By Adam Roberts – 10/14/2021
The final push for the playoffs has arrived this week. A number of results last week locked in playoff spots for area teams like Central, Westby, and others. Still more teams like Sparta, Holmen, Black River Falls, Blair/Taylor and more need to make some magic happen to lock down postseason spots, with some wins more likely than others. After Friday’s action, the system will tabulate the numbers for each team and determine the playoff field. As always we’ll keep our eye on the seedings and placements and will let you know asap where we’ll be headed for Level One!
For now, let’s dive in to the final week of the regular season.
Week Eight Predictions: N/A Season Predictions: 74-30
#9 (D4) West Salem @ Holmen
For one week, the Holmen Vikings became Heartbreak Holmen. As Danil Roberts kicked a 25 yard field goal in overtime, what could have been a win that boosted the Vikings’ playoff chances instead turned into a huge loss that put Holmen in a must-win situation this week against one of the best teams in the region. Notably against Logan, the Viking defense gave up 219 yards to Josh Waite on one of his best nights yardage-wise this season. They did force two interceptions and three fumbles, but Brett McConkey will undoubtedly see those yardage numbers and get excited to try and surpass them. The best chance for Holmen to pull the upset is to do what they do best: run it down teams throats and control the pace of play. Breken Turner had an off night against Logan, but I’ve seen what he can do when there are holes in the A and B gaps like against Sparta. However, those holes will be hard to come by against a West Salem defensive line that is eager to rebound from a tough showing against River Falls.
Prediction: West Salem
River Falls @ Sparta
The losing streak is now up to four following Sparta’s defeat against Central. And the common theme among these last four losses is the Sparta defense being exhausted just a couple of drives into games, which carries over to the offense as there are a number of two-way athletes on the Spartan roster. In particular this has been notable on the offensive and defensive lines; against Central the right side of the O-line featured new names Josh Smith and Adrian Jewell, and the Riverhawks took advantage bull rushing Thomas Laufenberg to the tune of five sacks and nine total tackles for loss. It doesn’t get any easier for Sparta this week against conference-leading River Falls; Vito Massa is second in the MVC in passing yards, while Cole Evavold leads the conference in rushing yards. Those two and receivers Michael Schurman and Ethan Campbell could give an already stretched-thin Sparta defense fits all night.
Prediction: River Falls
Logan @ Central
The stage is set for this year’s Battle For the Ark to be a verrrrrry interesting match up. We all remember the 27-10 upset the Rangers placed on the then-Red Raiders last April, set up by 20 unanswered Logan points and a 163 yard rushing night for Trent Wieland. While Trent is gone, a number of Rangers on last spring’s team remain including the aforementioned Josh Waite, big man Martell Owens, and 2021 leading rusher Eli Reynolds. Then there’s the intangible factor: the energy Logan will bring into the contest after their overtime walk-off win last week against Holmen. A lot is on the line for the Rangers this week, who with an upset win should get into the postseason on the merit of this game alone. However, Central has put together another great season this fall, and you know as well as I do they bring a different kind of focus when it comes to a rivalry game like this. I got to see Mason Herlitzke at work last week finally, and what I saw was what my color commentator Casey Olson aptly described as a very Kyler Murray-esque player. Herlitzke can run circles around arm tackling defensive lines, which in turn helps to open up that passing game for names like Jackson Warren, who has eight touchdowns this season and could be do for a big game (he’s alternated 100 yard, sub-20 yard games for the last five weeks). I think the better athletes win this game.
Onalaska @ Tomah
No team has found River Falls to be anything close to easy this year, and that was certainly the case for Onalaska last week. But what they were able to do was outpass Vito Massa, which we know doesn’t happen very often. Ayden Larson was excellent in a losing effort (22-28, 298 yds, 2 TDs) and Nicky Odom and Michael Skemp had big nights as a result. Skemp in particular had a number of big plays including a 29 yard score late, and appears to be the big factor for Onalaska going into the postseason. While Onalaska has not officially clinched a postseason spot yet, I don’t believe anyone would say they expect the Hilltoppers to lose to Tomah this week. The Timberwolves are in real danger of having their first winless season in as far back as I can find, with none of the defeats this year particularly close games sine the Week Two loss to Prairie du Chien.
Stewartville @ Winona
MNFootballhub.com nearly gave me a heart attack when looking up Winona’s stats from last week against Faribault. The score for the game reads 80-0 Falcons, and I quite literally did a double take from one computer monitor back to the other to make sure I read that correctly. As it turns out, someone input the final score of 40-0 in the column where fourth quarter would go, doubling the Falcons’ score. After a quick chuckle, I digested the numbers available and found that the Winhawks once again had struggles defensively, giving up three 25+ yard touchdown plays all through the air. It was also a difficult day for quarterback Mason Langowski, throwing for just 84 yards and three interceptions. Stewartville has been consistently a four score or more team in their 6-0 start to the season, with a 28-21 win against always tough Kasson-Mantorville last week highlighting the mettle of the TIgers this season. The fourth-ranked team in Class 4A should have no trouble on the road this week.
