HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PLAYOFF PREVIEW 2017
We once again find ourselves in the home stretch of high school football in the Coulee Region. Plenty of teams large and small are hoping to end their year on the turf of Camp Randall, but in the end only fourteen teams across the Badger State reach the promised land each year. Today, I look at each Division featuring at least one area team (in other words, every bracket except Division 1) and analyze their chances this postseason. Included below will be an analysis of each team’s year, and a projection for the round they will make it to in the playoffs. Debate amongst yourselves where you think each team will end up, bearing in mind that ANYTHING can happen when your season’s on the line!
#4 Holmen (7-2 Overall; 6-1 MVC)
The Vikings have not reached Level 3 in the Playoffs since 2013, when they saw their season after blowing a 14 point lead to Oshkosh North and ultimately losing in double overtime. This year does not favor a lengthy playoff run either, as after a 6-3 Marshfield team battle-worn from playing in the Valley Football Association looms a likely matchup with Menomonie. A triple-option based offense can carry you against MVC opponents who don’t present too much resistance up front, but it does not favor a shootout. Both Marshfield and Menomonie are far more three-dimensional than Holmen, which will find themselves once again relying on the rush attack to carry them. No reason to assume this postseason will play out too differently. PROJECTION: ROUND 2
#8 La Crosse Central (5-4 Overall; 4-3 MVC)
Tony Servais has found two incredible talents in the Davis Brothers, quarterback Johnny and receiver Jordan. Unfortunately, he has been without the services of the latter since early in Game 1 this year, and their shared commitment to the basketball team could spell trouble down the road. But for now, the Red Raiders are looking to make the most of their first postseason appearance since 2013. They couldn’t have picked a tougher way to start their run, matching up with a Menomonie team with a state berth on their mind. The passing game will set the tone in this one. If Greg Kohler can shake off a tight Mustang secondary, there will be chances to score. If not, Central will be in for a rough night. PROJECTION: ROUND 1
#3 Onalaska (8-1 Overall; 6-1 MVC)
Of all the teams in the MVC, I thought from the onset Onalaska had the best chance to make a deep run in October and November, and I stand by that now. First, the tangible elements: their passing attack looks as good this year as ever, and Noah Skifton has looked great the last three weeks. Throwing for eight touchdowns and no interceptions is good enough, but he’s also been efficient; his QB rating of 152.1 against fellow MVC-champion West Salem showcased his ability to pick and choose when to pass and when to run. Couple that with the 6’4” Landon Skemp proving he is a valuable weapon late in games, and a 110 yard a game average on the ground for Nathan Lubinsky, and you have a Hilltopper offense set up to score often and a lot.
Now the intangibles: they are the highest ranked team in their sectional of D3, even though they don’t have the highest seed (if you don’t count West Salem, who just snuck into D3 when seedings were announced). Their path to Madison starts with a matchup against Mosinee, who they’ve already beaten 29-5 this year and should likely pose no threat. It could ultimately come down to a matchup with Rice Lake, a Big Rivers D3 contender year in and out that leans heavily on their run game. Ona did struggle to stop the run the last time it was used almost exclusively, a 56-29 whooping at the hands of Holmen, but this team feels like it has shored up its defensive line, which coach Tom Yashinsky will likely be emphasizing heavily in practice this week. Defeat the Warriors in Week Two, and things could get interesting. PROJECTION: ROUND 4
#4 West Salem (7-2 Overall; 6-1 MVC)
If you like balance in a team, the Panthers bring it this season, both with their rush and pass attacks, and on defense. West Salem saw quarterback Ryan Bierne throw for nearly 2000 yards this season, while Brendan Holt made his case known for first team all-conference with a 1,000 yard rushing season. On the other side of the ball, they gave most offenses nightmares, eliminating long passes with above average secondary play, and eliminating long runs to the outside with stellar contain on the line. That latter stat will be a key against a New Richmond team in round 1 that focuses on running the ball over three yards to one. Keith Badger has plenty of backs to pick from, and benefits from toughening his Tigers up in a notoriously difficult Middle Border Conference that features two of the top four teams in Division 4 in Osceola and St. Croix Central. In a battle of the cats, I think West Salem does enough to get by thanks to the aforementioned balance, and will need to bring it against Antigo, who lives and dies by the run. Round 1 will dictate how far West Salem can go. PROJECTION: ROUND 2
Galesville-Ettrick-Trempeleau (9-0 Overall; 5-0 Coulee)
