Even though no football games will be in Platteville, for a weekend Platteville will be sort of the center of the non-Madison/non-Green Bay Wisconsin football universe.
On Friday night, Platteville High School will play Manitowoc Roncalli in one of the two WIAA Division 4 Level 4 games. The Hillmen, playing in their sixth state semifinal since their first playoff berth in 1982, will try for their first state trip since 1983. The Jets (whose high school is named for Rev. Angelo Roncalli, better known as Pope John XXIII, but Catholic readers knew that) will play in their first Level 4 game in search of their first state trip.
One afternoon later, UW–Platteville will take the field at UW–Oshkosh’s Titan Stadium with the winner probably getting an NCAA playoff berth, which would be the Pioneers’ first NCAA football berth. This excellent football is apparently southwest Wisconsin Packer fans’ consolation for the injury-fueled trainwreck that the Packers season is rapidly becoming.
Platteville has gotten to Level 4 by (1) winning four of its last five games to make the playoffs, (2) beating Dodgeville in their third meeting of the season (which, as mentioned here before, has never happened before and should never happen again), and winning games at (3) Brodhead/Juda and (4) number-one-ranked Big Foot to get to the state semifinal.
I’m always amused when, after covering high school sports for nearly 30 years, I see something I’ve never seen before. Friday was the first 7–2 game I’ve ever covered. It is also possible that, if Platteville and Winneconne win, we will have an all-Cinderella state final, with the four-loss Hillmen against the five-loss Wolves. (That would look like an intersquad game since Platteville and Winneconne have dark red jerseys and silver helmets.)
Someone on the radio Friday will observe that the toughest game to play is not a state game, but the game before state. Similar to other sports’ sectional finals, whoever wins Friday and Saturday, regardless of whether they win or lose the following Thursday, will get the experience of playing at Camp Randall to end their season. (Ask last year’s Potosi football team.) Whoever loses Friday and Saturday, regardless of what they accomplished up to Level 4, will have their season end one step short of state. (Though in the case of the Hillmen … well, we’ll explore that in the next couple weeks.)
If everything works out, southwest Wisconsin might empty out Thursday to watch Black Hawk in Division 7, Darlington in Division 6, Lancaster in Division 5 and Platteville in Division 4 championship games at Camp Randall Stadium. If that happens it’s perfectly acceptable for Platteville fans to root for Lancaster even though the Flying Arrows beat the Hillmen twice, and it would be perfectly acceptable for Redbird fans to root for the Hillmen. (I write that because, after watching Michigan and Ohio State hammer UW teams of the 1970s and ‘80s, I have never been able to root for a Big Ten team not named Wisconsin, unless a certain result directly benefits the Badgers.) For that matter, just take Thursday off, go to Madison and root for the Warriors, Redbirds, Flying Arrows and Hillmen, or whoever of that group plays at state. Camp Randall-area restaurants will thank you.
The similarity between PHS and UWP, besides their sharing a stadium, is that each team was in playoff mode before the playoffs began. After starting 1–3, more than one more Platteville loss in the last five games would have meant no playoff berth for the Hillmen. UWP’s loss to UW–Whitewater two Saturdays ago meant that the Pioneers were in lose-and-you’re-done mode for their last two regular-season games, against UW–La Crosse last Saturday and at UW–Oshkosh this coming Saturday.
It would be ridiculous for UWP to lose Saturday and miss the NCAA Division III playoffs with an 8–2 record. (Which happened last year.) But the NCAA has a low opinion of Wisconsin college teams, as demonstrated by the Badgers’ fiasco in Tempe, Ariz., earlier this season. Even though the quality of football in the WIAC is considerably better than in other Division III conferences, It’s possible that Whitewater will be the only WIAC team in the playoffs regardless of what happens in Oshkosh.
(Ironic side note: Before coming to Platteville I announced Ripon College sports. The Midwest Conference complained that it was unfair for their schools — all private and a fraction of the size of WIAC schools — to have to compete for playoff spots with schools several times their size that were Division III schools because they didn’t offer scholarships. There is some validity to that, because Division III was created for small private colleges; recall that UWP and the rest of what now is the WIAC was in the NAIA until the early 1990s. The answer may be to create a subdivision of Division III based on size instead of whether athletic scholarships are offered. As it is, there are more Division III schools than there are Division I schools.)
No result Friday or Saturday will downgrade the accomplishment of the Hillmen and the Pioneers this season. (As I said, more about the Hillmen next week, or maybe later.) Coach Mike Emendorfer has made the Pioneers an entertaining and successful team to watch, and whatever the Pioneers accomplish this season, they’re clearly not going to think that eight- or nine-win seasons are the best they want to do.
Last week, a reader sent a message to our Facebook page asking that businesses with electronic signs run messages backing the Hillmen, and businesses without electronic signs put up signs backing the Hillmen. I’ll beat him to the punch this week and ask that, whether signs are electronic or manual, businesses — well, residents too — put up messages backing the Hillmen and the Pioneers this weekend.