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
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