Another year, another 3,000+ yards rushing for Jon Steffenhagen’s Redhawks. This team is right up there with Holmen in terms of one-sided attack, and they’re damn proud of it. Ben Behan and GET’s offensive line have set the tone for every game they’ve been a part of this year. However, one key point many skeptics will look towards is the lack of BIG games they’ve played in this year, with one of their “marquee” matchups coming against a River Valley team that barely made into the playoffs at all. The Redhawks will be tested with likely the toughest bracket in the division, featuring the aforementioned Osceola and St. Croix Central as 1 and 2 seeds respectively who seem to be on a collision course for the sectional semis. Add in an arguably underrated Bloomer squad and an already tough matchup against Northwestern in the first round, and you have an unfavorable situation for any team. It could be a rough road if Behan stalls at any point this postseason. PROJECTION: ROUND 2
#6 Westby (5-4 Overall; 4-1 Coulee)
At the start of the year, a 15-14 Norsemen win over Darlington shocked many, including myself. Given my experience with the Redbirds, and noting how much of a fight they had given my alma mater St. Mary’s Springs the last few years in the state tournament (actually defeating the Ledgers in Round 4 last year), Westby’s victory was all the more stunning. Of course, we would come to find out that A) Darlington appears to be a shell of its former self, just squeaking into the D6 playoffs with an 8 seed this season, and B) Westby might not be as dynamic as some projected they could be. A shutout loss to Sparta the following week, followed by losses to Platteville and Lancaster after that, should be enough to prove that point. Still not convinced? When tasked with taking on G-E-T in their only chance at making a move on the top of a weak Coulee, they dropped the ball quite literally in a 61-0 defeat. They take on the Flying Arrows of Lancaster once again in Round 1, a team that won convincingly over the Norsemen back on September 8th, and who will come out with a fire under their rears after losing the final game of the regular season to Platteville. This does not bode well for Westby. PROJECTION: ROUND 1
#1 Melrose-Mindoro (8-1 Overall; 6-0 Dairyland)
I might argue that nothing has been more criminal than the lack of coverage or respect given to the Mustangs this year, who not only remain unranked in Division 6, but have (save for a large mismatch against Bangor in Week 1) completely outplayed their competition. While you could make the argument that, like GET, they haven’t exactly had a difficult road, their performance against Indy/Gilmanton last week can’t be discounted. They aren’t flashy, but they’ve quietly dominated whoever they’ve played (again, except Bangor). Why do I keep mentioning the Bangor game? Because several teams that play much like the Cardinals loom in the Mustangs’ bracket, namely Regis and Spring Valley. One of those two will likely be waiting in the third round, and without a key star athlete to count on, that could be the end of the trail for Mel-Min. PROJECTION: ROUND 3
#1 Bangor (9-0 Overall; 6-0 Scenic Bluffs)
Alright, so let’s be completely honest. Bangor and Edgar is the State Championship matchup the state needed to start the tournament on November 16th. It would have been the culmination of a year which saw Rick Mullenberg’s Cardinal team fail to jump the Wildcats for the top ranking in D7 all season, and could have provided the ultimate vindication for Bangor after falling in Round 4 last year to those pesky farm boys from up north. Alas, the brackets have failed us once again, and although we could get our ultimate power matchup, it would come in Round 3 this year if all the dominos fall the right way. As far as the first two games Bangor would play in their regional matchups, I don’t see Royall, their first round partner, nor Indy/Gilmanton or Hillsboro posing too much of a threat. I believe ultimately a sectional semi matchup with Edgar will determine the Cardinals’ fate. Luke Reader would love to end his high school career by running wild over that stout Wildcats’ front seven. Both team’s look incredible this year, with Edgar shutting out all but one of their opponents and Bangor giving up just 22 points all season. It should be a dandy, and something inside me says Bangor finds a way to grind for a win and a return to our state capitol. PROJECTION: STATE
At the time of this writing, the WIAA recently announced that boys and girls varsity basketball will have an operating shot clock by the time the 2019-2020 season starts. It’s something that many people who have followed the scene for years believed would never happen. And apart from the logistical changes that are set to soon arrive across the state, the change marks a culture shift in the sport that has finally ebbed down from the pro level across America and spread to even the most rural communities of the Badger State. The high school game is evolving to more of an extension of AAU ball for players destined for the next level, and naturally, some are concerned with the change.
Early opinion on this change has been divided. A Wissports.net poll recently administered showed a fairly even split on the subject, with 52 percent in favor and 48 opposed. The common argument for those who are against the change is the cost of installation and operation of the shot clocks. And this argument does merit some attention.
Consider the fact that many small schools across Wisconsin sometimes struggle just find knowledgeable individuals to run the scoreboard. Are we to believe that a school district like Bangor has the financial resources to do the same things that, say, Madison or Milwaukee can? Will the constant repairs, operator compensation, and necessary updates result in yet another department to suffer at the hands of athletics? The argument here is that, even though the initial costs don’t jump out and raise any eyebrows, it could provide problems down the road.
