H.S. football: Playoffs begin Friday night
"Playoffs? Don't talk about playoffs. Are you kidding me? Playoffs?”
Yes, Jim Mora, that's exactly what I want to talk about—the WIAA playoffs. Five weeks of football frenzy that separate the men from the boys.
The road to Camp Randall begins Friday night. Several area teams will be in action as the tournament trail begins in the seven divisions.
And although the usual suspects, such as Hartland Arrowhead, Mequon Homestead and Lancaster, enter the playoffs as prohibitive favorites to win their respective divisions, there are sure to be countless Hail Mary's, flea-flickers and hook and ladders that define this postseason.
Here is a well-educated guess—OK, more like a hunch—on the seven teams taking home a gold ball.
The Division 1 title is Arrowhead's to lose. The Warhawks are the defending D1 state champions and are loaded with Division I talent. The only blemish on Arrowhead's record is a nonconference loss to Homestead, the defending D2 state champion and an unbeaten and nationally ranked team this season.
Big Eight-champion Sun Prairie lost to Arrowhead in the state title game a year ago and could be on a collision course with the Warhawks to play at Camp Randall on Friday, No. 22. The Cardinals always seem to find a way but I've got the feeling their luck is going to run out in a Level 4 game against quarterback Sean McGuire and the high-powered Franklin offense..
Division 1 title-game prediction: Arrowhead 28, Franklin 7.
Homestead has been the top-ranked team in the state since its win over Arrowhead in week two but has been tested more than once. Four of the Highlanders' nine wins were by a touchdown or less.
Waukesha West appears to have the best shot of unseating the Highlanders. The Wolverines enter the postseason with two losses, but one was a six-point setback to Arrowhead and the other a two-point loss to Division3 powerhouse Waukesha Catholic Memorial.
Ashwaubenon and Oshkosh North are the top seeds in the upper bracket, but once-beaten Menomonie might be the team to beat. The Mustangs shut out their first six opponents this season and their only loss was to unbeaten and Division 1 playoff team Hudson.
Division 2 title-game prediction: Waukesha West 20, Menomonie 13.
Catholic Memorial is the defending D3 state champion but drew maybe the toughest bracket in the state in any division. The Crusaders could face once-beaten Pewaukee in a Level 2 game and unbeaten Monona Grove in a Level 3 game, with unbeaten Lodi possibly waiting in a state semifinal game.
Once-beaten Edgerton would've been a force in Division 4, but will have its hands full as the smallest school competing in Division 3.
Waupaca and Greendale are the top two seeds in the upper bracket, but don't count out Wisconsin Lutheran. Any team that scores 82 points in a game and plays mainly a Division 1 schedule during the year is dangerous when it drops down two Divisions for the postseason.
Division 3 title-game prediction: Monona Grove 21, Waupaca 20.
Walworth Big Foot lost in the D4 state title game in overtime a year ago. The unbeaten Chiefs steamrolled their way to a seventh straight Rock Valley South title this season but lost a wealth of talent and playoff experience off last year's team. That may be too tough to overcome, especially against a loaded and unbeaten Manitowoc Roncalli team.
I've got a feeling the D4 winner will come from the upper bracket. Ellsworth, Nekoosa and defending-state-champion Somerset are all capable of bringing home the gold ball.
Division 4 title-game prediction: Ellsworth 34, Roncalli 21.
This division is Lancaster's to lose. The Flying Arrows were runner-up in D5 in 2012 and have won six state titles, but none since 2006. Lancaster is averaging 51.6 points per game and has not had a close game all season.
Stanley-Boyd and Arcadia lead the list of contenders from the upper bracket.
Division 5 title-game prediction: Lancaster 51, Mondovi 13.
This is probably the most lopsided division of them all. There's Fond du Lac St. Mary's Springs and then there's everyone else. The Ledgers are the defending D6 state champions and have been virtually untouchable this season, averaging 45.4 points per game while allowing just 7.3 points per game.
Longtime state powerhouses Edgar and Darlington are also in Division 6 but aren't at the level of St. Mary Springs.
Division 6 state title-game prediction: St. Mary Springs 42, Edgar 21.
You might be able to pick a team out of a hat in deciding the D7 winner. This division is the most wide open.
Glenwood City is the defending state champion but is a No. 2 seed in its eight-team bracket, behind top-seeded Pepin/Alma.
Unbeaten Black Hawk is the highest-ranked team in the Division at No. 8 among the state's small schools.
With all other things being equal, go with the team with the most playoff experience.
Division 7 state title-game prediction: Glenwood City 41, Lake Country Lutheran 14.
Nine area teams, led by unbeaten Big Foot, qualified for the playoffs. Eight of the nine play tomorrow night, while Evansville/Albany has to wait until Saturday when it travels to La Crosse Logan.
Here's a closer look at a couple of area playoff games:
Jefferson (7-2) at Edgerton (8-1), Level 1 in Division 3, Friday, 7 p.m.—This is a rematch of a Rock Valley North Conference game that saw the Crimson Tide rally in the second half for a 28-13 win. That victory helped springboard Edgerton to its first conference title since 1995.
Two of the top running backs in the state will be on display. Edgerton's Ricky Williams leads the state in rushing with 1,977 yards and is averaging a state-best 219.7 yards per game. Jefferson counters with Garrett Blaeske, who is 13th overall in the state with 1,489 yards. Both backs are juniors.
Although Williams remains the focal point of Edgerton's offense, he's far from a one-man show. Lucas Gregory has been flawless in executing the “Tim Tebow Package” for the Crimson Tide offense and gives the team a dual threat along with Williams.
Defense could be the key. Four opponents scored 28 or more points against the Eagles, while the Crimson Tide have held the last three opponents to a combined 26 points.
Best guess: Edgerton 35, Jefferson 20.
Milton (3-6) at Monona Grove (9-0), Level 1 in Division 3, Friday, 7 p.m.—On paper, this looks like a colossal mismatch. Fortunately for the Red Hawks, games aren't played on paper, as they proved in a tough 14-7 loss to the Silver Eagles two weeks ago.
Milton has got to find a way to score if it has any hopes for an upset. Monona Grove has not allowed more than 20 points in nine games this season and has held seven opponents to nine points or less. The Red Hawks are averaging only 14.4 points per game.
“We had them on the ropes two weeks ago,” Milton coach Bill O'Leary said of Monona Grove. “We were up 7-0 at half, and they hadn't been behind all year.
“Our defense has been playing very well the last couple of weeks, and if we can hold them to two touchdowns or less, we can beat them. For us, it comes down to making plays and maybe getting a score on special teams, something we haven't been able to do all season.”
The Red Hawks, despite only 388 yards passing for the season, may have to air it out against a stout Silver Eagle defensive front. Nobody has been able to run the ball against Monona Grove.
Best guess: Monona Grove 21, Milton 0.
Elkhorn (5-4) at Pewaukee (8-1), Level 1 in Division 3, Friday, 7 p.m.—The Elks return to the postseason for the first time since 2008 but will have to pull off a monumental upset to get their first postseason win since 2004.
Elkhorn sealed its playoff berth with an impressive win over Burlington last Friday but will step way up in class. Pewaukee is a Woodland-West Conference powerhouse, and its only loss this season was to unbeaten Greendale.
Defense has carried the Elks into the postseason, but the offense has to get on track if the team has any hopes of advancing past the opening round. Elkhorn is averaging only 14 points a game and that won't cut it against an opponent that is scoring 36.9 points per game.
Best guess: Pewaukee 33, Elkhorn 6.