G-E-T @ #4 (D5) Aquinas
It’s been pure domination for Aquinas in the Coulee this year, so many of us were likely intrigued by their conference crossover game against Prescott last week. The six score lead never came for the Blugolds as they were put to their first real test of the season, and the first half in particular was a gritty affair between the two schools. Normally unstoppable quarterback Jackson Flottmeyer encountered his first real resistance this year with two Prescott interceptions showing he can in fact be countered by a solid defense. The difference in this game came down to the fact that Aquinas’s receiving ultimately has so many options for Flottmeyer to turn to that he can still give even a great defense fits thanks to his lack of fear to try and make a big play. Additionally, Collin Conzemius had the play of the night in the first quarter with an 85-yard kickoff return for a score. The game did what it needed to for Aquinas, which was give them a game against the kind of opponent they’ll likely see from Level Three onward in the postseason. This week they face G-E-T at Swanson Field, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Blugold starters either barely play in this one or don’t play at all. I still expect them to do enough to comfortably win regardless.
Viroqua @ #9 (D5) Arcadia
Even though Arcadia will be relegated to the Coulee runner up this year, the Raiders shouldn’t be overlooked heading into the postseason. Their only flub this season was against Aquinas, whom everyone will be hard pressed to stay competitive against in the playoffs. Since that game they won a great fight against Altoona and dominated G-E-T on the road. They also have a quality win against Westby from earlier this season, and have a quarterback in Kaden Updike that should eclipse the 1,000 yard passing mark against Viroqua this Friday despite the Raiders being an undoubtedly run-first team. To top it off, Ryan Sokup could reasonably eclipse 1,000 rushing yards this year if he can get 138 yards against the Blackhawks Friday night. I predict the Raiders will get a pretty high seed in the postseason, and if they cross playoff paths with Aquinas in Division Five as expected I believe it will be a much closer game than the first go around.
St. Croix Central @ Westby
Westby is off to the playoffs following their big road win over Altoona last week, using a 3 touchdown night from quarterback Dillon Ellefson and a balanced run game led by Grant McCaluley and Rhett Stenslien to accomplish their goals of outpacing a solid Railroader offense. McCauley also showed once again flexed his receiver muscles as well with two big passing scores in the second quarter. In their conference crossover, they’ll face a St. Croix Central team in a bit of a down year at 3-5 and coming off a rough loss to good ol’ Ellsworth 40-7. Ethan Boettcher has been doing his best at the quarterback spot, but he leads the Panthers in rushing yards in a situation where you’d rather not have your quarterback leading that statistic. It will be a home game for Westby, and I like their chances even though SCC will enter it likely fired up as they need to win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Altoona @ Black River Falls
It’s likely do or die for both of these two teams tonight. Black River Falls at 2-4 needs a win to put themselves up for playoff consideration, while Altoona can technically qualify even with a loss but with a win would be in for sure. I would go on my usual schtick of “Evan Voss is super underrated”, but last week against Viroqua the Tigers were able to get an excellent night on the ground from Mike Roou to the tune of 154 yards on just seven carries for two scores. That’s a 22 yards per run average if you’re keeping track. Should those kind of numbers repeat this week, the Tigers could pick up a quality win the night before playoff decisions are made. However, Altoona presents a much better run defense than the Blackhawks, even though they were somewhat thwomped last week by Westby. And against quality teams this season Black River Falls is winless to this point. The Tiger run defense has been suspect all year, and against Colin Boyarski they’ll likely encounter more trouble. The Railroader offense is averaging just over 30 a game this year, and as a team already have over 2,100 yards on the ground. Those numbers don’t bode well for Black River Falls, though I think this game will be a shootout.
#9 (D6) Cashton @ #10 (D7) Bangor
In what is without a shadow of a doubt the game of the week and possibly the biggest game all season, we’ll see our first real threat to Bangor’s vice grip on the Scenic Bluffs Conference. During this seven year streak for the Cardinals, no team really has threatened their spot at the top. But that changed this year with both a to-this-point 7-1 season for Cashton and a shocking upset loss for Bangor against Luther. The threat is very much real now, with Cashton’s only loss against a very good ranked Highland team and their rushing attack on of the finest in the area (2,242 yards, 35 touchdowns). Of those 35 running scores, 11 are attributed to junior Colin O’Neil who is 115 yards shy of 1,000 on the season. On the other side, the biggest question for Bangor will be whether or not Tanner Jones plays this week. He hasn’t played since the Spencer/Columbus Catholic loss, with Mathieu Oesterle not playing in that contest. When the two are both in action, Bangor is almost unstoppable. But when separated, they’ve been proven vulnerable with no big threats on the offense. I’m also going to be keeping an eye on the battle in the trenches; if the Eagle defense can’t breach through the Cardinal O-line, Oesterle might be able to rack up 100+. But even that might not be enough this time around against the Eagles. Couple that with the fact that this game will be in Cashton and should be a standing room only situation, and all the signs point to a special night for the home team. What the heck, give me the Eagles in this one for their first outright conference title since 1998 and their first win over Bangor since 2013.
