HURLEY — Webster made the big plays in the first half. Hurley played its kind of football in the second half.
The Midgets battled back from a 19-8 halftime deficit to win 30-27 in Friday's WIAA Division 6 thrilling state quarterfinal.
Webster (10-2) used a big kickoff return and a fumble recovery to get its big first-half advantage. Hurley (11-1) didn't panic in the second half, instead focusing on what it does best, sustaining long drives with its dangerous running attack for three touchdowns. Hurley ended the game outrushing Webster, a running team itself, 369-143.
"I'm so proud of the kids for overcoming those odds," Hurley coach Scott Erickson said. "A lot of people will fold after all that garbage that went wrong in the first half. It piles on you. We just said at halftime, 'Stay the course boys. Stay the course. We'll start coming downhill on them in the second half. We think we've got some advantages there. Five (yards), 9, 10, 6, 5, 8. Our kind of football in the second half."
Hurley will play Shiocton (12-0) next week in a state semifinal, probably at D.C. Everest in Schofield. It's the Midgets’ first trip to the semifinal since a 2009 loss to Edgar.
"I can't even fathom it," Hurley senior captain Mark Saari said of going to the semifinal."It's absurd. It's ridiculous. I couldn't be happier with my team. We've worked so hard this season."
Saari had his fifth game with more than 200 yards rushing Friday, checking in at 213 yards and becoming Hurley's first-ever 2,000-yard single-season rusher at 2,005.
It sure didn't look good early on for the Hurley faithful who packed its side of Veterans Memorial Field despite the cold and windy night that eventually became a snowy night.
Webster's Aaron Dietmeier returned the opening kick 71 yards to the Hurley 14 and were able to score on the drive for a 7-0 lead.
Later in the first quarter, it got even worse. Webster's Ryan Curtis returned a fumble by Hurley's Mitchell Maki 27 yards for a touchdown and a 13-0 lead. The Tigers are good at causing turnovers, Edgar had four of them in losing to Webster in Level 2.
Hurley pulled within 13-8 on Mark Saari's 32-yard touchdown run and two-point conversion run. But before the half, Webster provided more misery: A 30-yard touchdown run put the Tigers ahead 19-8 and Hurley came within five yards of scoring, but ran out of clock when the halftime buzzer rang as Jake Tenlen's first-down pass to Jared Wendt was incomplete.
There was a lot for the Midgets to overcome at halftime.
"I just came out, throwing to Jared, wide open, missed him," Tenlen said. "My bad. But we went in there. Jake Colassaco (a senior captain who has stayed with the team all year despite an injury suffered in game one) just kept telling me, 'Keep your head up, keep your head up. Good players forget.' And I had to try to forget and I forgot."
Players like Tenlen remembered being down 19 to Pittsville last year in the playoffs and coming all the way back to take the lead. This was an 11-point deficit.
"I walked in, I saw a bunch of them with their heads down, we had to get them fired up," Hurley senior captain Chris Edyvean said. "We knew we were going to come back. We knew we could get it."
The Midgets got the ball first in the second half and knew they had to score.
Hurley did like it has all year, grinding 71 yards on 11 plays while taking up 5:52 of the clock. Roman Lupino capped the drive with a two-yard touchdown run.
Hurley pulled within 19-14.
Erickson said he didn't think the players were bothered by the pressure of a must-score drive.
"I just think they say, 'Let's go do what we do. We run against this stuff every day in practice. Let's just turn our shoulders down the hill and go,'" Erickson said. "I'm just concerned we don't have a turnover because they're good at stripping the ball. Our kids held onto it. They didn't take any risks with the football. They took the yards and kept moving on."
Webster went three-and-out on the ensuing drive, giving possession right back to Hurley, which took another four minutes off in a 61-yard, 9-yard drive.
Saari rushed eight yards for the score and Hurley took its first lead of the night 20-19. Saari's two-point run made it 22-19.
A good Webster team wasn't done yet.
The Tigers went 13 plays and 41 yards all the way to the Hurley 25, but Webster's Alex Spafford fumbled the snap on fourth and 2 and was wrapped up for a one-yard loss with 5:34 left in the game.
Hurley pounced quickly with Saari busting loose for a 45-yard run all the way to the Webster 24.
"I saw a little bit of daylight and I just went for it," Saari said. "That was huge. I couldn't have done it without everyone blocking for me and carrying out the fakes."
He later scored on a 14-yard run with 2:50 left. Hurley was up 11 itself, 30-19, but Webster couldn't pull off an 11-point comeback of its own.
The Tigers drove for a late touchdown and two-point conversion to pull within 30-27 in the final minute, setting up a nervewracking onside kick that Hurley's Roman Lupino recovered with no drama. Webster had a kicker who was making them against the wind in pregame.
"Onside kick, you think, 'Could we possibly blow it at this time,'" Erickson said. "But the kids made a play and we're moving on."
After one kneel down by Tenlen, the celebration ensued.
"It's wonderful," Edyvean said. "Coming into the season, we lost a lot of good players last year. People didn't think we were going to do it. We proved them wrong. Good feelings."
It was a special season for the Tigers, who hadn't gone this far in the playoffs since winning the state title in 1987. But Webster coach Jovin Kroll said they've struggled with the off-tackle play all year and that's not a good weakness to have against Hurley.
"They got the ball and were able to run the off-tackle play real effectively against us," Kroll said. "Quite honestly, in the first half, we didn't slow them down that much either. They just had the one big fumble that was difference. We had the ball three times in the second half. They sustained long drives and took it to us. We couldn't get off the field on third and fourth downs. That was essentially the difference."
Mitchell Maki finished with 101 yards on 15 carries for Hurley, having a big night overcoming the fumble that was returned for a touchdown.
"He played a heck of a game and he wanted the ball," Erickson said. "He made some beautiful tackles there on defense. Sophomore, make a mistake, not hang his head, come back and play well."
Webster 13 6 0 8 — 27
Hurley 0 8 14 8 — 30
Web — Aaron Dietmeier 2 run (Lennart Roemmich kick), 9:32
Web — Ryan Curtis 27 fumble recovery (kick failed), 1:22
Hur — Mark Saari 32 run (Saari run), 10:35
Web — Alexander Hopkins 30 run (pass failed), 1:57
Hur — Roman Lupino 2 run (run failed), 6:08
Hur — Saari 8 run (Saari run), :18
Hur — Saari 14 run (Jake Tenlen run), 2:50
Web — Hopkins 15 pass from Alex Spafford (Spafford pass from Hopkins), :15
First downs 10 16
Rushes-yards 37-143 52-369
Comp-Att-Int 5-10-0 1-4-0
Passing 58 9
Total yards 201 378
Fumbles-lost 1-0 1-1
Penalties-yards 3-25 3-15
Rushing — Webster, Aaron Dietmeier 16-70, Alexander Hopkins 8-37, Ryan Curtis 9-20, Vincent Larson 1-16, Alex Spafford 3-0. Hurley, Mark Saari 22-213, Mitchell Maki 15-101, Roman Lupino 12-53, Jake Tenlen 3-2.
Passing — Webster, Alex Spafford 5-10-58-0. Hurley, Jake Tenlen 1-4-9-0.
Receiving — Webster, Alexander Hopkins 3-39, Aaron Dietmeier 2-19. Hurley, Mark Saari 1-9.