Football Blitz: WIAA Level 1
No. 5 Evansville/Albany (8-1 over., 8-1 Rock Valley)
at No. 4 Fort Atkinson (5-4 over., 4-3 Badger South)
FRIDAY: At Jones Dairy Farm Stadium, 7 p.m.
Radio: AM 940 WFAW with Brett Ketterman & Josh Smith
The end of the Fort Atkinson regular season was pretty tough for the Blackhawks, and it’s not going to get any easier in the WIAA?Level 1 Playoffs.
The No. 4 seeded Blackhawks host No. 5 and Rock Valley Conference co-champion Evansville/Albany, which has not lost since Week 2 against Jefferson.
It also will be a motivated Evansville/Albany team that may not be keen on playing road game to start the playoffs despite going 8-1 during the regular season.
“I think how those seeding processes work we were fortunate to get a home game, but we’re not going to apologize for our seed. We’re just going to play football,” said FAHS?head coach Steve Mahoney. “We know they’re going to come in with a chip on their shoulder with something to prove.”
With that said, the Blue Devils have a balanced offense much like Fort Atkinson. They have rushed for 31 touchdowns and just under 2,000 yards, while passing for 1,233 and 15 touchdowns.
Running back Brennan Banks has 1,298 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns to lead E/A, while Chase Katzenmeyer has 11 touchdowns on the season as well.
Quarterback Zach Mielke is 75-of-122 on the season with the 1,233 passing yards and 15 touchdowns.
“They score a lot of points, the Banks kid is an exceptional tail back and their quarterback is above average,” Mahoney said. “Evansville has always kind of had the 50-50 thing where they like to run and throw it 50-50, so we’re going to have to be as sharp as we have been all year.”
Fort and E/A also are very similar in terms of turnovers.
Neither team has given up many chances to the other teams, so Mahoney said the game will not only come down to the turnovers, but also big plays and penalties.
“If you fall in any of those areas, that’s where the other teams get the advantage,” Mahoney said. “Obviously when there’s only 224 teams in the State that makes the playoffs, typically everybody that’s in is pretty good. Anybody can beat anybody on any given night, that’s how fine of a line it is.”
The Blackhawks will still like how their offense has played.
In Week 9, Fort put up 21 points against Monroe — who is ranked No. 7 in the Medium Division by the Associated Press — which is the most the Cheesemakers allowed all season. Before that, Fort had three straight games with 50 or more points.
Fort Atkinson will be making its 14th playoff appearance, but have not won a game in the postseason since 2006. Evansville/Albany, on the other hand, has been in 23 times and won in 2015, beating Pewaukee 14-0 in a Level 1 game.
PREDICTION: Fort Atkinson 42, Evansville/Albany 28
No. 6 Jefferson (7-2 over., 7-2 Rock Valley)
at No. 3 Pewaukee (8-1 over., 5-1 Woodland West)
FRIDAY: At Pewaukee High School, 7 p.m.
Radio: FM 106.5 WKCH with Cody Ortner & John Kipper
Unlike last season when Jefferson limped into the WIAA playoffs, the Eagles are rolling thanks to a four-game winning streak.
After going just 3-2 in its first five games, Jefferson put it all together on both sides of the football, outscoring their last four opponents 169-27 to finish 7-2, behind only co-champions Clinton and Evansville/Albany in the Rock Valley Conference.
Jefferson thought it was going to be home for the first round, but was given a No. 6 seed in the eight-team pod.
“The thing that surprised us was Pewaukee coming into our pod,” said Jefferson coach Steve Gee. “Now you’re up against three conference champions (Monroe,?Pewaukee and Evansville/Albany), Mount Horeb/Barneveld who’s only loss was to Waunakee, and then?Fort Atkinson which was pretty close in some big games, we kind of knew what was going to happen.”
Senior Hunter Milbrath and junior Evan Anfang lead Jefferson’s rushing attack, combining for over 1,700 yards and 24 touchdowns. Milbrath (159 carries, 16 TDs) is just 53 yards away from becoming only the 11th player in program history to rush for 1,000 yards, while Anfang has gained 773 yards on 122 attempts and has scored eight TDs.
“If we can get them to the linebacker level, we’ve seen some pretty impressive cuts from Hunter and from Evan over the last month and that’s the goal, get the 3 to 4 yards and then let them be athletes,” said Gee.
