PLATTEVILLE — Platteville has gotten considerable attention for its ability to score points this football season.
But the Hillmen’s eighth consecutive playoff berth was clinched as much by their defense as their offense.
Despite the game’s being suspended due to lightning, forcing the final 14 minutes of the game to be played Saturday afternoon, the Hillmen beat River Valley 34–0.
Platteville (7–1, 3–1 Southwest Wisconsin Conference) can clinch a share of first place by defeating Lancaster (7–1, 4–0 SWC) Friday night. A Hillmen win would also open the door for Prairie du Chien to share the SWC title with a win over River Valley, which conversely needs to win to clinch a playoff berth.
“Saturday’s game was a huge win for our team and program,” said Platteville head coach Ryley Bailey. “It was the first game we had everyone back and healthy, and it was fun watching those guys compete out there. It also got us into playoffs which was the most exciting part about that game.
Senior quarterback Ethan Bernhardt added to his single-season and career school record touchdown totals — he was 22 of 32 for 241 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, bringing him to 29 for the season and 48 in his two years as the starter. Senior wide receiver Donovan Blevins set the Hillmen’s single-season touchdown catch record with his 16th of the year, passing Jesse Baker’s record of 15 in 2004. A.J. Barner rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
But the Hillmen defense stood out the most for keeping the big electronic zero on the River Valley side of the scoreboard. The defense held the Blackhawks to 104 total yards — at one point in the third quarter River Valley had 35 total yards, having lost 10 yards on their first two second-half possessions — and nine first downs, three of which were by Hillmen defensive penalties.
Will Bergman led the Blackhawks with 22 of River Valley’s 50 rushing yards. Quarterback Justin Yanke, who dealt with the same rain and wind that Bernhardt dealt with at opposite times of the game, was 3 of 27 for 54 yards.
The turning point of the game was midway through the first quarter. After Platteville’s first series ended in an interception, the Hillmen’s second series ended in a bad punt snap that punter Zach White managed to limit to an eight-yard loss, putting River Valley in business at the Platteville 24 with 3:10 left in the first quarter.
One run for no gain and three incompletions later, Platteville embarked on its first scoring drive of the game, including a 17-yard pass to White on third-and-10, and ending on play number 11, another Bernhardt-to-White connection for three yards for the first score two plays into the second quarter.
From that point on, Platteville’s offense flew and rolled over River Valley. A series in which River Valley went backwards seven yards led to a 10-play 39-yard scoring drive that included a two-yard Bernhardt run on fourth down and the length of the football to go, a 17-yard pass to Blevins on third and 10, and a 11-yard touchdown pass to Austin Wein, extending the lead to 14–0 with 4:24 left in the half.
Another Blackhawk drive that lost a yard led to a nine-play 50-yard scoring drive that included a 10-yard Blevins catch on third and 5, a 20-yard pass to White on third and 10, and a spectacular 20-yard touchdown catch by Blevins, who caught the ball in the back of the end zone a few artificial turf 1blades shy of the end line.
After giving up just 45 yards in the first half, Platteville’s defense pushed River Valley back 10 yards on the Blackhawks’ first two third-quarter drives. A 21-yard punt into the wind set up a 32-yard five-play scoring drive that overcame consecutive Hillmen holding penalties with a 31-yard pass to White and Barner’s two-yard touchdown run, extending the lead to 27–0 with 7:19 left in the third quarter.
River Valley had the ball at the Platteville 41-yard line with 1:43 left in the third when the on-and-off rain and brisk wind out of the south end zone was augmented by lightning. After a delay of about 25 minutes, the game was suspended until Saturday afternoon, finishing under the lights visible from Katie’s Garden, where Homecoming couples were having photos taken.
“Coming back and finishing the game on Saturday was not ideal with everything going on with homecoming,” said Bailey. “That is out of our control though, you can not change the weather. We always tell our kids to worry about the things that you can control, and unfortunately for us, the weather would not permit us to finish the game Friday night.”
The nearly 20-hour break didn’t improve things for the Blackhawks. Yanke lost a yard on a run, threw an incomplete pass and was sacked back at the River Valley 49. On the next drive, Yanke connected with Jack Meixelsperger for a 38-yard pass to the Platteville 12, but after a holding penalty and three incompletions pushed the Blackhawks back to the 23, Zach Cady missed a 40-yard field goal with the wind.
The Hillmen defense committed a personal foul on a Blackhawk punt return, giving River Valley the ball at the Platteville 38, but Blevins forced and Wein recovered a fumble to end that drive.
Platteville ended the game with a 10-play 72-yard scoring drive that included third-down conversion passes to Blevins, White and Barner, and ended with Blevins’ second touchdown catch of the game and 16th of the season from the 28 with 59 seconds left.
In the final 59 seconds the Blackhawks moved from their 42 to the Platteville 28, only to end the game with two incomplete passes and a Trevor Heim sack, his second of the days.
Quinn Kafar led Platteville with 8 tackles and 3½ tackles for loss.
Platteville (ranked 10th in Division 4) will now turn its attention to Friday night’s de facto SWC championship game against Lancaster, which is ranked eighth in Division 5.
A year ago, the Hillmen defeated the Flying Arrows 35–6 on the final night of the regular season to earn a three-way share of last year’s SWC title.
“Friday night is what high school football is all about,” said Bailey. “Neighboring rivals playing in a conference championship game. I will continue to remind our players to live in the moment, smile, and enjoy themselves. You only get so many opportunities like this in a lifetime and you don’t want a second to pass you by. I am looking forward to a great atmosphere and an awesome night of football.”
Platteville 34, River Valley 0
(from Friday-Saturday, Oct. 6-7 @ UW–Platteville)
River Valley 0 0 0 0 — 0
Platteville 0 21 6 7 — 34
P: Zach White 24 pass from Ethan Bernhardt (White kick)
P: Austin Wein 11 pass from Bernhardt (White kick)
P: Blevins 20 pass from Bernhardt (White kick)
P: A.J. Barner 2 run (kick failed)
P: Blevins 28 pass from Bernhardt (White kick)
First downs — P 19, RV 9. Rushing — P 33-150, RV 28-50. Passing (comp-att-int, yds) — RV 3-27-0, 54, P 22-32-0, 241. Fumbles–lost — RV 2-1, P 0-0. Penalties-yards — RV 6-45, 13-120.
Rushing — RV: Will Berman 4-22. P: A.J. Barner 22-130. Passing — RV: Justin Yanke 3-27-0, 54. P: Ethan Bernhardt 22-32-0, 241. Receiving — RV: Jack Meixelsperger 1-38. P: Zach White 7-105-1, Donovan Blevins 6-85. Tackles — P: Quinn Kafar 8, Coleman Brecke 3, Austin Wein 3, White 3, Brad Budden 3, Cam Brant 3.