CLINTON — What is the best way to send a message to football coaches that they were wrong about your team? Win, of course.
No one connected with the Platteville Hillmen was very happy about getting a number five seed, as determined by a majority vote of coaches in Platteville’s Division 4 bracket, and thus a road game against fourth-seed Clinton in Level 1 Friday.
So the Hillmen took it out on the Cougars, dominating nearly the entire game to win 31–12.
“The kids really wanted to send a message that we were much better than a five seed,” said Platteville head coach Scott Statz. “That message was sent.”
Platteville (7–3, 4–1 Southwest Wisconsin Conference) advances to play at undefeated and number-one seed Lodi (10–0, 6–0 Capitol North Conference) Friday at 7 p.m. The winner will play third-seed Marshall or second-seed Brodhead/Juda in Level 3 next weekend.
“Lodi is just the next team on the schedule,” said Statz. “They are big and physical; we will be tested, but our guys are gelling at the right time. I would not bet against us. Our attention to detail has improved a great deal.”
The Hillmen made a statement early with an inadvertent onside kick the Hillmen recovered at the Clinton 41-yard line. Three plays later, senior running back Jake Bernhardt made a statement with a 36-yard touchdown run down the Platteville sideline, putting the Hillmen up 7–0 just 86 seconds into the game.
“Honestly that kickoff was not planned,” said Statz. “It just went off of their guy. So we were a bit lucky.”
The next statement was made by the Hillmen defense. After a 43-yard run by running back Payton Pope and a third-down pass from quarterback Derek Severson to tight end Marc Eliszewski gave Clinton a first-down-and-goal at the Platteville 9, the Hillmen stopped the Cougars without scoring, with a fourth-down Severson pass going through the end zone without finding a receiver.
One series later, the Hillmen defense repeated their statement, giving up just one yard from the Platteville 37-yard line, with a fourth-down Severson pass to Pope falling incomplete. From there, the Hillmen went 50 yards in eight plays, setting up freshman Zach White for a 35-yard field goal on the Hillmen’s first attempt of the season. White’s field goal would have been good from 45 yards out, and gave the Hillmen a 10–0 lead with 1:52 left in the first.
Clinton got its only touchdown of the first half on the ensuing drive, going 65 yards in eight plays to open the second quarter with Pope’s 29-yard touchdown run. A fumble ended the two-point conversion attempt.
The ensuing Hillmen drive then ended Clinton’s chances of coming back — 54 yards in 12 plays and 4:08, including a Blake Wagner four-yard scamper on third-and-four for one first down and an 18-yard Wagner run for another first down. Sophomore Luke Fugate’s four-yard touchdown run extended the lead to 17–6 with 7:44 left in the first half.
The Hillmen defense then stopped another Cougar drive, with a sack of Severson on fourth and eight at the Platteville 45 with 1:39 left in the first half.
“Our defense played really, really well,” said Statz. “Clinton was very talented and difficult to defend, so we must have done a lot of things well. If you pack your defense each week, you have a great chance in playoff football.”
Though Platteville led by a not-insurmountable margin at the half, the Hillmen thoroughly dominated the first half, particularly on defense. The defense picked up where it left off after halftime, forcing two three-and-outs sandwiched around a fourth-and-eight stop at the Platteville 37.
After the second three-and-out, a 13-yard punt gave Platteville the ball at the Clinton 38. A 21-yard pass from Wagner to junior Mitch Knockel, a Wagner five-yard run and two Bernhardt runs, the last five yards into the end zone extended the lead to 24–6 with 3:18 left in the third. Bernhardt finished the night with 177 yards on 30 carries.
After another Clinton three-and-out, the Hillmen finished off the Cougars with a 10-play 72-yard run that ended with Fugate’s second touchdown of the game, from 5 yards out, extending the lead to 31–6 with 10:46 left in the game.
Our O-line went right at them early and our backs ran well too,” said Statz. “The O-line, tight ends, and fullbacks all had a good night up front.”
Friday’s Level 2 opponent, Lodi, was the employer of Platteville coach Scott Statz between 1995 and 2000 and the coach posted a 32–22 record in those six years. Lodi is a familiar postseason opponent for Southwest Wisconsin Conference teams. Statz’s Blue Devils lost to Lancaster in the 1996 and 1997 playoffs, and Lodi has also played Prairie du Chien and River Valley in past playoffs. Statz’s former freshman coach, Dave Puls, is now the Blue Devils’ head coach.
Statz has a three-game Level 1 winning streak against his former employer. Lodi beat Platteville 42–25 in Level 1 in 2003, but Platteville beat Lodi 54–40 in 2004, 37–22 in 2007, and 32–27 in 2012. This will be Platteville’s and Lodi’s first Level 2 meeting.
WIAA Division 4 Level I playoff game
Platteville 31, