A look back: Ashwaubenon’s 1996 state title team
By Greg Bates
ASHWAUBENON – Things looked bleak.
A loss by the Ashwaubenon football team in either of the final two regular-season games would have ended the season.
Dan White, Scott Baranczyk and Eric Destache were senior leaders who weren’t going to let the 1996 squad go down in program lore with another losing record.
It started in Week 9 with a come-from-behind victory over Marinette to allow Ashwaubenon to sneak into the playoffs.
It ended five games later with the hoisting of a gold ball for winning the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) Division 2 state title.
Now, 25 years later, some of the key contributors to that championship run recall their road to state immortality.
“It still feels like you’re a bunch of high school kids when you get together,” Destache, who was a starting cornerback, said. “You may not feel that way anymore, but it’s all good.”
Baranczyk also chimed in.
“It’s crazy because I feel like I’m 12 still,” Baranczyk, who was a star linebacker, joked. “To go back that far, I never thought I’d be able to think back and remember 25 years already – that’s crazy. Time has flown by.”
Then-head coach Ken Golomski said he knows his guys winning state wasn’t a fluke.
“When people write you off and say you don’t have a chance, it was sweet in that manner,” Golomski, who was at Ashwaubenon for 25 years, said. “Our fans stuck with us. We’d win a game and people would start following us. The City of Green Bay got involved, and the radio picked us up. We were on the radio for all those games. It was a Cinderella story.”
Baranczyk, who was a captain and the team’s leading tackler, said it was a core group of guys who were like-minded and driven.
“The key to our success was guys who cared about winning and losing and cared about the game,” he said. “Matt Gunville, Troy Coonen, Dan White, myself, Eric Destache, Jason Jacobs, Nick Selk and Dave Woosencraft – there was a core group of guys who spent lots of time in the summer together. The game was more than football to us. Coach Golomski was the leader that built that culture in us.”
Rocky regular season
Ashwaubenon was coming off a 4-5 season in 1995 but entered the ’96 campaign with plenty of optimism.
The senior class was stacked with athletes, and the Jaguars were going to be solid on both sides of the ball.
White was a workhorse at running back, and the team’s defense had playmakers at every level.
The Jaguars started the season 2-2 before injuries started to decimate the team.
Three starters, two of whom were all-conference, missed time.
Baranczyk said he remembers missing three-and-one-half to four games with a bad shoulder.
Also, Destache missed two or three games and returned for Week 7.
That week, Ashwaubenon lost a double-overtime game to West De Pere, 31-28, to drop to 3-4.
In previous years, that losing mark would have eliminated the Jaguars from playoff contention.
However, in 1996, the WIAA expanded its format to allow teams with a winning record to qualify for the postseason.
That meant Ashwaubenon needed to win its final two regular-season games to advance to the playoffs.
“Lots of us seniors sold out,” Destache said. “We believed in the system and believed in G (Coach Golomski). The coaches knew how to push our buttons and get us to rise to the occasion. Apparently, it worked.”
The next week, Ashwaubenon downed Pulaski on its home field 35-19 to set up a showdown with Marinette in the last week.
Baranczyk was back on the field for the Marines game, which gave the Jaguars’ defense an extra boost.
In a shootout, Marinette scored a touchdown with 27 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to go up 44-38.
The 2-point conversion run was stuffed by Ashwaubenon.
The Jaguars’ offense got to the Marinette 49-yard line when quarterback Mike Hoffman threw a Hail Mary that was hauled in by receiver Chris Webb at the 1-yard line with 4 seconds left.
With the season on the line, Hoffman plugged into the end zone to tie the game.
Dan Toninato kicked the extra point to give Ashwaubenon the lead with 1 second showing on the clock.
The Jaguars’ special teams unit tackled the returner on the ensuing kick, and the players celebrated the 45-44 victory.
“It was a night game, but the skies opened – I’m using a metaphor – and we made some plays and got in,” Golomski said.
A new season in the playoffs
Because Ashwaubenon got into the playoffs with the worst record possible, it played against teams with better records and at their home fields.
The Jaguars beat Plymouth 35-12 in the first week and downed Portage 35-26 in Level 2.
Ashwaubenon was rewarded with a home game against Pulaski and beat them for the second time that year, 28-7.
Offensively, Ashwaubenon rode the coattails of White.
The running back had a monster season, rushing for a Green Bay metro record of 2,678 yards and 37 total touchdowns (35 rushing).
But he almost didn’t play his final high school season at Ashwaubenon.
“Nobody knows this, but Chris Webb and I were going to transfer to play for Monroe our senior year,” White said. “My sophomore year, our team went 3-6, and my junior year was 4-5. I was running some decent 40-yard dash times. If we didn’t get to the playoffs, (University of Nebraska Head Coach) Tom Osborne wouldn’t have looked at me. Until we got to the playoffs, no one had heard about me. In the Bay Conference, everybody sent everyone after me – the entire defense.”
Beating Pulaski set up a showdown with national powerhouse Menomonie in the state semifinals.
The Mustangs had played in the previous three Division 2 state title games – winning twice.
They were 12-0 and ranked in the top 25 nationally by USA TODAY.
