By Adam Roberts – 11/5/2020
With the abridged 2020 playoffs in view, we look ahead to the final week of regular season high school football Wisconsin; Minnesota still has one week remaining, with the traditional schedule of mostly Wednesday-Thursday games.
This year, the WIAA playoffs will work differently than years in the past. The always busy Travis Wilson at Wissports.net wrote an article that goes into much further detail on the procedure than I will, but it essentially boils down to a 224-team field, divided into seven divisions with eight-team regional groups. The groups will then be broken down into four-team “pods”, which will be put together ideally featuring the one through four seeds in one pod and the five through eight seeds in a second pod. The field will be determined late tomorrow night into very early Saturday morning with brackets released later on Saturday. It’s also important to note that teams can opt out of this playoff format, and we’ve seen a few that already have across the state.
For now, let’s take a look at the games that will be played this week.
Last Week’s Predictions: 7-5
RUSHFORD-PETERSON @ WINONA COTTER (Thursday)
I want to send my apologies to the Rambler faithful. Over the course of this season, breaking down every game I know is happening, I’ve let Winona Cotter slip through the cracks a couple of times. I even missed that the Ramblers were able to finally win a football game for the first time since October 13th, 2017 with their 12-0 victory over St. James on October 12th. Much like Luther, I wrongfully assumed that when they missed their game on October 16th that it signaled the end of their season. While I won’t make that same mistake again, I can’t say that will translate to a win this week against Rushford-Peterson. Sure, the Trojans are 0-4 and lost last week to Goodhue. But it’s not like R-P doesn’t have an offense; they’ve put up at least 20 points in every game this year. Their defense has done them in so far, giving up 32 points per game. That said, the Ramblers’ offense has left a lot to be desired again this year, and last week were shut out by Fillmore Central 35-0.
Prediction: Rusford-Peterson 28 Winona Cotter 7
WINONA @ FARIBAULT
You really do have to feel for the Winhawks this year. I don’t think I know any other team that’s had as many COVID cancellations-that-then-got-rescheduled-day-of than Winona. This game was scheduled for last night, then it was off with little warning. Now it’s back on again. I actually had a piece prepared on this game before it was cancelled, but unfortunately deleted it after learning about the games’ then-cancellation. As it is, Winona will be up against a Falcons team tonight that defeated Austin last week by a much wider margin than the Winhawks did to begin the season. The Falcons put up 385 total yards of offense against the Packers, 226 of which came on the ground, a part of the offense that Winona was notably lacking in against Rochester Century last week. Dominic Davis has had splashes of excellence this season for the Winhawks, but last week he was held to just 17 yards for the game. If Winona wants to bounce back, Davis needs to be fed the rock and the line needs to out-muscle the Falcons and open holes. Faribault presents an opportunity on that front; in their losses this year to Kasson-Mantorville and Mankato East, they gave up 385 rushing yards.
Prediction: Winona 24 Faribault 17
AQUINAS @ TOMAH (ESPN La Crosse 105.5, espnlacrosse.com, TuneIn @ 6pm)
Speaking with Aquinas head coach Tom Lee this week, he made mention about how aggressive the West Salem defense was against them two weeks ago. (The offense was as well, especially in the fourth quarter when the Blugolds were only able to get off one offensive play: an interception) That was the case again last week against Onalaska, and suddenly a previously 3-0 Blugold team is now 3-2 and banged up badly. In addition to senior running back Will Cambio, four other players are going to be having knee surgery, making the Blugolds very similar to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL. They take on Tomah this week, who just got one of the better statistical games out of senior QB Justin Gerke (11-24, 236 yards, 4 TDs, 120.8 QBR). Gerke will be looking to take advantage of a depleted Aquinas defense, specifically targeting Kade Gnewikow and Luke Buckendahl. Kade had a big week last week against Westby as well, including a special teams score.
Prediction: Tomah 27 Aquinas 13
VIROQUA @ WISCONSIN DELLS
As luck would have it, the Viroqua Blackhawks didn’t end up having to face Richland Center running back Bryce Hillers last week. Instead, they were run over by Easton Darling, who emerged out of nowhere for 170 yards and two touchdowns. For reference, the senior had just three carries for 10 yards coming into last week’s game. It just goes to show you that brilliance can come out of nowhere! For what it’s worth, Viroqua’s Nick Schneider continued his excellent season running the ball, keeping the Blackhawks in the game with a nearly 8 YPC average for 135 yards on 17 carries plus a score. This week Viroqua plays Wisconsin Dells, and this year’s Chiefs team at 3-2 has had an up-and-down year. They’ve looked great in their wins (36-8; 40-0; a defensive 14-7 game), and quite the opposite in their losses (7-22; 7-45). The two teams have one common opponent in Mauston, and the Golden Eagles dispatched of both teams fairly easily.
