By David Nordby
The Brillion News
November 25, 2021
This story appears in the Nov. 25, 2021 print edition of The Brillion News.
MADISON – The 2021 Reedsville Panthers football team is etched in history.
In the north end zone of Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, just after 12 p.m. last Thursday, the Panthers celebrated being the first team in school history to earn a WIAA state football championship.
“No one can take this away from you,” Reedsville head coach Aaron Fredrick told his team.
The Panthers were physical, hard-hitting and dominant, just as they had been all season, to beat previously undefeated Coleman 17-0 in the WIAA Division 7 state championship game on a 30-degree cloudy morning.
The Panthers were led by a memorable group of senior captains – quarterback/safety Brennen Dvorachek, running back/defensive back Westen Liebzeit, running back/defensive lineman Cole Ebert and offensive/defensive lineman Darren Wagner.
In the biggest game in Reedsville football history, those four paved the way again. Dvorachek rushed for a game-high 128 yards and a touchdown. Liebzeit scored the first touchdown of the game, kicked a field goal and two extra points, and intercepted a Coleman pass in the Reedsville end zone. Ebert and Wagner led the defense that halted Coleman’s offense, one of the best in the state.
By the game’s end, there were happy tears, hugs, a celebration with the community who traveled to Madison and packed the stands behind Reedsville’s bench, and a feeling of finality.
“It feels awesome to just win everything but also sad at the same time that I’m not going to play again, but what a way to go out,” Dvorachek said.
Wagner summarized it simply.
“I feel like I’m on top of the world right now,” Wagner said.
Ebert, who said he focused on the game itself while it was played, soaked in the atmosphere before and after. “It’s all of what I imagined and more. Just the feeling of coming in here and seeing all the fans. The atmosphere here is just amazing,” Ebert said.
The celebration started on the field, moved to the locker room, continued on the bus ride home, and culminated with a homecoming back in Reedsville.
“It’s crazy. I’m definitely emotional. I can’t wait to go celebrate with my team,” Liebzeit said.
Ryan Taddy, one of the standout juniors on the team, knew it was the end of multiple successful seasons with the 2022 senior class.
“I never even thought about (state) in my life. It’s a mix of emotions, too, the last game playing with all these great players,” Taddy said.
Fredrick said the state championship hadn’t quite sunk in yet.
“I broke down a little bit giving Brennen a hug right before, I think, we were the last two coming off the field before we went to the locker room,” Fredrick said. “Other than that, it still didn’t feel real. Obviously, it was a bigger venue and a bigger place to play and bigger stakes, but I don’t know, it didn’t seem like the end.”
“You’re so used to just turning around and just flipping the script right away and just getting ready for the next opponent. When you realize there are no more opponents and you’ve taken care of business, it’s just an amazing feeling. Something you can’t even explain,” Fredrick added.
Fredrick, in his 13th season as head coach of the program, had the state championship in the back of his mind, but never as the singular goal for the program to talk about.
“It was always in the distance. It never seemed like it was … the main focus. The main focus was always just making sure the kids were having fun and that we were competitive each and every week,” Fredrick said.
That consistency that Fredrick and the coaching staff built led to last Thursday’s culmination.
“This win was for every … football player that has put on the pads at Reedsville High School. To be able to win for all of those guys that have set that goal in the beginning of the season to make it to Camp Randall or to make it to a state game or to be a champion besides just a conference champion, it just means so much,” Fredrick said.
By game’s end, there was a sigh of relief.
“It was a huge weight lifted off because I think when they got to state, there was a little bit of pressure. They wanted it so bad for all of the community and … all the other football players who had played before them who just couldn’t finish and couldn’t get it done. These kids just battled and it’s such a special moment for the whole program,” Fredrick said.
The 2021 football team joins the 1946 basketball team as the only team state champions in school history.
Hank Behnke, representing the 1946 team, received a standing ovation during Thursday's homecoming.
“I told the kids, ‘That’s going to be you guys in 60 years. You’re going to be the ones standing there and you’re going to be cheered every five years or 10 years they’re going to bring out the state championship team,’” Fredrick said.
Other seniors on the team include Gavin Totten, Aiden Seering, Kyle Schmalz, Tyler Aschenbrenner, Colin Borchardt, Jett Kleppen, Ethan Selsing and James Kenneke.
“I think I’ll just remember all my teammates the most. Just the bond we have and how we work together so well, obviously very well since we won the state championship,” Liebzeit said.
The entire team has a camaraderie not always established.
“We just practice together every day, so we become like a family. It just makes it that much easier to play together,” Ebert said.
And the Panthers did just that, all season long, on their way to bringing a gold ball home from Madison.
“It’s something that’s really special and something that’s going to last a lifetime for those guys,” Fredrick said.