“We thought that team was the best in the state at the time,” Baranczyk said. “They had a great team. It might have helped us, but we were playing on a wet Thom Field. It was a neutralizer, but we were also clicking. At the time, they were probably looking at us saying, ‘Man, these guys are lucky to be here, and we can roll them.’ We went into that with nothing to lose.”
Menomonie was in total control, up 20-7 with 4 minutes remaining.
Things looked unfavorable for the Jaguars when the offense was stopped on a fourth-and-13.
However, a Menomonie defender was called for a 15-yard facemask to keep the drive alive.
Ashwaubenon scored a touchdown a short time later.
The Jaguars’ defense got a stop and forced Menomonie to punt.
Ashwaubenon set up its block unit.
“Me and Troy Coonen were on the left edge,” Destache said. “I was on Troy’s tail as he blocked that punt.”
That set up the Ashwaubenon offense inside Menomonie territory.
White took a screen pass inside the 10-yard line and then scored on a short run for his second touchdown of the game.
That gave Ashwaubenon a 21-20 lead with about a minute remaining.
“It was about as strange, dramatic and goofy as you could get,” Golomski said. “They hung in there and kept fighting. They were rewarded for their efforts.”
Menomonie’s offense was pressing the ball down the field when it threw up a pass down the sideline.
Playing a three-man deep zone, Destache recalled, the ball came his way.
“I would have been on the left side, and they go for a pass,” he said. “It felt like the (receiver) was on top of me. I went up, hands in, come down and I fell on my back and on top of him. I opened my eyes, and there’s the football in my chest. I remember standing up saying, ‘Oh my God.’ We were in front of our fans in Wausau, and I stood up and it exploded.”
Ashwaubenon ran out the clock for a shocking 21-20 victory, and the storybook season continued onto the state title game.
“I knew once we won that game, we were going to win it all,” Baranczyk said.
“When we beat Menomonie, we didn’t think anybody could beat us,” he said. “We were underdogs the whole playoffs.”
White had another solid game, but he didn’t have to put the team on his shoulders.
“That wasn’t me taking over a game,” White said. “That was a perfect example of a team coming together. We had lots of guys make plays.”
Golomski said he also felt confident.
“We were then going to play Monroe, who the previous year had beaten Menomonie,” he said. “Those two were going after each other for about two or three years, winding up in Madison and bumping off each other.”
The Cheesemakers (11-1) were used to playing tight games in the playoffs, winning their three previous games that postseason by a total of 20 points.
The Ashwaubenon and Monroe coaches exchanged game film before the state title game.
“Once they saw White, they knew we had something on offense, and they were going to have to spend some time trying to stop him,” Golomski said. “Our defense was getting better each week. We were at our best in Madison against Monroe.”
Playing at Camp Randall Stadium, it was the Ashwaubenon players’ first time playing on turf.
With White being a sprinter, that made him even faster.
“We weren’t going to take Monroe lightly, but we thought we were in a position to beat anybody at that point,” Golomski said.
The game was tied 8-8 when a play call came in for the offense from the Ashwaubenon coaches.
“Our quarterback, Mike Hoffman, didn’t want to run it,” White said. “So, I said, ‘Give me the ball, Mike. I’ll score. I promise, I’ll score.’ He pitched the ball, and we scored a touchdown.”
White scored three rushing touchdowns and threw a halfback option pass for another score.
Monroe was forced to go to the air to catch up, throwing the ball 27 times.
Ashwaubenon cruised to a 29-8 victory to cap off the season with a state championship – the first in program history.
The Jaguars won the final seven games of the season.
“We ran the table against teams that were supposed to demolish us,” Destache said.
Baranczyk also said it was an improbable run.
“If you reflect on it at the time, you’re thinking, hey, we’re doing what we have to do to win,” he said. “When you reflect on it 25 years later, you go, gosh, there are so many small things that had to happen for us to win.”
Golomski, who was inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame, ended up winning three more state titles – 2000, ’01 and ’05 – but he said the first one is always extra special.
“Those guys wouldn’t quit,” Golomski, who is now an assistant coach for the St. Norbert College football team, said. “Somehow, we found a way to win.”
White went on to play college football at Nebraska for two seasons and was part of the Division I National Championship team in 1997.
He then transferred to Northwest Missouri State and was on the team that won the Division II National Championship in ’99.
White turned into a bodybuilder and was named Mr. America in 2012.
A trainer for 15 years, he now works for a nutrient company and moved back to Wisconsin about a year ago.
Destache went to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse after high school.
He now lives in Green Bay with his family and is a personal trainer out of CrossFit 920.
Baranczyk became an all-conference linebacker at UW-La Crosse.
He has made many stops around the country with his family.
His wife, Jennie, is the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Oklahoma.
Baranczyk is the co-owner of a Pulaski business.
Moore Outdoors LLC has a line of dog training products and hunting accessories.
“All the hard work and the years you put into it, you were able to celebrate with the people you went through it with,” Baranczyk said. “To bring that home for the players, the coaching staff – at the time it was the first state championship, which three more came after that. I believe winning that first one can be the hardest. Not only did it catapult us – several of us went on to play in college – but it catapulted the (teams) behind us and (the players) got to see this is a possibility if we work hard.”