We’ve reached Level Three, and of all the teams to make the Final Three in the Coulee Region, how many people do you think had Sparta in that list? Who would’ve thought Westby would be playing November football with 10 wins this season? Or that Bangor would be running right over ev…well okay, I’m assuming most saw Bangor being right where they are. Let’s dive in and look at each game and see who has a shot to play a state semifinal game next week:
ELIMINATED: Holmen, La Crosse Central, La Crosse Logan, Onalaska, West Salem, Arcadia, GET, C-FC, Melrose-Mindoro, De Soto
#7 Sparta (6-5) Level One - W @ Ashland 36-8; Level Two - W @ New Richmond 33-14
If the Coulee Region wasn’t firmly aware of what Adam Dow and the Sparta Spartans are capable of before, they definitely are now. Last Friday’s 33-14 win over New Richmond wasn’t just the second playoff win in school history, it was also serving as a litmus test for what this team can do against a quality opponent. What we got was a 500-plus yard rushing performance, 291 of which came from Bryce Edwards, who along with quarterback Cole Wisniewski are now certainly in first-team All Conference conversations. Not to be overlooked, however, was the gritty outing from Luke Wendorf, who ran for 135 of his own yards and gave the New Richmond defense nightmares with his tough inside runs to compliment the off-tackle style of Edwards and Wisniewski.
Now, however, things get intense, as a Rice Lake team fresh off once again handling Onalaska 40-25 welcomes in Sparta keen to put talks of a Cinderella run to rest. The Warriors bring a run game that can go toe-to-toe with Sparta, but don’t be fooled by the run-pass ratio; they can lull you off your guard before burning you with a big pass play. But ultimately Sparta’s defensive focus will be on the rushing quadruple-threat of DeAirus and Marquez Clerveaux , quarterback Peyton Buckley, and Torien Hubbard.
I see this as the game where Wisniewski finally needs to find some passing to alleviate the stress on his running backs, and if they can get a 100-yard receiver, like Ray Heilman was last week for Onalaska, then they may have a chance. But Rice Lake seems like the team that can replicate what West Salem did to Sparta in a 21-6 Panther win back on September 28th, where the Spartans could only amass 53 yards on the ground. Watch for the defensive lines to decide this one.
PREDICTION: Rice Lake 31 Sparta 21
*You can hear this game starting at 6:45pm on ESPN La Crosse 105.5FM and 102.1FM
Westby (10-1) Level One - W vs Cumberland 32-26; Level Two - W vs Elk Mound 35-6
Westby has been quietly taking care of business all year, and last week was no different, as lost in the noise from last week’s Division 3 games and Bangor’s win over Eleva-Strum, the Norsemen handled an Elk Mound team that seemed primed for a breakout win. Ryan Daines proved once again why he may be the most valuable player for any team in the area with a two touchdown, 145 yard performance, and Westby ran away for win number 10 on the year, their first 10-win season this millennium.
If you recall back to my Level One article, I mentioned Westby would likely win their first two games, but then a possible date with Spencer/Columbus Catholic could de-rail their run. I will own up and recall that in my Level Two predictions last week, I thought Elk Mound would win the game Well, the predicted Norsemen-Rocket matchup has arrived, as S/C-C cruised through their first two games. The two opponents share a common foe in Arcadia, but the results were noticeably different, with Westby squeaking by 26-24 on September 21st and Spencer/Columbus taking the Raiders to school in Level One 47-8. These results, combined with a solid Level Two outing for all four of the Rockets’ primary backs, a 1,400-plus yard passer in Jared Mandel, and the fact that this is Westby and not Amherst (who has ended the Rockets’ season each of the last three years), leads me to believe Westby’s trip ends in Spencer Friday night. But then again, they made me look silly last week, so who knows?
PREDICTION: Spencer/Columbus Catholic 28 Westby 14
Bangor (10-1) Level One - W vs Independence/Gilmanton 40-8; Level Two - W vs Eleva-Strum 28-0
In the Battle of the Redbirds, just one team showed up to the field. Thankfully for Bangor fans, and my word count, they would be the Cardinal fans heading home happy, or at least victorious. It’s hard to play a game with 349 rushing yards, with 182 from Carter Horstman, and not be satisfied. In my eyes, this week could see even more yards for the senior, as the Battle of the Redbirds II commences Friday night. Highland is a unit that has some respectable numbers on paper, with a quarterback in Spencer Linschied that has thrown for over 1,000 yards. However, Highland has accumulated most of those yards, and most of their points for that matter, in their last three games, 51-0, 41-0, and 47-0 wins against Belmont, Blair-Taylor, and Ithaca respectively, teams that don’t exactly strike fear into most hearts. Should be another walkthrough for Bangor, setting up a fun Level Four matchup next week against Black Hawk. Hope I’m not eating my words soon.
PREDICTION: Bangor 37 Highland 7
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