It was a championship team in a championship season.
If not for some killer fumbles in quarterfinal loss to Grantsburg, Eau Claire Regis might be playing for the ultimate gold ball in Madison.
But those balls that got away, set up two touchdowns for the opportunistic Grantsburg team that won the key game 31-29.
It was a bitter end for the Ramblers whose goal was to go all the way and they nearly achieved it in a season that saw them win their first 11 games and claim the Cloverbelt Conference championship.
“Yes, it was a championship team,” said Bryant Brenner who concluded his 10th season with a glowing 108-27 career record. “This is one of the best teams I’ve coached. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve coached a better team.
“We just came up a little short at the end.”
Brenner said the five turnovers made it an uncharacteristic game in that the Ramblers had only 11 turnovers in their first 11 games.
“It stings now but as time goes on, the kids will realize what they did,” Brenner said. “They won 11 games and how many teams can make that claim.
“Our goal was to be a tough team and we accomplished that.”
The heart of the team was made up of 15 seniors, who had reached the Division 6 semifinals a year ago before losing by one point.
The Ramblers will lose Jack Nicolai, Jonah Forden, Will Jordahl, Isaac Michels, Andrew Ernstmeyer., Cade Osborn, Mitchel Merkel, Payton Oliver, Tommy Schmidt, Nick Maenner, David Barsoum, Nathan Gorzek, Jackson Woltersdorff, Andrew Solberg and Kadin Peterson.
They all contributed in a season limited by 10 running-clock games in which they rarely played in the second half. Regis won the big game 23-6 at Spencer/Columbus but otherwise coasted into the playoff quarters in a season that saw them outscore their opponent’s 456-104 and outgain them by 370-185 in average yards.
Quarterback Michels directed the inverted double wing attack for the second straight year, passing for 780 yards and 14 touchdowns. Under his leadership, the Ramblers won 21 games in his two years.
“He was a good leader and a scholarship-level quarterback who did what was best for the team,” Brenner said.
The running backs alternated virtually every play and eight rushed for over 100 yards and five over 300 led by Ernstmeyer, Osborn and Reinders.
Ernstmeyer gained 746 yards at a 9.2 average per carry and scored nine touchdowns; Osborn, who ran for a season high 153 yards against Grantsburg, piled up 648 yards at an 8.4 clip and scored 10 times while Reinders had 589 yards at 8.9 and tallied seven touchdowns.
They all did double duty and Osborn, who had 19 tackles against Grantsburg, led the way with 109 and three interceptions for the season while Ernstmeyer at linebacker had 44 tackles and five sacks.
“Osborn was a tremendous leader and one of our hardest workers,” Brenner said. “He was a great tackler who could play the run or the pass and offensively, he could run throw and catch.”
Brenner said Ernstmeyer could have been a 1,000-yard rusher in a lot of offenses.
“He was strong with good speed and balance and could block as well,” Brenner said. “He was real strong at outside linebacker on defense.”
Brenner said Gorzek was “the best lineman I’ve coached; he could pass block and run block and do a lot of things,” and said Reinders “should be really good next year.”
Other seniors to leave their mark were Peterson, who had eight sacks among 63 tackles.; Jordahl, a tight end on offense who had 50 tackles at linebacker; Schmidt, credited with 58 tackles; Maenner’s blocking in the offensive line and handyman Jack Nicolai, who rushed and took passes for 435 yards and seven touchdowns and had 39 tackles and three interceptions as a D-back.
“They really did a good job and will be difficult to replace,” Brenner said. “But we’re looking forward to next year. We have key pieces to build around.”
A few of those would be Henry Theisen, who had 53 tackles and five sacks; Reinders as a runner and two-way players Luke Rooney and Aaron Haselwander.
Also, Tristan Root ran for 373 yards and six scores and took 10 passes for 256 yards and four scores. Kicking, he averaged 36.8 yards punting and booted 39 extra points and a field goal and averaged 50 yards a kickoff as placekicker.
“I’m just thankful for the effort of the players and coaches,” Brenner said. “They made my job enjoyable.”