of those, cut it back toward the middle and raced in from 23 yards for the clinching score with 1:26 remaining.
He finished with 131 yards on 14 carries.
Third-string quarterback Dan Studer came in to try and rally Germantown as Mongan was shaken up by the beating he took on the fumble, but the last offensive play Datka called resulted in a bad snap and a 14-yard loss.
Then as the clock turned to all zeros, it was time to exhibit real character, that of handling defeat. Datka, who knows well both sides of this coin, spent a long time talking to the victorious Mazurczak.
"He just congratulated us on getting this far and wished us luck next week," the rookie coach said. "What more could we ask for really? This is such a beautiful complex with its well-maintained field and here we were facing the class of Wisconsin football coaching on this big stage.
"They were really geeked up, really trying to win one for the Gipper."
Datka did what he has always done. He gathered the team in the north end zone and looked placidly toward midfield as the last of the players coming through the handshake line hustled back to him.
He then gathered them in tight, said his usual "thank you" for no one getting seriously hurt and then led the team in its final prayer.
Then before the team broke, someone in the huddle said with a small crack in his voice "Thank you, coach," to which the old man said "No, thank you."
The huddle finally broke and Datka went off to face the gathered media, but before he could do that, he stopped and talked to various players, including J.R. Richmond, strong safety/linebacker Adam Hurtz, receiver Matt Eggert, and diminutive (5-8, 125-pound) Zach Rosen, who came up with a fine second-half catch despite being nailed with a ferocious hit.
He saved his final thoughts for Mongan (15 of 20 passing for 213 yards), who was on one knee, distraught at his late fumble.
"Josh has nothing to be ashamed of," Datka said quietly. "That was a tremendous hit he absorbed."
He then talked to the media, spoke glowingly of the pride that he had in them and about how much fun he had in the second half of the season.
"I just rode the bus," he said. "They did all the work.
"... I'm going to miss these kids. They fought hard and laid everything on the line."
As would be expected.
"Spirit" and "Pride", two qualities passed on from the coach to the team.
The same as it was in 1969, the same as it was today.
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