MADISON, Wisconsin — A humbling early-season loss and a change at quarterback at a critical juncture in the season weren't enough to detail one of the most successful football programs in Wisconsin from adding more hardware to its trophy case.
Sophomore quarterback Johnny Duranso threw for 235 yards and three touchdowns as Hartland Arrowhead won its second consecutive WIAA Division 1 championship, beating Franklin 45-24 at Camp Randall Stadium.
It was the sixth title for the Warhawks (13-1), tying Edgar and Lancaster for second-most in state history.
"They rally when things go bad," Hartland Arrowhead coach Greg Malling said. "They don't quit. It's incredible."
The fact that Hartland Arrowhead even had a chance to defend its title seemed like a victory in itself. The Warhawks lost the second game of the year to Mequon Homestead, breaking a 14 game winning streak a week before starting Classic Eight Conference play, considered the most challenging conference in the state.
"To put it bluntly, we were cocky going into the Homestead game," said Warhawks senior offensive guard George Panos, a University of Wisconsin commit. "We thought we didn't have to prepare for a team (and) we were going to win it anyway. It was a great wake-up call. From then on, we dominated every game and got better and better."
If that wasn't enough adversity, Duranso was thrust into the full-time role after Blake Mielke hurt his leg in the playoffs. That turned out to just fine, too, thanks to a quarterback his teammates nicknamed "Johnny Football."
"Johnny is going to be something else," said Panos. "Senior year, junior year, he's going to dominate the state. I can already tell. Some of the plays he makes, I can't believe how he does it."
Breaking a 17-17 tie in the third quarter by scoring the game's next 28 points, including Duranso entering a 11-play 76-yard drive and defensive back Charlie Reuteman returning an interception 44 yards for a score. The touchdown stood despite the ball being fumbled out of the back of the end zone since instant replay is not used in Wisconsin high school football.
"That was the turning point," said Panos.
It might not have mattered, as the Warhawks' balance attacked passed for 235 yards and rushed for 230 yards and saw its defense turn up the pressure in the second half.
"In the second half we came right at them," said defensive lineman Billy Hirschfeld, also a Wisconsin recruit. "Once we started passing a lot more, it was done."
Quarterback Sean McGuire threw for 250 yards and rushed nine times for 61 yards and a touchdown for Franklin (12-2), but was intercepted three times that led to 14 second-half points for the Warhawks.
The Sabers were also whistled for 10 penalties for 120 yards, including five personal foul penalties, as they failed to go 2-for-2 in state title appearances.
"That's atypical of our team," said Franklin coach Louis Brown. "We have great kids . I don't think we had four or five (personal foul penalties) all year. To have that in the state title game, things just didn't bounce our way today."