By Adam Roberts – 11/17/2020
We’ve whittled the field down to just three area teams remaining in the abridged WIAA playoffs. Two were expected to be here, one was not. Aquinas-Darlington was closely contested early, but a 22-0 Blugold run put the game out of reach for the Redbirds, largely in part to a great game from Chris Wilson (2 TD receptions, 1 interception). Onalaska meanwhile jumped out in front of Portage 28-0 early, had a brief stumbling period late in the first and early in the second quarter, but rebounded nicely thanks in part to backup linemen and running backs stepping up for a 63-22 win. And in Blair, the Wildcats started the first quarter returning a fumble back for a score, and nearly shut out the Pirates but settled for a 37-8 victory. In addition to the three WIAA playoff games, two area Minnesota schools kick things off in 9-man. Let’s dive in.
MSHSL 9-MAN Section 1 Quarterfinal
HOUSTON @ SPRING GROVE
On it’s surface, this appears to be an easy game to chalk up to the Lions. They have the better overall record, have played better in wins, and based on last week’s results Spring Grove is the team most capable of mounting an offense. There’s also the fact that Spring Grove is undefeated against the Hurricanes dating back to 2011. In their first meeting this season, the Lions were victorious 33-16, although they did surrender 259 rushing yards, 149 of which were to Caiden Olson (30 car, 149 yds, 2 TDs). There aren’t a ton of stats on Olson for the rest of the year, outside of his 21 yards in a 56-8 loss to Grand Meadow, but the Hurricanes would do well to study what worked against Spring Grove with his runs and multiply that by two or three to try and get an elusive win.
Prediction: Spring Grove 31 Houston 14
WIAA Division 2 Playoff Pod Final
ONALASKA @ BARABOO
In Division 2, we have a very intriguing game this week between a school that typically finishes with between 1 and 3 losses and one that hasn’t been 7-1 in ages, if ever. Coach Steve Turkington has finally brought the Thunderbirds full circle this season in his seventh year since coming over from Verona. Thanks in part to lessons learned from the Class of 2018, who finished 4-5 and gave Baraboo their first and only playoff appearance of the decade, the Thunderbirds of 2020 have built a dynamic high-scoring offense led in large part by RB/QB Luna Larson and RB Owen Nachtigal. Onalaska’s Tom Yashinsky told me he likens Larson to Sparta-grad and current North Dakota State linebacker Cole Wisniewski, minus a little speed and plus a little size. Yashinsky says in preparation, he and the Ona staff have been dissecting how they handled Sparta and Wisniewski last year to gauge how they’ll handle Larson Thursday. Ona should have their full roster available this week after missing some key contributors last week, including starting back Albert Romero and their starting right guard and tackle. Also, watch for Hudson Weber to make noise on defense for the Hilltoppers to compliment his work on offense; he had a big pick six against Portage and dropped his Hudl highlights this week. But ultimately, both Turkington and Yashinsky acknowledged to me that this game will largely be determined by which team has the better tacklers. If Ona can shore this up, their experience level should help them here.
Prediction: Onalaska 34 Baraboo 28
DIVISION 5 Playoff Pod Final
AQUINAS @ LANCASTER
Last week, I noted how Aquinas would need to contain Braden Davis early to have a chance against Darlington. And while his final numbers would indicate that this wasn’t what happened, most of those 226 yards came late in the game when things were largely out of reach. The Redbirds DID make it interesting after a 90 yard drive capped by a 16 yard touchdown pass to Carter Lancaster, but a failed two-point conversion kept it a two possession game and there wasn’t enough time to do much more. This week, the Blugolds were face another familiar SWAL foe from last year, albeit one in which the results didn’t go as favorably as the 2019 Darlington game; the Blugold run defense was gashed by five touchdowns from Dawson Bowen and Corey Hahn and 319 total ground yards. Both Bowen and Hahn have since graduated, and now the offense largely runs through QB/RB Hayden Knapp and receiver Hayden Wagner. The key therefore will be mitigating the ability for the two Haydens to connect, while also continuing to feed Quinn Miskowski the rock whenever he can separate on routes. Given how the Darlington game went, I really like the confidence wave Aquinas is riding right now, and think it will carry into this week.
Prediction: Aquinas 27 Lancaster 22
Division 6 Playoff Pod Final
ASSUMPTION – WI RAPIDS @ BLAIR-TAYLOR
Blair-Taylor arrived at the D6 Playoff Pod Final with a 37-8 win over C-FC we mentioned above. Meanwhile, Assumption hasn’t played a game since November 6th after scheduled games against Pittsville and Weyauwega-Fremont were cancelled. What do we know about the Royals? Namely that they like to pound the rock with their sophomore big back Nick Leberg. the 6′ 200 pounder had averaged over 160 yards per game this year, and in the team’s last win over Wild Rose, his 9.9 yard per carry average kept the secondary busy en route to a 42-13 Royals win. Against Blair-Taylor, Assumption will likely need to be more than a one-trick pony; the Wildcat defense was extremely stout against C-FC, forcing four interceptions and an additional fumble while racking up three sacks of Austin Becker. This was enough to ensure a blowout win despite a largely pedestrian night on offense for anyone not named Matthew Brandenburg (4 TDs and 128 yards rushing). If the offense clicks this week, look out!
Prediction: Blair-Taylor 34 Assumption 14