LA CROSSE, Wis. (BVM) — As Aquinas Blugolds head football coach Tom Lee reflected on his team’s undefeated WIAA Division 5 state championship season, there were so many great memories to remember. The practices, games, meetings, celebrations and so many other little things that make a high school football season special came to mind. However, there was one personal memory that stood out.
Early in the season, the Blugolds had a game down in Altoona and Lee’s close childhood friend, Troy, the best man at his wedding, drove up with his son, Tyler, to watch the game. Aquinas won 45-8 and Tyler not only got some Blugolds gear to take home, he stood on the sideline during the game and broke down the huddle afterwards. Lee later received a letter from Tyler thanking him for everything and finishing his card with, ‘I’ll see you at state.’
“They were there and the kid called his shot so that was pretty cool and pretty special,” Lee said.
Tyler wasn’t the only one. Opposing coaches during post game handshakes would tell Lee his team had what it took and if you asked the seniors on the team, they may tell you that they called this state championship season back before they were even in high school.
“Those kids were silly enough or dumb enough to think they were going to be champs back in seventh and eighth grade,” Lee said. “Because they won a lot of games when they were in seventh and eighth grade.”
Lee followed up what he called ‘the nicest possible back-handed compliment’ by saying that his seniors could back it up.
“We’ve always known this senior class was pretty athletic and pretty special… We had talented kids,” Lee said
It was a group that has been playing together for a long time and has gotten a lot of varsity experience over the past few years. And after last season, they and the coaching staff dedicated themselves to reaching the potential that was showing at the end of the season.
“I seriously think it started at that point,” Lee said.
With a shortened season due to COVID, the Blugolds entered their four-team miniplayoff quad as the fourth seed. They then beat Darlington and then beat Lancaster in the next game, what they put on tape from those two performances got everyone excited about the 2021 season.
“We put on about as complete of a performance as I’ve had as a coach in this school, as a head coach and my 17 years as an assistant coach,” Lee said about the 42-8 win over Lancaster.
All this excitement and momentum heading into this season was apparent as soon as Aquinas started practicing. The kids were ultra serious to the point where Lee and his staff had to make sure they didn’t go too hard and beat each other up prior to games.
Along with their intensity at practice, the Blugolds also showed that this team was going to have the kind of defense that could stop anyone, and an offense that could capitalize on those stops.
On defense, the Blugolds were always trying to ‘get six.’ Takeaways, three-and-outs and turnovers on downs all counted as one and the goal each game was to get six of those. If the defense did successfully get six, they realized they were basically undefeated in those games.
And considering their undefeated record, the defense was very good at getting six. This year they combined for 80 tackles for loss, 20.5 sacks, six fumbles and 23 interceptions, while holding opposing teams to less than 20 points in every game other than the state championship.
Once the defense did get off the field, the Blugolds offense took it from there and for a group that scored more than 40 points in nine of their games, that basically meant a touchdown was going to happen and that affected how teams tried to play them.
“I feel like we had teams that had to change their personality,” Lee said. “They knew they had to catch up with us… They felt like they needed to match us score for score and that was really hard to do with the kids that we had out there.”
Those kids were all-state junior quarterback Jackson Flottmeyer and all-state senior wide receiver Quinn Miskowski. Flottmeyer this year threw for 2,879 yards, 34 touchdowns with only four interceptions and a completion rate of 70.9%.
“He is a generational type of talent for us,” Lee said of Flottmeyer.
With Flottmeyer under center and a bevy of weapons led by Miskowski, who had 40 receptions for 1,041 yards, 19 touchdowns and eight two-point conversions, offensive coordinator Steve Kramer turned this group into an offensive juggernaut.
“He is the best football thing that has happened to me,” Lee said of Kramer.
“His Monday installs, it’s like sitting in a TedTalk or a master class. Just listening to how he watches film, the way he teaches the guys and the way he cares about our boys is amazing.”
It was the kind of offense that could give the Blugolds a 16-0 lead early in the state championship game against Mayville and then get the lead back in the third quarter when Aquinas was down 20-16.
Once it was 28-20, it was the defense’s turn and they did their job by stopping Mayville from getting a two-point conversion that would have tied the game at 28-28 with less than two minutes left in the game.
When they needed it most, the boys not only showed up but embraced the big moments.
“You try to simulate that stuff but you just never quite know, but with these kids you kind of felt it,” Lee said.
They were a special group of kids that believed in themselves and each other. A group that knew they could put together a season like that and proved it. Now it will be up to those who follow them to live up to what this year’s players did in those jerseys.