GAME OF THE WEEK (Nov. 17–Nov. 23)
WIAA FOOTBALL STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS:
Shullsburg (12–2) vs. Edgar (10–3), at Camp Randall Stadium (at Madison), Thursday, 10 a.m.
The ninth-ranked Miners rallied from an early 6–0 deficit to defeat fourth-ranked Hilbert/Stockbridge 34–6 in a WIAA Division 7 state semifinal at Middleton last Friday night to earn Shullsburg first-ever trip to the state championship.
The Miners (11–2) will face 11-time state qualifier Edgar (10–3) in the D7 title game Thursday morning.
“It feels great,” said Shullsburg head coach Scott Matye. “These kids have worked so hard for this. Last year they had such a rough season. To come back from that and have it all come together is so nice for them. I won’t like. I’m having as much fun as the kids.
In Thursday’s championship game, Matye will square off with fellow Hall of Fame Coach Jerry Sinz. Sinz, in his 44th year at Edgar, is a 2003 HOF inductee, having guiding the Wildcats to state titles in 1979, 1992, 1999, 2001, 2009 and 2010. He is also second all-time in Wisconsin with 394 career wins.
“If you’re going to go to state, you might as well play the best,” said Matye. “I mean Edgar is one of the best small school programs in the state of Wisconsin. They are a classy program and a great team. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The Wildcats finished fourth this year in the Marwood Conference, which is loaded with D5 and D6 schools, after suffering three close losses in the middle of the season partly due to a few injures suffered by key contributors. They have righted the ship with five start victories, after star senior running back Alec Hafferman returned from injury.
Edgar averages 33 points per game on offense and allow just 8 points per game. The Wildcats defeated top-ranked Bangor (12–1) 29–6 last Friday to advance to state.
Darlington (13–0) vs. Eau Clarie Regis (13–0), at Camp Randall Stadium (at Madison), Thursday, 1 p.m.
The second-ranked Redbirds settled a score and earn a trip to a fourth straight WIAA Division 6 state championship game with a thrilling 24–20 victory over top-ranked St. Mary’s Springs last Friday night in Waukesha. After falling to the Ledgers in each of the last two D6 state finals, Darlington overcame their playoff nemesis with a 17-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Jared Meister to senior wide receiver Will Schwartz with 12 seconds remaining in last week’s state semifinals.
“We wanted the opportunity to get a gold ball and we have it,” said Darlington head coach Scott Zywicki. “For some reason, it just wasn’t meant to be the past three years. I, obviously, would love to have another gold ball, but we have to play another great game to do it. If we do what we’re capable of doing we’ll have a heck of a chance to capture the gold ball.”
Darlington is seeking its first state title since 1995, but things don’t get any easier on Thursday when the ‘Birds meets fellow unbeaten Eau Claire Regis (13–0). The third-ranked Ramblers pose quite a challenge with a quarterback, Paul Petit, who has thrown for 1,300 yards and 21 TDs, and a running back Noel Ortiz, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns. Leading receiver Samuel Forden has caught 26 passes for over 600 yards and 10 TDs.
“They are an outstanding team in their own way,” added Zywicki. “They’re not quite as big as us, but they have athletes everywhere. They are going to be very challenging for us. IF they get to the corner or get behind us on offense, it’s going to be a touchdowns. We have to be able to pound the ball (on offense). Defensively, we’re going to try to limit their big plays and try to funnel them inside where we have a size advantage.”
Regis, who won the Cloverbelt Conference title this season, have five state finals appearances since 2002and last won a title in 2003, when they defeated Belmont 42–0. The Ramblers averaged 39 points per game on offense and allowed 16 points per game defensively. Regis advanced to state with a 21–20 victory over Grantsburg last week.
River Valley (10–2) vs. Saint Croix Central (10–3), at Camp Randall Stadium (at Madison), Thursday, 7 p.m.
The Blackhawks earned their opportunity to play for the championship with a 34–12 triumph over Two Rivers at Level 4. They are averaging 40.3 points per game during their playoff run. River Valley finished in a three-way tie for the top spot in the Southwest Wisconsin Conference standings this season with Lancaster and Platteville. The Blackhawks are averaging 40.3 points a game during the playoffs.
St. Croix Central returns to the championship final for the second time and for the first time since its only other appearance in 1988, which resulted in a Division 5 State championship. This year, they defeated Little Chute 23-17 at Level 4 to continue their quest for the program’s second State title. The Panthers tied for third place in the Middle Border Conference this season. Among the teams the Panthers defeated en route to the final were two #1 seeds and a #2 seed. River Valley is making its first-ever appearance in the title game.