The Eagles also got starting quarterback Zack Peterson back in Week 8. Despite missing three games, the junior has completed 28-of-60 passes for 592 yards while throwing seven TDs versus just four interceptions.
“We’re looking at that being the difference maker, our ability to throw the ball,” said Gee. “Every week we focus on the pass game quite a bit and I think Matt Siefkes and Chris DeKrey getting out in space and Zack throwing a good ball, that gives us some weapons that they really haven’t seen on film.”
Jefferson’s defense is led by its linebacking corps. Senior Joey Meyers has a team-leading 89 tackles, including three tackles for a loss, while junior Paul Hollenberger (88 tackles) leads the team with six TFL’s. Senior Brenden Smith has 85 tackles and one tackle behind the line of scrimmage.
“Team defense is what we’re really all about, guys up front doing their job and letting the linebackers make plays,” said Gee. “Joey, Brenden and Paul are all within a few tackles of one another, which means they’re doing a great job of flying to the ball.”
Senior Brody Joseph leads the team with two interceptions.
Jefferson has qualified for 10 straight WIAA playoffs under Gee, and will be making its 14th appearance all time. The Eagles are 12-12 in postseason play, and won the Division 3 State title in 1991.
While the two programs are considered recent strangers, they did meet five times during the early 2000s, with the Pirates winning four out of those five games. The Pewaukee win, a 27-0 shutout in 2005, was led by reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.
The No. 3 seeded Pirates, ranked No. 7 in the WisSports.net Division 3 poll, tied for the Woodland West Conference championship with New Berlin Eisenhower (Pewaukee won the head-to-head game, 26-24).
Pewaukee has a 1-2 running punch of its own in junior Seth Bickett (130 carries, 830 yards, 8 TDs) and senior Brandon Berg (100, 544, 5).
Junior quarterback Josh Swanson has thrown for 697 yards and nine touchdowns, but also has been intercepted six times.
Gee and Pewaukee head coach Justin Friske are no strangers, having coached with one another in the 2015 Wisconsin Football Coaches Association All-Star game, and during their days going head-to-head in the Milwaukee City Conference.
“I’ve known Justin for along time, back when I was at (Milwaukee) Custer and he was at (Milwaukee) Pius,” said Gee. “His teams are going to be well-disciplined, they’re going to stick to their plan; their wing-T so they’re going to want to run the three classic wing-T plays, belly, trap and sweep.”
The Pirates are making their 18th postseason appearance and 12th straight. Pewaukee has a 10-17 record in the playoffs, reaching the State quarterfinals in both 2005 and 2011.
PREDICTION: Pewaukee 24, Jefferson 14
No. 6 Mauston (6-3 over., 3-2 South Central)
at Lake Mills (6-3 over., 3-2 Capitol North)
FRIDAY: At Campus Field, Lake Mills, 7 p.m.
Radio: Updates on both AM 940 & FM 106.5 with Arnie Peck
Both Lake Mills and Mauston are just happy to be playing in Week 10, after both pulled off thrilling victories in their regular-season finales to earn WIAA playoff berths.
Lake Mills got a 38-yard interception return for a score by Ben Dunkleberger with 34 seconds remaining to pull out a 35-28 win over Lodi, finishing 3-2 in the Capitol North Conference.
“It was a do-or-die situation,” said fourth-year Lake Mills head coach Dan Ferkovich. “Our seniors didn’t want to graduate without having that playoff experience.”
Much like Lake Mills, Mauston needed a win in its final regular-season game to become WIAA playoff eligible. Not only did the?Golden?Eagles win, but they did so by the exact same score as the L-Cats, beating Wautoma, 35-28.
Lake Mills finished in a two-way tie for second (with Lodi) in the Capitol North final standings, earning its sixth postseason playoff bid and first since 2012.
The L-Cats are 3-5 all-time in the WIAA?playoffs, and have not won a game since defeating Kewaunee 14-12 in 1988.
Dunkleberger has been the L-Cats’ leader all season. The junior has had a hand in 38 touchdowns, whether its passing for 26 or rushing for 12, both team-highs.
Dunkleberger ranks fourth in state in passing yards (2,481) while his 26 touchdowns are the seventh-most in Wisconsin. He’s also rushed for 451 yards.
