WIAA D-1: Arrowhead passes way to title
MADISON, Wis. -- Brady Kelliher was nervous -- who wouldn't be in a state championship game? The Heartland Arrowhead quarterback had torched defenses all season and thrown for 2,400 yards with 21 touchdowns. But this was supposed to be different. It was supposed to be hard.
Then, he threw a touchdown pass on his second attempt of the game. Then another touchdown. Then another.
By halftime, Arrowhead had eviscerated a vastly undersized Sun Prairie team on the way to a 35-14 whitewashing in the WIAA Division 1 state title game. Arrowhead led, 35-0, at the half, which brought out a state-mandated running clock for most of the second half. Two Sun Prairie touchdowns in the final five minutes kept the score respectable.
"It didn't surprise us," Kelliher said of the halftime score. "We knew we could score. We have a good team. We know they have a good defense. We picked it up and kept it rolling."
Kelliher became the second quarterback to throw for three touchdowns in a Division 1 state championship game, joining Mark Hujik of Kenosha Tremper in 1979.
Second-year Arrowhead coach Greg Malling said this year's team came together in a manner that is rare for high school teams. The Warhawks (13-0) lost last season to Verona in the second round of the state playoffs.
"We just clicked a little bit better," Malling said. "I hope we did a better job as coaches. But also it's just the kids. This is a special group of seniors. I don't know if you can replicate that. You can have teams with more talent, but I think it's really hard to have a team that's this selfless. That's what football is all about is playing as a team."
In eight regular-season games, Sun Prairie (12-1) shut out four consecutive opponents and allowed 26 points overall. But the Cardinals were no match for the Warhawks' size and speed Friday night.
Kelliher and the rest of the Warhawks made it clear almost immediately that Friday's game would not be a real contest. He completed a 33-yard touchdown pass to receiver Kenny Finco on the team's third play from scrimmage, giving Arrowhead a 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.
It wasn't the backbreaker by any means, but the toss helped give Kelliher even more confidence to air the ball out.
In the second quarter, Arrowhead scored 28 points, and Kelliher threw two more touchdown passes.
• Kelliher completed 15 of 22 passes for 222 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran 10 times for 37 yards with a touchdown. He finished the season with 2,625 passing yards and 22 touchdowns.
• Arrowhead's Dom Todarello caught five passes for 75 yards. He proved to be difficult to tackle in the backfield as well, rushing nine times for 68 yards.
• Sun Prairie running back Donte Starlin-Merriam didn't have his best game -- he carried 11 times for 48 yards, which included a 30-yard run. But his season totals deserve a mention. Starlin-Merriam closed the year with 1,534 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns.
• "We challenged our kids at halftime. We said 'Listen, we know what the score is, but we don't want to give up. We have the heart of a champion. That's the reason we're playing for a state title. We're a good team.' We believed that, and we came out and competed much better in the second half." -- Sun Prairie coach Brian Kaminski
• "Coming out, we scored right away and I went, 'Wow, this is easy.' We kept on doing it." -- Arrowhead offensive lineman George Panos, a University of Wisconsin commit
• "Anybody could've coached this group. They ran themselves. It's a lot of fun to be a part of." -- Malling
Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.