GREEN BAY – As he was lining up the go-ahead 47-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter, junior kicker Rafael Gaglianone felt a little presence urging him on. It certainly was welcomed.
Playing his first game since the tragic death of his friend, Nebraska punter Sam Foltz, Gaglianone went 3-for-3 on his kicks, including the final one with 3:47 remaining that was the difference in Wisconsin’s 16-14 victory over No.5 LSU at Lambeau Field.
“I’m pretty sure he helped me on the last one,” said Gaglianone, who switched his number from 10 to Foltz’s 27. “It’s amazing to play for Sam and spread the word on who he was and how amazing of a person he was, on and off the field, he was more special off the field.”
Foltz and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler were killed in a car accident in late July when the car Sadler was driving lost control on wet pavement, veered off the road, struck a tree and caught fire. Both men were pronounced dead at the scene. Also in the vehicle was LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye, who managed to escape with second degree burns on his legs and stitches. The three were attending a kicking camp in southeast Wisconsin.
Wanting to honor Foltz the best way possible, Gaglianone appeared razor focused during camp, looking far different than the kicker who saw his field goal made percentage dip from 86.4 percent as a freshman to 66.7 percent last season.
“Once we felt we were in field goal range, we were going to put it in his hands,” head coach Paul Chryst said. “I think (my confidence is) very high in him right now.”
Gaglianone was the sole means of offense for Wisconsin in the first half, helping the Badgers salvage a pair of second-quarter drives that began in LSU territory. All three kicks left little doubt, something Gaglianone attributes to a fully healthy offseason that allowed him to work on shortening his strides, having better tempo and making his entire approach more compact.
“I have the clear conscious that I put in all the work this offseason and did everything my coaches asked me to do and feel great about the preparation that I’ve done,” said Gaglianone, who hit from 30 and 48 yards in the second quarter to give UW a 6-0 halftime edge. “Just going out there and letting loose and take it a kick at a time and really have fun with the process ... I can’t be scared of making a mistake just have to go out and have fun.”
As quickly as the praise was given to him, Gaglianone was quick to compliment senior long snapper Connor Udelhoven and new holder Connor Allen, a redshirt freshman who took over the job from graduated punter Drew Meyer.
“If you have a pretty good holder like I have in Connor Allen it gets pretty easy,” Gaglianone said. “You obviously have questions about the game but we put him through a lot of tough situations during camp. We threw water at his face almost every day. The first hold was a great hold so that kind of lifted all the doubts out of it.”
The fourth-quarter kick was the fourth game winner for Gaglianone, most in UW history.
“I saw Rafael make three solid field goals today with a lot of pressure,” senior linebacker Vince Biegel said. “I think he was the unsung hero in this game, too... Give Rafael a lot of credit making big time kicks at big time moments and we are going to need that the rest of the season.”