By Adam Roberts
Slowly but surely, I think school districts are learning how to plan for the uncertainties of juggling a football schedule in a pandemic.
That doesn’t mean we won’t still have a ton of week-to-week confusion.
Just as I’m writing this, Tomah had JUST found an opponent for this week, securing a date with the Darlington Redbirds. And West Salem and Holmen remain on lockdown at the moment (although West Salem seems to be almost ready to return, scheduling a game against Onalaska for next week). For this week though, we still will have a limited palate of games to follow. Let’s go through each one:
EDGAR (#1 Small Schools -AP) vs ONALASKA (RV Large Schools – AP) (6pm on ESPN La Crosse 105.5, espnlacrosse.com, TuneIn)
This is a match up that can really only exist in a COVID-impacted regular season. A year ago, a competition that wasn’t a scrimmage between these two teams would have been highly unlikely, given the disparity in school size as well as the physical distance between the two programs (much farther than six feet!). But don’t tell that to Hall of Fame head coach Jerry Sinz, who said to me that school size is a non-issue for the Wildcats, one of statistically the most successful football programs in state history who regularly scrimmage schools like Menomonie and Eau Claire Memorial.
So, what we get is a game featuring two of the fastest teams you’ll see; Sinz is proud of the strides his secondary has made given how weird practice is these days, while everyone around here knows how athletic Tom Yashinsky-coached Onalaska teams are. Landon Peterson will be tested on his routes by Wildcat corners that limited Athens QB Cooper Diedrich to just 38 yards and a lone 11-yard score through the air. Now, Hilltopper junior Ayden Larson flashed some nice throws against Tomah last week, airing it out 15 times for 162 yards and two scores to Hudson Weber, so it would seem he’ll be up to the challenge. But Konnor Wolf also can pepper the pigskin pretty well, and Coach Sinz said he ought to have gone 9 for 11 rather than 5 for 11; there were a couple of balls with so much juice the receivers couldn’t glove them.
Either way, it would appear fans of offense will enjoy this game. Look for special teams to also play a role; Edgar is traditionally a decent kicking school, and often punters will avoid kicking to their returners. I think this comes down to O-line versus D-Line, and here I think the Hilltoppers have an ever so slight advantage.
Prediction: Onalaska 35 Edgar 28
DARLINGTON (#6 Small Schools – AP) vs TOMAH
***UPDATE*** The Darlington-Tomah game scheduled for this week has been cancelled due to a COVID-19 issue at Darlington.
AQUINAS @ VIROQUA
In a certainly unintentional tribute to the late WWF wrestler Joe Laurinaitis (Road Warrior Animal), the Blugolds will be required to travel to every one of their games this season. With UWL on lockdown and no sports at Logan this year, this seemed to be the best way to ensure there would be an Aquinas football season. But if any coach can rally his kids to take on the challenge around here, it would be Tom Lee. And he has some rallying material as well; last season Aquinas had their best year on the gridiron in a LONG time, getting all the way to Level Two before falling to G-E-T and finishing 7-4.
It’s the Blugolds’ first season as a part of the Coulee Conference, and they’ll take on the only other conference team currently playing games (excluding Altoona). Last week, Viroqua gave up 335 yards to Mauston in that 48-6 blowout loss, and it very possibly could happen again this week. Aquinas’s Jackson Flottmeyer was the starter against G-E-T, and wants to leave that game in the dust with a big season opener. The sophomore has the stature coaches statewide would pay good money for: 6’3″, 215 lbs at 15 years old. I sense a debut of the Tom Lee Air Raid offense.
Prediction: Aquinas 36 Viroqua 14
LUTHER @ RIVER RIDGE
Both of these teams last week left their Week One games probably feeling pretty good about their offenses; Luther was all over Boscobel 43-0, while River Ridge was point away from matching the Knights, defeating Iowa-Grant 42-0. So which of the offenses is legit? Can’t it be both?
I do think the QB advantage goes to RR’s Logan Drone over Dillion Yang; Drone got playing experience last season at the varsity level as part of an 8-4 campaign, while Yang; wasn’t even a quarterback last season, playing exclusively as a running back. Both young men are dual threats, so defenses will have to respect that and play solidly on the edges. What will ultimately probably sway this in favor of the Timberwolves will be a lesser chance of errors; Luther last week had some growing pains moving the ball early in the game, and while that will work against Boscobel, River Ridge has a more dynamic offense to contend with.
Prediction: River Ridge 40 Luther 14
BLAIR-TAYLOR @ WHITEHALL
All around, Blair-Taylor last season was the class of the Dairyland Conference. The Wildcats led the conference in both offense and defense, and will return both 1,000-yard passing QB Cain Fremstad and 1,000 yard rusher Matthew Brandenburg. Conversely, Whitehall struggled scoring last season; their 20-12 season opening win over Colfax was their offensive highlight. On the other side of the ball, the Vikings were middle of the pack in terms of points against. However, one of Whitehall’s 4 2019 wins WAS against the Wildcats; Now-senior QB Ryan Kleinhans out-dueled Fremstad that day, and so the match up will be one to watch this week.
Prediction: Blair-Taylor 21 Whitehall 15