Kimberly's football dynasty rolls on.
Despite jumping out to an early 14-0 lead, Franklin was unable to bring the Papermakers' nation-leading winning streak to an end, as Kimberly rallied for a fourth consecutive state title with a 29-14 victory over the Sabers in the WIAA Division 1 title game Nov. 18 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison
It is the sixth football state title for Kimberly, and it marked a 56th consecutive victory. For Franklin, it was a disappointing final half of football after becoming the first team to hold a Kimberly squad scoreless at halftime since the 2010 season opener.
"We’re a pretty young team, only 16 seniors, and not all 16 play," Franklin coach Louis Brown said. "I think we got worn down. If you want to get back here in the future, you have to put the time in. I think they wore us down and made some nice adjustments. I knew we’d have to score in the second half; I knew their offense is too good to hold them in check."
Kimberly went on to score 29 unanswered points after the break. DJ Stewart's two fourth-quarter touchdowns broke a 14-14 tie and accounted for the winning margin.
"I told our guys that the bad news was that was the worst we’ve ever played," Kimberly coach Steve Jones said. "The good news was we were only down 14 points. That could have been a lot worse. That’s not a strategy or something we enjoy, but I do enjoy watching our kids compete for four quarters. That’s what they did today.
"Coach Brown does a great job. That’s a great staff and a great program over there. They have some tremendous athletes. I give a lot of credit to our defensive coordinator and our defensive staff to be able to hold that offense down to 14 points. I think that’s a remarkable job."
Franklin went 86 yards in 15 plays on its opening possession to take a 7-0 lead on a 2-yard touchdown run by Tanner Dykstra.
The Papermakers then turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions, but the Sabers could only turn those miscues into one score.
After Brad Tobin intercepted Kimberly quarterback Danny Vanden Boom, Max Alba hit Ethan Wittenburg for an 11-yard touchdown that gave Franklin a 14-0 advantage with 11:07 left in the first half.
Aaron Simmons recovered a fumble by DJ Stewart at the Kimberly 32-yard line on the Papermakers' ensuing possession. A holding penalty derailed the drive, and the Sabers turned the ball over on downs on an incomplete pass by Alba.
The bigger missed opportunity came between the touchdowns, when Franklin fumbled a third-down snap on the Kimberly 5-yard line, and Charlie Biolo recovered for the Papermakers.
"We needed to score when we were down there on the five," Brown said. "We needed to take advantage of our opportunities in the first half. They made a lot of mistakes in the first half that they normally don’t make. You’ve got to take advantage of those. Sure, we scored 14 points, but I knew 14 points weren’t going to be enough."
Nonetheless, it was an impressive defensive performance.
"We're pretty good up front," Brown said. "We’ve got two All-State D-linemen (Hawk Wimmer and Latron Kirk-Sprewer), and we’re pretty physical up front. Granted, we got worn down a little bit, our linebackers got worn down in the second half, but we stopped their power about as well as they’ve been stopped in the first half. But they made a couple adjustments with kind of an inside trap and some things we knew they could go to. It’s tough to stop everything against a quality program like this."
Kimberly roars back
Kimberly got on the board with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Vanden Boom to Boyd Dietzen. A 49-yard pass from Vanden Boom to Alec Rosner tied the game at 14-14 with 2:52 left in the third quarter. Rosner caught the ball in traffic and slipped away from all defenders on the scene en route to the game-tying score.
It was reminiscent of what happened in 2015, when Kimberly found itself down 42-21 in the second half against Arrowhead, only to rally for four scores and a 49-42 win in regulation.
Franklin thought it had answered with a 78-yard touchdown pass by Alba to a wide-open Kyle Lewis, but the Sabers were flagged for having an illegal man downfield on the play.
"They said he was 8 yards downfield; he was 2½ yards downfield," Brown said. "It seems like every time we come here (a couple calls don't go our way), but you have to give them credit, they intercepted the ball against us three time sin the second half. We turned the ball over four times, and you can’t do that against a team that’s quality like this."
Stewart gave Kimberly a 22-14 lead with a 43-yard touchdown run with 10:37 to play and iced the game with a 24-yard scoring run with 5:19 left. As Franklin became more desperate, its final three drives ended in two interceptions and a lost fumble.
"A big reason why we won tonight is our leadership from our seniors," Jones said. "They’ve been here before. They’ve been down before. They didn’t flinch, and they responded the right way when we faced some adversity."
Vanden Boom added, "First half, we didn’t play our game. There’s no secret about that. A lot of that was Franklin doing its job. They are a great team. We commend them for their efforts. There was really no panic at half at all. We know what we did wrong."
Making its third appearance in a state title game, Franklin completed its season at 12-2. The Sabers won the Division 2 state championship in 2006 and have now finished as Division 1 runner-up in 2013 and 2016.
This wasn't supposed to be the year it made a title run. After graduating 28 seniors from a team that lost a gut-wrenching close call in Level 4 to Arrowhead last year, the Sabers came into the year as close to a rebuilding year as it has come in a long time.
Franklin lost its first game of the year against Mukwonago.
"I think we just got ticked off that we lost that first game," said senior captain Aaron Simmons, who had five tackles and a fumble recovery. "We don’t like losing. We came together, realized what we did wrong and just were determined to do better.
"We didn’t know what our goal was at the beginning. The second game came, and we beat them. We kept winning, kept winning, and by midseason we changed our goals from making the playoffs to making it to Camp Randall."
Part of that ascension was the play of the junior Alba, who overcame an early-season injury to become one of the state's best passers. He completed 18 of 37 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown in the title game. He also led Franklin with 54 yards rushing.
"As he goes, we go, to be honest," Brown said. "He’s awfully special. He’s a better kid than he is a quarterback, believe it or not; he’s a great kid. He could be a three-sport scholarship athlete in my mind,"
He'll be part of a Saber team that will have big expectations in 2017.
"(Kimberly) had their backs against the wall, and that says a lot about our program and our kids," Brown said. "You can see that’s a special group right there."
— Andrew Gruman contributed to this article.