He’s also scored touchdowns on special teams and defense.
“We needed to spell somebody during Luther Prep game, so we put him in on kick return and they just happened to kick to him and he houses it 98 yards. Against Lodi, I had a feeling they were going to try and throw the ball deep and try to get into field-goal range, so instinct told me to put Ben in (at cornerback). Ben’s athletic and I knew he had a chance at picking it, and when he did it came down to a footrace — you’re not going to catch Ben Dunkleberger in a footrace,” said Ferkovich.
Hayden Iverson (63 catches, 798 yards, 6 touchdowns), Alex Ranney (59, 704, 8) and Brady Wagner (54, 437, 4) are Dunkleberger’s main targets, which give opposing team fits on who to try to defend.
Senior linebacker Adam Fair leads the LM defense with 75 tackles, while Iverson and Ranney have a combined five interceptions to lead the secondary.
The Golden Eagles finished third in the South Central Conference behind Adams-Friendship and Nekoosa.
“They’re very, very athletic,” said Ferkovich of the Golden Eagles.
Senior quarterback Tarren Hall leads the Golden Eagles into the postseason. He has completed over 50 percent of his passes (93-of-180) for 1,541 yards and 16 touchdowns, while throwing nine interceptions.
Senior Keinan Fassett leads the Mauston ground attack with 899 yards and 10 touchdowns, while junior wideout Daniel Raabe is the leading receiver with team-highs in receptions (27), yards (531) and touchdowns (6).
“You always have to know where he is and what route he’s running,” Ferkovich said of Raabe.
Mauston and Lake Mills last met in 2011, with the L-Cats winning, 49-19.
Lake Mills and Mauston had two common opponents, Lakeside Lutheran and Nekoosa. The L-Cats lost to Lakeside, 42-28, but beat Nekoosa in a shootout, 55-51. Meanwhile, the Golden Eagles beat Lakeside Lutheran, 24-20, but lost to the Papermakers, 40-20.
This is the 10th WIAA playoff appearance for Mauston, which has a 5-9 postseason record.
PREDICTION: Lake Mills 38, Mauston 34
No. 7 Johnson Creek (6-3 over., 3-3 Trailways Small)
at No. 2 Cambria-Friesland (7-2 over., 6-0 Trailways Small)
FRIDAY: At Cambria-Friesland High School, 7 p.m.
Johnson Creek has a tough task ahead of it.
The No. 7 seeded Bluejays will be taking on the Trailways South Conference champion when they travel to No. 2 Cambria-Friesland on Friday. The Hilltoppers have made the playoffs every year since 2001, and will make its 23rd appearance overall.
In their previous meeting, the Bluejays fell 42-6 in Week 4, allowing 409 yards of total offense including 279 rushing yards with five of their eight touchdowns coming on the ground.
Cambria-Friesland has outscored its opponents 268-121 this season, and the key to their wins have been a hot start, as they hold a 72-12 first-quarter point edge over the opposition.
“We need to take away their power (run),” said Johnson Creek head coach Tim Wagner, who will be making his 16th playoff appearance with the program. “Their notorious for running 26 and 45-power, and they’ll run it 10 times if they get four or five yards every time. We’re going to try and stack the box on them and force them to have to throw, which is something they’re not accustom to doing.”
The Hilltoppers run game is led by Wesley Bancroft who has rushed for 763 yards, 13 touchdowns and eight extra points this season. Damian Hernandez and quarterback Tyler Zacho also have put up four touchdowns on the ground and over 300 yards.
As if their task isn’t hard enough, Wagner may be forced into playing some freshmen as the Bluejays have suffered some untimely injuries.
“Unfortunately right now the injury bug has hit us pretty hard,” Wagner said. “Our Quarterback Alex David right now is very questionable for Friday’s game and we have a couple kids that went down with some knee injuries at Oshkosh two weeks ago. We’re kind of behind the eight-ball right now with some kids being down.”
Freshman Justin Swanson will go under center if David is unable.
Overall, Johnson Creek will be making its 17th playoff appearance, with all but one coming under Wagner.
The Hilltoppers won the Division 7 title in 2002.
PREDICTION: Cambria-Friesland 42, Johnson Creek 7
LAST WEEK — 7-2; TO DATE — 55-23