Ultimately, in my HUMBLE OPINION (I feel it necessary to emphasize this point), the greatest possible consequence from a shot clock in high school basketball will be a widening gap between competitive and struggling programs. The teams that run fast-paced, high intensity fast-break offenses will benefit from being able to work the floor the way they want, and then only having to wait 35 seconds on the defensive end for the other team to throw up a shot. Programs like those run by Todd Fergot at Central or Dave Donarski at Aquinas will reap the rewards of a game now more focused on taking quicker shots, while teams with drawn-out offenses will initially struggle to build solid shooters.
That all being said, from my vantage point, I could see this coming from a mile away. I know that players and coaches are growing tired of the tried-and-true “Wisconsin Swing” offense that has permeated the game for decades in this state. Young, impressionable high school athletes want to emulate the players they see on TV, which has always been the case, and right now the 3-pointer is more popular than ever. It’s been said that chicks dig the long ball, but I highly doubt you’ll hear someone say “Chicks dig the guy who passes 10 times, then dishes it inside to the four who lays it in for a tough two”.
In the end, over the next decade or so, the playing field should level out as teams adapt and change. I’m sure when the three-point arc was first introduced, the outcries of : “TOO MUCH CHANGE!!!” or “THEY’RE TRYING TO TAKE TOUGHNESS OUT OF THE GAME!!!” were quite rampant. And, just are surely, someday when they implement a four-point line or have an exhibition game on the Moon or something, the calls will ring strong once again.
I guess the bottom line is, the shot clock is on its way, and if you don’t like it, the clock’s ticking on old-school basketball, and it’s gotta hit zero at some point.
: not dependent: such a (1) : not subject to control by others (2) : not affiliated with a larger controlling unit
Merriam Webster really knows how to sum up any word into a simple idea, but the fact is being independent requires much more than a lack of affiliation or control from a higher entity. Throughout history, anything independent also must have an identity, a sense of purpose, and perhaps most importantly, a well-oiled chain of support. We might not even exist as a nation today if General Marquis de Lafayette hadn’t provided his leadership to a haphazardly put together American infantry (See Yorktown).
This more-defined definition of independence helps put into context why independent wrestling works in a time when one company dominates the wrestling spectrum throughout the world. And on a warm and humid June evening, I sought two things. Number one, air conditioning. There’s no window unit in my room and my window faces west, so you can imagine the desire to escape. And two, I wanted to find out if our local chapter of wrestling, RCCW (River City Championship Wrestling), fits the bill of true independence described above.
I will confess off the bat, I’m not exactly a stranger to the world of turnbuckles, DDT’s (see Jake the Snake Roberts), and title belts. You see, although my household did not have the expanded cable package and only got the local channels, my friends had plenty of access to USA Network, and therefore Monday Night Raw and Smackdown. So I do remember being fascinated by the likes of the Dudley Boys’ table-work, Rey Mysterio’s 619, and the Stone Cold Stunner, even if I was unable to keep up with the ongoing storyline that could make Days of Our Lives blush. As the years progressed, however, I slowly lost interest, plus other pressing life matters had taken precedence over making sure I was around a tv for Summerslam or Survivor Series. Still, every now and then I would find myself wondering how much fun it could be to take in another rousing night of piledrivers, suplexes, and a lightshow a wedding DJ would trade an arm and a leg for.
Thus, we arrive at Summertime Bruise. The date is June 2nd, the venue: The American Legion Post 52 on 6th and Ferry in La Crosse. It’s a building that, on most given nights, I wouldn’t spare a passing glance. This is primarily because, as a kid, I always thought of the Legion as this Freemason-style organization that forbade outsiders from so much as milling around the parking lot, by punishment of conscription, (Or worse, being pulled inside and having to listen about how my generation can’t seem to do anything right, and how it was better when they paddled kids and half the city used to be apple orchards or something like that).
Yet that night, it seemed like they couldn’t get you in fast enough, and make sure you were welcomed into the main event hall where the ring sat waiting. The pale blue canvas was deceivingly neat and clean, no foreshadowing to the hell about to unfold in the squared circle for whoever was bold enough to snake under those ropes. One thing I also noticed right off the bat was that the ring, and the room in general, was smaller than I had imagined it might be. Growing up seeing large arenas where crowds seem to stretch infinitely into the darkness, it was different seeing all the action condensed into an area smaller than some garages I’ve been in.
That, however, lends itself to a key point of indy wrestling that I quickly discovered: the crowd doesn’t have to be 90,000 plus like at Wrestlemania III in order to draw you into the action. The unique intimacy I felt at the Legion, versus if I had been at an event in the Xcel Energy Center, say, had the power to make a fan feel they were a part of the action even in the back row. That leads into the first point I made earlier about independence: needing a sense of identity. That connection to the fans and immediate up-close interaction of having confetti rained upon you, being sprayed with “holy water” by Shawn Priest, or yelling right in the face of Aesop Mitchell, just can’t be replicated by a big-time brand.
