I was going to write in this space of your favorite weekly newspaper about the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
The present day got in the way. Specifically, the incredible 21½ hours that started with the kickoff of the WIAA Division 4 Level 4 state semifinal between Platteville and Manitowoc Roncalli at Watertown High School, and ended with UW–Platteville’s 17–16 win at UW–Oshkosh to clinch the Pioneers’ first NCAA Division III football tournament berth.
If I were you, I wouldn’t make any appointments for Thursday in this area, because there may not be many people here. (And maybe not Friday too, since everyone will get home late from Madison.)
Every high school conference from this area will be represented at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison for the WIAA football championships — Black Hawk of the Six Rivers Conference against defending Division 7 champion Glenwood City at 10 a.m., Darlington of the Southwest Wisconsin Activities League against Shiocton in the Division 6 championship at 1 p.m., Lancaster of the Southwest Wisconsin Conference against Stanley–Boyd in the Division 5 championship at 4 p.m., and Platteville against Winneconne in the Division 4 championship at 7 p.m.
WisSports.net reported that the Division 4 final will set a record for the most losses by two championship-game participants, 9–4 Platteville and 8–5 Winneconne, both obviously unranked in the regular season, in what might as well be called the Cinderella Bowl. The Hillmen tied for third in the SWC and after a 1–3 start had to win four of their last five games to make the playoffs. The Wolves finished fifth in the Eastern Valley Conference and after an 0–3 start had to win their last two games to make the playoffs. But each school set a school record for most postseason wins in one season to get to Camp Randall, where each team will get either a big silver trophy or a big gold trophy.
If a prediction can be made based on strength of schedule, consider that all but two games of the Hillmen’s season were played against playoff teams, and two of those teams, Darlington and Lancaster, are also at state Thursday. Consider also that in the regular season Winneconne beat teams that missed the playoffs and lost to teams that made the playoffs. (However, once the playoffs started that went out the window.)
It appears now that nothing can faze these Hillmen. Play a team that scored 48 points on you? Shut them out — twice. Play a team that beat you 39–21, this time with a playoff berth at stake? Beat them 14–7. Play teams physically larger than you (Brodhead/Juda and Big Foot) on the road? Use your superior speed to beat them. Play two unbeaten teams (Big Foot and Roncalli)? That’s so regular season. Play a team quicker than you (Roncalli), and without your 1,000-yard running back, William Cooley, for most of the second half? Use your quarterback, Logan Butson, to throw two touchdown passes, and by the way, Derek Schambow, pick off an end-zone pass in a crowd to punch your ticket to state.
And then came the stirring comeback win for UWP over UW–Oshkosh in a game the Pioneers had to win to get their first NCAA playoff berth. (The last time UWP was in the playoffs, they weren’t called UW–Platteville, and Wisconsin State University–Platteville lost in the 1970 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics playoffs.) On a day seemingly better suited to a bruising rushing attack, despite two red-zone interceptions, the Pioneers got the ball downfield on their final drive to set up the game-winning field goal despite less than ideal conditions for either passing or kicking. As a result, the first UWP playoff football game will be at home against Concordia University (the Wisconsin version — there are 10 Concordias) Saturday at noon.
The playoffs started five weeks ago for the Hillmen. They start Saturday for the Pioneers, and one could reasonably conclude, at least early on, that they will face less difficult teams in the NCAAs than they did in their own conference. So maybe the Pioneers might have to reopen Ralph E. Davis Pioneer Stadium for a later playoff game.
The only thing I have in common with this Hillmen football team besides a Platteville address is the experience of running — actually, marching — out onto the Camp Randall turf. I got onto the turf from the north end zone as a member of the UW Marching Band. The Hillmen and the Wolves (and the Warriors, Redbirds and Flying Arrows) will be coming from the northeast corner from the locker room. I hope, regardless of whatever happens during the game, they don’t forget the experience of running onto the field, along with everything else taking place this week. There is no better way for seniors to end their high school football careers, and in many cases their football careers.
Thursday night will be a bit sad for the reason listed in the previous sentence. I’ve covered teams that won and lost state championship games. The former are happier than the latter, though the latter eventually realizes what an accomplishment getting to Madison is. (The champion and runner-up trophies are the same size.) What the winner and loser will share after the game is the realization that, win or lose, the 14-game ride that started in early August is over. What players remember the most, in addition to the moment of winning, is how they got there, and what happened along the way. That ends, win or lose, Thursday night.
To be a bit more broad than I said last week, Southwest Wisconsin is the center of the football universe. Go Platteville. (And Black Hawk, and Darlington, and Lancaster.)