Luther @ Brookwood
The Knights played their first game without quarterback Dillon Yang this season against one of the better Scenic Bluffs squads in Necedah, and his presence was sorely missed. In fairness, Eli Krause played quite well in his place (11-22, 146 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT; 11 rush, 23 yards), but the dual threat that Yang brings is such a staple of the Luther offense and when it’s not there they will struggle to keep up with playoff caliber teams like Necedah. The loss leaves the Knights needing a Week Nine victory to guarantee their spot in the postseason. However, they should be able to take care of business against a Brookwood team on the outside looking in at the playoffs this year. The key word here is should; if Yang doesn’t play again this week things this game could be closer than some might think.
De Soto @ Royall
This match up feels pretty cut and dry much like the Onalaska-Tomah game earlier. De Soto already has a postseason spot on lock, but a win over a currently 2-6 Royall could help the Pirates with their postseason positioning. I’m pretty sure Ev Wick will only play the starters early to get them some reps before yanking most in either the second quarter or second half much like Aquinas this week against G-E-T. I do think the starters will stay in a bit longer than the Blugold ones given De Soto’s 35-0 loss last week to Ithaca. We got the feeling on the High School Football Postgame Show last week the Pirates coaching staff was peeved at the way they played against the Bulldogs given that coach provided just the final score and no statistics from the game, which is out of the ordinary for Ev. I wouldn’t be surprised if De Soto puts up 49+ this week.
Prediction: De Soto
Pepin/Alma @ Mel/Min
The numbers indicate this will be a fantastic game between two teams in the top half of the Dairyland. Whoever wins the game will be the outright runner-up in the conference at worst, and depending on the result of Augusta-Eleva/Strum could theoretically share the title with one conference loss. Either way, Pepin/Alma and Mel/Min match up pretty well, with both schools’ run games highly efficient this season. Raef Radcliffe has consistently rushed for at least 75 a game all year, while Riley Stiehl has also been busy for Pepin/Alma. It would appear this game will be decided on defense, but also the play of Braydon Lockington will likely play a role as well; against Indy/Gilmanton last week he threw just 13 times for 87 yards and a score. His production has been down since the 189 yards he had in a loss to Augusta on September 10th.
C/FC @ Blair/Taylor
Here we have another situation where the winner will be waiting to find out if they can sneak in as a 3-4 playoff team while the loser’s season will come to an end. Looking over their resumes I’d say Blair/Taylor has a better chance to get in as a 3-4 conference team than C/FC does, but this isn’t a cut and dry win for the Wildcats. Colton Lejcher dealt with some growing pains taking over the quarterback position from Cain Fremstad and struggled against Pepin/Alma last week. He scored the only touchdown on the night for B/T on the ground, but he was another quarterback that you’d rather not have leading the rushing totals but did. C/FC meanwhile was handled by Augusta last week with the bulk of their stats and scoring coming well after the game was decided. The two Austins Arnburg and Becker combined for 278 yards and three scores plus two Becker interceptions, indicating that the quarterback for the finale is far from decided. This feels almost like a pick ’em game, with the better quarterback likely doing enough to win. For me, Blair/Taylor has been slightly more consistent, albeit JUST slightly.
Triton @ Caledonia
The Warriors definitely needed that win last week over Rochester Lourdes, and they got it thanks to solid work by backup quarterback Ethan Stendel. He broke the 0-0 deadlock in the third quarter with a scoring pass to Kyle Betchel, and the Christopher Pieper put the fork in the Eagles with a 30-yard pick six. Offense has been hard to come by this season for Caledonia, so having the defense come up big was a welcome sign for Isaac Fruechte and the rest of the coaching staff. That defense will need to be on it’s A-game again this week with 5-1 Triton on the docket; Caden Spence through six games is knocking on the door of 1,000 rushing yards and will likely eclipse that number comfortably Friday night.
Winona Cotter @ Bethlehem Academy
Last week Tate Gilbertson did just about everything he could to try and push the Ramblers over Hayfield, putting up numbers not often seen by quarterbacks at any level in this area with 318 yards and three touchdowns. He did have an interception as well, and despite a late toss to Ryan Hesch in the fourth quarter Ethan Pack and the Hayfield ground game did just enough to win a closely contested game. Gilbertson and Cotter will have another tough challenge this week facing a 5-1 Bethlehem Academy unit.
Prediction: Bethlehem Academy
Pine Island @ La Crescent/Hokah
The Lancer defense was gashed last week against Cannon Falls, a team fighting with Lake City for a conference title this year (they get each other the final game of the season). A bit of a welcome reprieve comes this week in 1-5 Pine Island, but the Lancers still have yet to find any consistency on either side of the ball as they search for win #1. The Lancers have yet to score more than twice in any game this season.
Prediction: Pine Island