MADISON — Empty red zone trips and late first down gains by its opponent kept the Rice Lake football team from its ultimate goal.

Pewaukee quarterback Carson Hansen ran for 98 yards and both of his team’s two touchdowns in knocking off the Warriors 15-6 in Friday’s Division 3 state championship game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.

“Both defenses came to play today,” Rice Lake coach Dan Hill said. “A tough one to swallow. These kids, I’m so proud of them. They’ve come so far and they’re just one tick short of the goals they set up in August at the start of this season. They never quit.”

Rice Lake got the ball down 8-6 after Elliot Nolin knocked away a pass on fourth down at the Warriors’ 23-yard line with seven minutes and 21 seconds left in the game.

After runs of 3, 2 and 2 the Warriors faced fourth-and-2 at the 43.

Rice Lake gave Easton Stone the ball up the middle to try to get his second fourth-down conversion of the drive, but he was tripped up by Pewaukee’s Andrew Jones a yard short of the line to gain. That gave possession back to the Pirates with 4:45 to play in the contest.

Hansen ran for gains of 7 and 6 yards to convert consecutive first downs, with his run of 6 on third-and-5 just about sealing the win with Rice Lake out of timeouts. Two plays later the Pewaukee quarterback ran the ball 26 yards for the touchdowns as the Warriors’ only chance was to let them score and hope for a failed point-after to keep it a one-score game. Instead, Nick Dettlaff put the kick through the uprights for nine-point margin with 1:40 left.

“I was proud of how our guys played that out and made it look it we were going to try and stop them,” Hill said. “Our only chance then was to get the ball, score quick, get an onside and score again.”

Cole Fenske was picked off two plays into Rice Lake’s next drive and Pewaukee took two knees to end the game and win it’s first state title. It was Rice Lake’s seventh state finals appearance and fifth runner-up finish.

The Warriors had a promising drive going earlier in the third quarter. Stone ran the ball eight times as Rice Lake drove from its own 30 down to the Pewaukee 14. On first down, Fenske looked for tight end Keegan Gunderson but the pass was tipped at the line and fell incomplete. Stone gained nothing on second down and Nolin earned just a yard on third down, setting up a fourth-and-9 at the 13. Jace Fitzgerald entered to try the 30-yard field goal to take the lead but his kick bounced off the right upright, leaving the Warriors’ two-point deficit intact.

“They’ve got a heck of a defense. We miss-fired ourselves but they’re good enough to cause you to do that,” Hill said of stalling in the red zone. “Sometimes you can get away with some of that stuff against lesser teams but their defense was tough and they made us have to execute everything sharp and we couldn’t quite do it.”

Pewaukee scored on its opening possession of the game, marching 78 yards on 12 plays. Pewaukee powered its way down the field on nine straight runs, with Hansen punching it in from a yard out. Logan Schill ran it in on the fake field goal and the Pirates took the 8-0 advantage with 5:24 left in the first quarter.

Nolin forced a fumble on Carter Pearson and then recovered to the ball at the Pirate 14 to set up Rice Lake’s lone score. Fenske scored from 4 yards out on the fourth play of the ensuing drive. On the two-point conversion Nolin appeared to add the two points but the Warriors were flagged for holding. On the do-over Fenske threw a fade to Alex Belongia but it was knocked away by Schill as Pewaukee held to a 8-6 lead with 10:41 left to go in the first half.

Rice Lake’s defense made a couple of big stops to close the half after a pair of turnovers by the offense. Pewaukee drove into the red zone but a holding call pushed them back. On fourth-and-22 from the Rice Lake 27, Gunderson sacked and forced a fumble on Hansen that Treyton Bader recovered. Unfortunately for the Rice Lake, Stone fumbled the ball two plays later with Pewaukee getting the recovery.

Nolin made a diving play soon thereafter on a tipped ball in the end zone and was ruled an interception. After a review it was ruled incomplete but Stone still tackled Hansen for no gain on the following fourth down attempt.

Rice Lake neared midfield on the next possession but Fenske was sacked and fumbled to the Pirates with just 23 seconds to the half. Pewaukee completed a pair of passes to Schill but Dettlaff missed a 39-yard field goal attempt as time ran out in the first half.

The Pirates got 41 rushing yards from Matthew Ciesielcyzk and 30 from Pearson. Hansen was 5 of 9 passing for 69 yards.

Stone led all runners with 100 yards on 21 carries. Fenske added 66 on 11 attempts. He was 3 of 9 passing for 32 yards. Scheurer had two catches for 27 while Belongia had one for five. The senior all-state player missed most of the game with an injury in the first half. He attempted to give it go on multiple times in the second half but was significantly hobbled and unable to play. Hill credited Scheurer with playing well in Belongia’s absence.

“Losing a two-way all-state player, defensive back of the year in Wisconsin, doesn’t help either,” Hill said. “The biggest thing with him is how he flies to the line of scrimmage and tackles, and we needed that.”

Stone led the defense with 10 tackles, including 1.5 for loss. Aidan Drost added seven and Belongia racked up six tackles before his departure. Gunderson had two tackles for loss with five total.

“I’m so damn proud of them,” Hill said of his team. “This group of kids, probably more than any group that I’ve ever had, improved more from the middle of the season to now. They would come every day put their nose to it and fight no matter what.”

Rice Lake finishes the season 11-3, a Big Rivers Conference co-champion, and despite the state championship loss, winners of a silver ball.

“It’s a bitter pill to not take the gold ball home, but I think that will wear off and they’ll realize they did the next best thing,” Hill said. “What is more important is how this group kept growing as a team together, from freshmen, sophomore, junior, senior guys — you’d think that the guys in there that might be crying are just seniors, but it’s freshmen on up. It’s tough. They’ll realize one day they did a hell of a job.”

Pewaukee 15, Rice Lake 6

Scoring

First quarter

PE: Carson Hansen 1 run (Logan Schill rush), 6:30.

Second quarter

RL: Cole Fenske 1 run (pass failed), 10:41.

Fourth quarter

PE: Hansen, 26 run (Nick Dettlaff kick), 1:40.

Stats

Rushing — RL: Easton Stone 21-100, Fenske 11-66, Elliot Nolin 4-10, Carson Tomesh 3-9. PE: Hansen 20-99, Matthew Ciesielczyk 8-41, Carter Pearson 4-30, Max Sheridan 3-19.

Passing — RL: Fenske 3-9-32-0-1. PE: Hansen 5-9-98-0-0.

Receiving — RL: Teagan Scheurer 2-27, Alex Belongia 1-5. PE: Schill 3-34, Matthew Kuglitsch 1-22, Max Sheridan 1-13.

Total yards — RL 48-217. PE 60-307.

Turnovers — RL: 3. PE: 2.