I had the chance to speak with two gentleman that not only have a long-time connection to wrestling, but who I have known now for many years via many different networks. Nick Ragner and Alex Riley have partnered up, both in the ring as well as in numerous broadcasting ventures, starting back when we were all students at UW La Crosse. And it was while I was talking to them about this topic, that Nick brought up an excellent point on the draw of independent wrestling that sums up why it works:
It’s for everyone.
“It’s very family friendly” he quotes while we compared the different regions that exist in the Midwest. “It’s very character oriented”.
Therein was the key takeaway I had at my first RCCW event. I never felt like the wrestlers were trying to sell a product, or that their lines were unnecessarily choppy and poorly written, or that I was ever going to be offered the “exciting new opportunity” to view the RCCW Network for just $9.99 (ask any regular viewer of Raw or Smackdown how often they’ve been reminded by Mr. McMahon about the WWE Network). No, this was wrestling at its base composition; providing easily accessible entertainment for ages 1-99, while allowing enough character freedom to let each wrestler develop an individualized connection with the audience. And it’s all contained to a small area, so the chops seem louder, the falls seem harder, and the pain feels stronger.
In a few weeks, RCCW will have the opportunity to appeal to a more mass audience when the wrestlers take center stage at Riverfest on July 2nd. And many a casual observer might be surprised to find out that something a person maybe hasn’t seen in person or on television in many years is right in their backyard. “You’re going to have a bunch of people walking in there asking ‘What is that?’”, Nick said to me as we talked about how this particular event has the potential to draw much greater awareness for the company than any event in the young organization’s history. “You’re going to have the biggest draw you’ve ever had”.
It will certainly be the first time many in the area are exposed to pro wrestling. So I suppose that begs the question then:
“Whatcha gonna do?? When RCCW runs wild on you???”
I eagerly await the answer, brother.
By Adam Roberts
I’ve finally had a chance to settle in to my new position here at ESPN La Crosse. Now about a month in, I decided to make the new digs look a little more like home. In between local updates, farm reports, travelling to games, and everything in between, I’ve suddenly found myself spending more time at the office than I do in my own residence.
One of the first things I decided to do was throw up some of my pennants I had collected over my youth. And the very first one I pulled out of the cardboard box was from August 20th 1999, my first and only trip to old Milwaukee County Stadium. That day a lowly Bill Pulsipher fell victim to two Barry Bonds home runs as the Giants ran roughshod over my Brewers 10-3.
Other than the score, I don’t remember much from that day. It happened a few weeks before my sixth birthday, and all our memories from that time in our lives are a little foggy to say the least (Hell, as I’m writing this I caught myself for a split second forgetting what I ate this morning, glass of milk and a seven-layer-bar).
I’ll tell you what I do remember though: calling my first high school basketball sectional playoff game.
Everything from Henry Ellenson running the length of the floor to throw down a monstrous two-handed jam, to the electric student sections of both River Falls and Onalaska, the chants, the play on the court, the pep bands, even the smell of the arena vividly sticks out in my still-growing treasure trove of sports memories from my young career.
And the best part, I guarantee you nobody who attended that game felt like they overpaid to get in.
Another place I’ve never heard anybody leave wishing they had not gone? Copeland Park, which after 15 seasons has morphed and evolved from team owner Dan Kapanke selling tickets out of the back of his own truck, to a thriving stadium that rivals single-A minor league parks across the nation. On top of receiving a face-lift to its entranceway and concession area, the park regularly draws over 2,500 fans a night, each one treated to quality baseball, discounted beverages prices in a race that pays homage to the major league team three and a half hours away, and between-innings and postgame entertainment that would make Bill Veeck grin from ear to ear. In an era of 60 dollar field box seats for a June ballgame, you just can’t beat 10 dollars for the same seat at Copeland, with the chance to see the big stars of the future before they ink their big contracts and commercial deals.
In the six years since I have moved to the area, I’ve made a point to expose myself to nearly every local sport the Coulee Region has to offer. And what I’ve seen has confirmed in my mind that local sports eliminate something you find far too often at the professional level: complacency. Everyone on your small-town or high school or D3 college team is just trying to make noise and get noticed, not think about which garage they will be parking their new hot rod into when they get back to the ranch that night.
In summation, I’m certainly not advocating that you never, ever take in a professional sporting event for the rest of your life. The pro level of competition still offers you a chance to see the athletes who have ascended to the pinnacle of excellence in their sports, and that certainly is worth taking in. Just know, the next time you are weighing the pros and cons of saving up for a weekend trip to Lambeau or day-tripping it out to Milwaukee or Minneapolis, remember there are plenty of up-and-coming athletes who would love to leave a positive impression on you.
And best of all, your family, and your wallet, will greatly appreciate it.
There are no games scheduled for today.