On a reasonably temperate night for early November in Wisconsin the Arcadia Raiders suffered their first loss of the season, which also proved to be the team's last, as the Lancaster Flying Arrows defeated the Raiders on their home turf.
The nearby cornfield that sits off to the side of Arcadia's football field had recently been harvested, revealing the subtle frost lacing the Midwestern tundra. The floor of brown earth and ice made for telling signs of football playoff season as crowds from Arcadia and Lancaster walked into the made-for-high-school arena.
22-21 Lancaster at halftime, the Friday night game ended in a score of 43-29. “Their first possession of the 3rd quarter was a touchdown drive that drained over 10 min off the clock,” said Arcadia’s head coach Derek Updike. “That is how they beat us. [They] limited our offensive opportunities.”
The boys and men on the sideline of the opposing team held their breath as the clock ticked down, each second longer than the last. For Arcadia, each lit up scoreboard second felt shorter and shorter, until it was clear to everyone in the game, on the bench and in the bleachers that there was no coming back. The shouts of third quarter encouragement from teammates - "we're still in this!" "come on, boys!" - were slowly replaced by gathered sentiments from the crowd - "thank you, seniors!"
There is no fitting consolation for a team that worked hard all season, especially one that knew it had the potential to become state champions only to watch it slip away in one game.
As the Flying Arrows celebrated their well-fought win, the Raiders consoled one another on another side of the field, which was still cold and wet from the night temperature and the rain that fell throughout the game. A volunteer coach, Wayne Wicka, gave an impromptu speech as the group of young men he helped coach throughout the season took a knee and huddled near the end zone. “I had lots of fun this year,” he told them. “You guys are state champions. I don’t know why we lost, but you’re still state champions.” A former defensive lineman for a nearby university, Wicka went on to play football professionally for the New York Jets and the Houston Oilers. He worked with the Raiders defensive line throughout the past season, running drills and technique on Wednesdays. "You are my highlight, my highlight reel is you,” Wicka said. “You turned my life around and I don’t know how to thank you.”