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Hartford gives valiant effort but falls in WIAA playoffs | By Jason Howarth

November 13, 2021- Waukesha, WI – Hartford lost to Waunakee 27 – 20.

The Hartford Orioles entered the game as underdogs, not because of the skill level of their team, but rather due to the fact the fourth round of the WIAA  playoffs was uncharted territory for the program and they were facing a multiple  former state championship program in Waunakee.

A massive crowd gathered to watch the game held at the neutral site of Waukesha West High School.

The Orioles got the ball first and utilized a ground-and-pound run strategy throughout the game, paying off on the first drive when senior AJ Pepin ran 8 yards for touchdown, although the extra point was unsuccessful.

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Waunakee proved the deadly efficiency of their own offense by scoring less than a minute later with a 49-yard touchdown pass by senior quarterback Quentin Keene to senior receiver Ben Farnsworth.

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That would end the scoring in the first quarter, but Hartford would snag the lead by with 6:32 left in the second quarter, when Pepin broke a huge 48-yard touchdown run and scored the subsequent two-point conversion to make it 14-7 Hartford.

Despite the Warriors marching down the field to answer back, Hartford’s defense was able to hold the line, forcing a turnover on downs at its own 3-yard line with 3:34 to go in the half.

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Unfortunately, the Orioles couldn’t capitalize on the defensive stop and the Warriors would score with just over a minute left in the half as Keene hit senior Peter James for a 31-yard touchdown pass. The halftime score saw the teams tied at 14-14. 

Hartford’s defense managed to keep the potent Waunakee offense in check on their first drive to start the second half, forcing a 23-yard field goal.

However, after being stopped on offense, Hartford bent and allowed a 54-yard touchdown pass from Keene to James with 3:39 left in the third quarter.

The Orioles’ offense managed to find rhythm with a run game once again, before junior quarterback Austin Kutz capped off their first drive of the fourth quarter with a 10-yard touchdown pass to junior Bly Bielmeier.

A failed two-point conversion attempt made it 24-20 Waunakee with 7:06 left to play in the game.

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Despite having some issues with covering the Warriors’ passing game all night, the Orioles’ defense clamped down when they were required to stop Waunakee and held them to a 29-yard field with just 1:45 left to play.

Unfortunately, on what would be the Orioles final offensive drive, Pepin was penalized for a rather questionable intentional grounding penalty on a trick pass play that made it very difficult to get the first down necessary to keep the game alive.

Hartford would end up turning the ball over on downs, losing 27-20 in a hard-fought game from the opening kickoff.

Waunakee will now look to win its seventh Division 2 State Football Championship as it will face off against Hartford’s North Shore Conference rival Homestead on Friday, November 19, 2021 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.  

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