It’s hard to believe but even good or great coaches and their teams have demons. For Fond di Lac St. Mary’s Springs it was the failure to win a WISAA football title in the years 1974-78. During that time, they posted a 40-6 record but in all four seasons they lost in the finals. The feeling was that Springs, most notably their coach, couldn’t win the “big one”.
Bob Hyland and his Ledgers put that assertion to rest in 1983 when they marched through an13-0 season and finally won the title. The next season, 1984, they went 12-1 and again rose to the top, winning their second consecutive title. Five years of frustration for the school was about to appear.
Following a Tuesday night 12-7 win on November 6, 1990, Fond du Lac St. Maty’s Springs coach, Bob Hyland was smiling. He had exorcised the first of several demons that had prevented his teams from becoming WISAA state champions in recent seasons, that making it out of the playoff quarterfinals. But demons were still out there for some fans and reporters to dredge up. Could they win another title and obliterate the other demons?
In 1985 the team went 10-2, failed to win outright (They tied for first) the Fox Valley Christian Conference title and didn’t make it to the state finals as they lost 7-0 in the semi-finals to Milwaukee Marquette who tossed a 61-yard touchdown bomb with just under 10 minutes to go in the game. Springs ended the season with a 10-2 record with a bitter taste in their mouth for several reasons but that is for another blog.
1986 brought mor misery. Entering the semifinal game against Waukesha Catholic Memorial, Springs was ranked #1 in the final WISAA poll. They faced Memorial in the semifinals and were upset 21-7. Memorial would end the year at 9-3, losing to Stevens Point Pacelli the next week in the finals13-3 and St. Mary’s would end 11-1. Grumbling in the community of Fond du Lac was beginning to rise again.
Then, in 1987 Hyland’s team had a nightmare of a game, again against Memorial and after two key first half fumbles that led the Crusaders to two touchdowns, Springs ended up falling 14-13 and finished with a 7-4 record.
In 1988 it was much of the same as Memorial overcame an early Ledger lead and pulled out a 17-14 victory. Springs ended with a 10-1 record. 1989 also had a sad end for the Fond du lac team as they went down 29-6, finishing the season with another loss to Memorial, this time in the finals and ending the year 9-4.
But let’s go back a bit to mention a few more things about Springs vs. Memorial. The rivalry between the two schools started in 1983 when Springs upended the #1 Memorial team 9-2 on their way to the title. The next season, 1984, the Ledgers beat the Crusaders soundly in a 19-7 win. BUT, as I’ve written, the following meetings between the two schools didn’t go well for Springs.
A side note: Springs and Memorial would have met in 1985 if Milwaukee Marquette hadn’t beaten the Waukesha squad the week before the Ledgers. The loss to Marquette prevented Springs from getting revenge for this only other loss that season. Marquette beat Green Bay Premontre the next week in the finals 21-7
The grumblings over the years continued until Bob Hyland seemed to listen to what others were saying. The FVCC was an overall weak conference, and the Ledgers played a soft non-conference schedule. He began to beef up the non-conference schedule and he searched for the best teams available. Take a look at the 1990 schedule:
1990 FOND DU LAC ST. MARY'S SPRINGS 13-0
WISAA STATE CHAMPIONS
COACHED BY BOB HYLAND
26 Wausau East (nc) 6
24 Madison West (nc) 8
34 La Crosse Aquinas (nc) 7
14 Menominee (MI) (nc) 13
44 Kingsford (MI) (no) 22
32 Two Rivers 13
31 Appleton Xavier 3
42 Manitowoc Roncalli 20
34 Fox Valley Lutheran 13
14 Green Bay Notre Dame 3
24 Fox valley Lutheran 10
12 Green Bay Notre Dame 7
27 Waukesha Catholic Memorial 7
It’s true that Wausau East hasn’t been a strong team for many years and 1990’s squad only went 1-8 but they lost to conference champion Stevens Point in a close game and generally played tough with the other conference teams. Madison West was only a 5-5 team that made the first round of the WIAA playoffs but lost in the first game. Aquinas made the WISAA playoffs and lost in the opening round to finish 6-4. Menominee was a good team that finished 5-4 and just missed the Michigan playoffs. Kingsford made it to the state finals in Michigan and ended with an 11-2 record. Finally, Two Rivers was a tough team going 8-2 in 1989 and 7-3 in 1990.
Despite having only six teams in the Fox Valley Christian Conference three of them made it to the playoffs. In game #9 Springs blew out Fox Valley Lutheran 34-7. The next week Green Bay Notre Dame went down 14-3. Good solid wins but once the playoffs began things got tighter. In the opening round Fox valley Lutheran tied Springs 10-10 after two quarters before they scored 14-points in the third period to pull out a 24-10 win. After that, Hyland was leery about the quarter finals matchup with Notre Dame, hoping that his team would overcome mistakes and knowing that the Tritons would be gunning for them. He also knew that his team might be getting overconfident and for a while his team played very lackluster. Notre Dame scored first and led 7-0 after the first quarter and the Ledgers had to work hard to score once in the second and the third periods to pull out a 12-7 win. The Ledgers had finally made it to the finals, and it was time to exorcise the big demon…Catholic Memorial.
The finals were again a matchup against Catholic Memorial, and there would be a few Ledger turnovers but junior quarterback Rob Hyland, the coach’s son, played a great game. He was 6-13-2-91-1 passing and 24-155-2 leading his team to a 27-7 victory. Rob passed for a touchdown in the first quarter and then added a score on the ground. Kicker Joel Berens kicked two field goals in the second quarter and St. Mary’s led 20-0 at the half. Memorial scored once in the third, but Hyland came back with a rushing touchdown in the fourth to solidify the win. The Ledger defense put pressure on the Crusader passing attack and holding Waukesha to 144 total yards as they gained 319.
The demons were now exercised.
Standing 6’1, 185-pound Rob Hyland was the offensive catalyst to the team. He was 63-134-8-816-5 passing and ran 168-1353-28 + one two-point conversion. A 2nd team All-State player in 1990, Hyland was named the state Player-of the Year and first team All-State as a senior in 1991. Senior running back Dan Koenig played hard, was a key blocker for Hyland and he picked up over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns on his own. His rushing in the early part of the season was important to the team’s success before Hyland got his game going. The two were part of nine Ledger players to make all-conference. Kicker, senior Joel Berens was another key component kicking 8 of13 field goals and 37 of 39 extra points and earned first team All-FVCC and All-State.
Other stars were center Isaac Mueller, guard Joe Steffen, defensive end Brad Anderson, defensive lineman Kevin O’Leary, linebacker Mike Kelm, defensive back Bob Bennot, all on the first team all-conference squad. Making the second team were offensive tackle Luke Martin, defensive lineman Eric Rebek and linebacker Tony Strobel. Defensive end Jeff Baker was named honorable mention. Hyland was a junior as well as Mueller and Steffen while the rest were seniors. Not blessed with overall big size but with speed and determination as well as good coaching the Ledgers were able to exorcise their demons.
They would be back again to the finals in 1991 erasing any doubts in the fan’s minds and that of the players. The coaches always believed that they, the Ledgers, could overcome obstacles. It was just a matter of execution.