WIAA football preview: Playoff perennials Monona Grove, Mequon Homestead to meet for the first time
(All games 7 p.m. Friday)
GAMES OF THE WEEK
Monona Grove vs. Mequon Homestead at Oconomowoc
This will be Monona Grove’s 49th WIAA playoff game and Mequon Homestead’s 73rd, but the two storied programs had never met in the postseason before — mostly because MG has spent a lot of time in Division 1 and Homestead frequently saw itself bumped up to Division 3.
Coach Brandon Beckwith’s Silver Eagles (10-2) have enjoyed a late-season surge, winning eight straight after a 2-2 start. Wild and crazy finishes are becoming the norm for MG, which beat Fort Atkinson 57-56 and Madison Edgewood 42-41 during the regular season before converting a two-point run in overtime to beat Waukesha West 43-42 last week — a scoring total of 142-139 in three games.
Junior quarterback Alec Ogden has been a rock in the Silver Eagles’ victories over Waunakee and West, throwing for 251 and 379 yards to bring his season totals to 2,763 yards passing with 31 TDs and two interceptions. Senior Andryi Nahirniak has 53 catches for 1,104 yards and 13 scores, and junior Jackson Thomsen has rushed for 1,182 yards and 10 TDs.
Homestead (11-1) beat Waukesha West 28-12 in last year’s state championship game, its fifth title since 1999, all under veteran coach Dave Keel. The Highlanders never shy away from tough competition, losing to Hartland Arrowhead in the season opener, and most recently beat Germantown and Whitefish Bay to extend their winning streak to 11 games.
Senior quarterback Eric Zoeller has thrown for 1,306 yards (21.4 yards per completion) and 13 touchdowns while rushing for 985 yards and 10 scores. Junior Bradley Woldt has 1,199 yards rushing and 20 scores. The defense has allowed only 12.3 points per game.
River Valley vs. Two Rivers at Hartland Arrowhead
Coach Eric Briehl’s Blackhawks (9-2) have won their first three playoff games by a combined 127-47, including a 33-27 victory over Lake Mills last week that saw senior quarterback Elijah Alt rush for 156 yards and three touchdowns and complete 13 of 16 passes for 154 yards and two scores.
On the season, Alt has thrown for 1,375 yards and 16 TDs and rushed for 1,101 yards and 21 scores. The Blackhawks, who did not play a Week One game, have allowed an average of 14.3 points per game.
Two Rivers (10-2) is out to return to the state championship game for the first time since the Purple Raiders won three consecutive titles in 1980, 1981 and 1982. Two Rivers has made it to the second round of the playoffs only once since then. The Eastern Wisconsin Conference runners-up rallied from a 21-6 halftime deficit to beat Kiel 24-21 last week.
Senior Dawson Kiphart has thrown for 2,165 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed for 495 yards. Darrin President has 1,194 yards rushing, with 15 TDs. The Purple Raiders’ defense has given up 17.4 points per game.
AROUND THE REGION
Clinton vs. Cedar Grove-Belgium at Slinger
Coach Jeff Spiwak’s Cougars (11-1), co-champions of the Rock Valley Conference, got a fourth-quarter touchdown on a 26-yard run by senior Payton Pope to beat Lancaster 20-17 last week. Pope totaled 174 yards to bring his season total to 1,537 yards and 14 touchdowns. Tyler Halsted has thrown for 904 yards and 11 scores. The defense has allowed 11.3 points per game, led by senior linebacker Robert Billington (116 tackles, 10 for loss, four forced fumbles) and junior linebacker Connor Mullooly (112 tackles, three for loss, two forced fumbles).
The Cougars’ defense, though, has not faced a test like the one the Rockets (11-1) will present. On the season, senior quarterback Josh Weiss has thrown for 3,483 yards (290.2 yards per game) and 50 touchdowns, including 440 yards and five TDs against previously unbeaten Columbus in a 35-28 victory last week.
Darlington vs. Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Springs at Waukesha North
This could be the most anticipated game of the playoffs so far, regardless of division. It’s a rematch of last year’s championship game, a 39-20 Ledgers victory that saw Clay Schueffner rush for 233 yards and two TDs and Fintan Floyd run for 184 yards and three scores. Springs also beat Darlington in the 2014 final, 37-28, but Darlington beat the Ledgers 28-22 in a 2013 semifinal.
Both running backs return for Springs (12-0) this year, Floyd (a senior) with 1,540 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns and Schueffner (a junior) with 904 yards and 19 TDs. Senior Blake Bauer has thrown for 1,685 yards and 13 scores.
Springs’ numbers are impressive, but Darlington’s are downright gaudy. The Redbirds (12-0) have scored at least 42 points in every game, including last week’s 42-6 rout of previously unbeaten Pecatonica/Argyle, and they’ve outscored opponents by a combined 504-25 in the first half. Senior Hunter Johnson, a Wisconsin preferred walk-on recruit, has 2,009 yards rushing and 42 total touchdowns. His cousin, senior Trevor Johnson, has 1,051 yards rushing, 318 yards receiving and 22 total scores. Darlington’s season total of 680 points makes Amherst’s single-season state record of 736 points, set last year, an achievable feat — especially if the Redbirds can make the final.
Shullsburg vs. Hilbert/Stockbridge at Middleton
The Miners (11-2) have matched their deepest playoff run ever, after making it to a Division 6 semifinal in 1996. Which team beat Shullsburg in that game? It was eventual champion Hilbert, by a 29-7 score.
Coach Scott Matye’s team edged Black Hawk 13-12 and beat Highland 22-7 in its last two games, avenging a 25-22 loss to Highland in Week 6. Senior Noah Wand has thrown for 1,746 yards and 23 touchdowns, and seniors Lance Lierman and Ben Sigwarth have rushed for a combined 1,946 yards and 28 scores.
Hilbert (12-0) is trying to advance to its eighth state championship game and earn its fourth state title. The Wolves’ athletic program made the national news last year, suspending basketball player April Gehl for swearing in a Twitter message to the WIAA — sparking a debate and revamping of the WIAA’s sportsmanship guidelines. Opposing coaches might have wanted to mutter a few troublesome words after playing Hilbert/Stockbridge this year — the Wolves have outscored opponents by an average of 36.5-11.6, and junior Bennett Lau has rushed for 1,146 yards and 19 touchdowns while senior quarterback Jack Halbach has rushed for 978 yards and 16 scores and thrown for 669 yards and 14 more TDs.
Bangor vs. Edgar at Carson Park, Eau Claire
The defending Division 7 champion Cardinals (12-0) have racked up a 40.8-point scoring average while allowing only 76 points all season. Senior running back Hunter Ellenburg has 1,164 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns, junior Luke Reader has 898 yards and 13 scores, and junior quarterback Drew Johnson has run for 659 yards and 10 TDs and thrown for 543 yards and nine scores.
But Bangor must go up against a program with one of the richest football traditions in the state in Edgar (9-3). Coach Jerry Sinz’s team is in the playoffs for the 22nd consecutive year and is looking for its 11th finals appearance and seventh title. Edgar has outscored three playoff opponents by a combined 117-21. Senior Alec Hafferman has rushed for 871 yards and 23 touchdowns, and the Wildcats have allowed only 92 points — and only 27 in the second half.
— Art Kabelowsky