It’s said records are made to be broken and in early October a new one was set in Wisconsin high school football. How did we get to the record? It’s sort of a long and twisting story but first let’s talk about the game that the new record was set.
It was Friday, October 9, 2020.
New Holstein was visiting Kohler to battle the co-opted schools of Kohler, Sheboygan Lutheran and Sheboygan Christion.
The game was nearly over. Only 17 seconds left on the clock and Kohler/Sheboygan Lutheran/Christian was on their 21-yard line, 79 yards away from the New Holstein goal. On first down quarterback Robby Michael threw his 34th pass. It went Incomplete. On second down he completed pass number 35 for a short five-yard gain to Casey Verhagen. It was his eighth and final catch of the game on a night any receiver would be proud of as he gained 128 yards and a touchdown. With 10 seconds left KLC quickly got to the line and Michael tossed a 50-yard pass to the fastest player on the field, Colin Girdaukes who hauled the ball in on about the 25-yard line and ran toward the goal. He stumbled at the 15 but stayed upright and went untouched into the endzone and KLH tied the score 50-50. Or did they? A flag had been thrown. The officials discussed for a moment if Girdaukes has stepped out of bounds. The flag was picked up and the score stood. By making the catch and gaining 74 yards Girdaukes ended up catching seven passes for a state single game record 339-yards plus three touchdowns and two 2-point conversions. With the game tied and no time left on the clock coach Ryan Eigenberger did something unusual for his team. He sent Justin Hendrikse out to kick the team’s first of the season 1-point conversion. KLC usually went for two points and now they were trying their first conversion kick of the season. With no timeouts left Eigenberger didn’t have time to discuss what 2-point play his team would run so he chose to kick. It worked out.
The snap was perfect. So was the hold. And so was the kick and KLC won a 51-50 barnburner. Besides the state record receiving yards put up by Girdaukes, quarterback completed 24 of 36 attempts for 579 yards and four touchdowns with only one interception. The 579 yards placed Michael in the third spot on the all-time single game passing list. It was a great night for KLC. But how did we get to this record?
Well, I’ve spent many hours in libraries and online doing research for my files on state football records that are posted on the WFCA website at https://www.wifca.org/staterecords . I’ll bet I’ve scoured nearly a hundred different newspapers from Wisconsin and nearby Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan, running down leads supplied by coaches, players and fans. Sometimes my eyes are blurry from looking at microfilm or printed papers after a “long day at the office”. But in the end, it is the finding of important information and confirming a reported stat that I love. Before I bought a computer and began e-mailing coaches and newspapers for information it was all library work. In the early days I spent most of my spare time at the Milwaukee Public Library in downtown or made treks to Madison to scan microfilm at the State Historical Society building on the University of Wisconsin campus. My biggest break was when the Milwaukee Journal asked for state records information in 1995 and I sent them 48 pages of hand written stats. They did a story on me and the information came flooding in from others wanting to confirm a school, conference or state record or just wanting to contribute. They wanted to know, according to what I had, where a player placed on a single game, season or career list. I contributed to several websites, mainly in their football forum section and then began to collate weekly leader lists for passing, rushing, receiving and scoring and sent them out to newspapers free of charge. Some printed my stats but most didn’t. Still, the papers would contact me with questions concerning a certain player or team. I would be asked to confirm the status of a certain record. So here is how we got to the new receiving record.
Before the 1950's there were few newspaper stories that the reader would find individual player statistics. Oh, there would be a mention of a player with a long run and the distance but usually very little statistical game information. Often nothing more than who scored a touchdown and who scored an extra point. Often there was no explanation as to if the extra point was a run or a kick.
A rare find in searching various early 20th century newspapers was a story, while researching the great Superior high school teams of 1918-20 that I found a huge bit of information. In 1918 when the Superior Telegram mentioned in a game story between Superior high school and Two Harbors Minnesota, Superior quarterback Harold “Fat” Steel completed nine passes to end Ted Whereatt for 279 yards and three touchdowns. Superior crushed Two Harbors 75-0. The 279 yards wasn’t mentioned as being a record, just as a matter of fact in the story. No other stat information other than a record of which player scored was in the article. Superiors offense was unusual for its time as instead of the players lining up close to each other and always smashing the opposition with a powerful run game, the players lined up in what could be called a spread formation. Each lineman would spread their arms out and line up finger-tip to finger-tip. The linemen would be about six feet apart. The quarterback would line up behind center with the fullback right behind him and the halfbacks spread on either side, also finger-tip to finger-tip. By spreading out they could make better angle blocking on the line and open up the field. According to the newspaper stories, like other teams from the era Superior was a run orientated team and only passed occasionally to loosen up the defense. Superior would maybe throw three to five times a game, which was a lot in those days. Aside from a few good throwing quarterbacks in the 1910’s through the 1940’s there was little chance for a receiver to haul in many passes. An end was a blocker on offense and a defensive end or linebacker on defense. Not a major offensive tool.
The record for receiving would stand 63 years when it was broken by Waukesha North’s Jeff Sanford who hauled in nine passes for 311 yards and three scores. Sanford was the first player to gain 300 yards or more in a game. Jeff would set the record but I wouldn’t discover it until 2009. The single game receiving record would change hands a few times starting in 1998 when Chippewa Fall McDonell end Bryan Dahl gained 286 yards. The next season West Bend East’s Ryan Rohlinger would catch passes for 292 yards. Two years later Stratford coach Cal Tackes sent me an e-mail stating that he and his staff had reviewed game film and confirmed that end Ryan Pachinak had caught eight passes for 299 yards and three scores. Pachinak now moved to the top of the list. By now, if a coach had game film and they could make a copy and send it to me or sit down with a local reporter and review the footage for confirmation I would certify a record. In 2003, on consecutive Fridays the state receiving record was broken. First by Jordan Zimmerman of Auburndale who gained 304 yards. I had just finished reviewing the video sent to me when I got a call from the stats man at Mosinee who told me that Eric Vehlow had caught nine passes for 307 yards. By the next Thursday I had the game film in hand and confirmed the new record. Remember, I still didn’t know about Jeff Sanford’s 1981 performance.
In late 2009 while looking up other information at the Waukesha Public Library I ran across a Waukesha Freeman story about Sanford’s big game. He now moved to the top of my list…for about four months. It was early 2010, just after my latest set of records was posted on the WFCA website, when I received an e-mail from Justin Last of Winneconne who said he had caught 12 passes for 324 yards and five touchdowns in a game in 1996. His former coach also e-mailed to confirm totals and he said that the newspaper story on the game against Ripon had the totals wrong. The Oshkosh Northwestern newspaper had him with 11 catches for 320 yards (still a record) but Last had one more reception for four more yards. I looked up the story but with the coach confirming the new set of figures I went with 324 yards. One thing not in dispute was that Last caught five of those passes for touchdowns. The first Wisconsin player to get to that standard. In 2013 Tanner Vik of Spooner moved past Last into first place with 331 yards worth of receptions. The newspaper reports had Vik with seven receptions for 293 yards and five scores but the coaches or stats person reported on WisSports.net eight catches for 331 yards and the five td’s so I took it as gospel. And so, the record stood until October 9, 2020.
I can’t wait to hear of a new record.