Prediction: Wisconsin Dells 22 Viroqua 13
WESTBY @ ATHENS
After a week of ineptitude offensively for Westby against Kettle Moraine Lutheran, the Norsemen were hoping to find their footing on offense against Tomah. While they did so to an extent, Justin Gerke had arguably his best game of the season against the Norsemen in a 47-26 Timberwolves win. Garrett Vatland was good on the ground for Westby, but apart from his stats the Norsemen have not been able to consistently move the ball goal line to goal line. This week they visit Marawood foe Athens, and the Bluejays are likely going to be hungry for a rebound win to wrap up their regular season after surrendering a 22-13 fourth quarter lead against Abbotsford. The Jays run a very collegiate style of offense, with quarterback Cooper Diedrich serving as the primary weapon. Diedrich leads the team in rushing and passing this year, and also has split out and played receiver on a select number of plays.
Prediction: Athens 27 Westby 14
POTOSI/CASSVILLE @ LUTHER
Every so often, you hear the expression “I went to a football game, and a basketball game broke out” when you have some of those Big 12-esque scores like 61-56 or 70-63. Last week against Hillsboro, Luther arrived for a football game and a baseball game broke out. A deadlocked 0-0 tie was finally broken in the fourth quarter when quarterback Dillon Yang scuttled into the end zone from five yards out. It was the Knights’ first win since opening the season with a blowout victory at Boscobel and their first game played since early October after their contests against Iowa-Grant and Ithaca were cancelled. To end the regular season, the Knights will have a formidable challenge against Potosi/Cassville, fresh off a 23-20 loss to Darlington on a nearly last-second 25 yard Cole Christ field goal. It was a miracle that the Chieftains were in the game at the end at all, given four Levi Groom interceptions. However, P/C is always looking to fuel their offensive machine. For reference, look to their October 16th loss against Highland where they accumulated 459 yards in a losing effort and the 223 yards on the ground for Ashton Spitzack. An opportunistic Chieftans O could be too much for the Knight defense.
Prediction: Potosi/Cassville 34 Luther 16
BLAIR-TAYLOR @ MELROSE-MINDORO
To the Dairyland we go once again, a conference that while it has seen its share of hiccups due to COVID, has been the closest thing to a cohesive conference season we’ve had in the area this year. This match up has perennially been a season highlight, with both teams usually duking it out for the title. This week, Blair-Taylor and Mel-Min come into the game separated by a half game at the top of the conference, and each one is fresh off a win the week before. The undefeated Wildcats were up 26-0 after one quarter against Eleva-Strum last week courtesy of three Cain Fermstad touchdown passes, and never looked back. The Mustangs meanwhile had a closer game against Augusta last week, but a 25 yard Jason Arzt touchdown run with 1:08 to go in the fourth put things out of reach for the Beavers. The Mustangs are the home team this week, but B-T in my opinion has the greater ability to produce offensive fireworks, something the Mustangs haven’t done a ton of this year.
Prediction: Blair-Taylor 34 Mel-Min 21
COCHRANE-FOUNTAIN CITY @ ELEVA-STRUM
Both C-FC and Eleva-Strum are hoping to end the season on a better note than their respective games last week. The Pirates, much like the Cardinals against Blair-Taylor, fell behind early to Pepin-Alma, and were unable to mount much resistance at any point. The difference this week will be which quarterback is more gutsy and willing to try and make things happen. Between Austin Becker for C-FC and Nick Higley for E-S, Becker has shown more of an ability to do that.
Prediction: C-FC 28 E-S 14
SPRING GROVE @ LYLE-PACELLI (SATURDAY)
Conference foes meet in Austin on Saturday, with the Lions riding a wave of confidence following their 34-8 win over Kingsland last week. The Lions run game churned out four touchdowns, and helped secure a huge Spring Grove time of possession advantage. The Knights are the only common opponent for the two schools this year, with L-P falling to the Knights to begin the season 44-14.
Prediction: Spring Grove 27 Lyle-Pacelli 12
#3 (9-MAN) GRAND MEADOW @ HOUSTON
If you missed our Tweet from last Friday, we want to give a huge shoutout to the Houston football program. Post Bulletin Sports Reporter Issac Trotter captured the moment Houston and LeRoy Ostrander agreed to exchange touchdowns so that Brody Larson, a L-O team manager living with Hurler Syndrome could have a special memory that he will carry for the rest of his life. Much respect to the Hurricanes from us at ESPN La Crosse 105.5.
Looking at this week’s match up, it’s hard to see a path to victory for the Hurricanes against third-ranked Grand Meadow. The four-time 9-man state champs beat Southland 22-11 last week (Scoragami anyone?), and the game ended with a nice-looking seven-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Evan Oehlke to Dustin Copley. The Super Larks should fly high this week.
Prediction: Grand Meadow 41 Houston 16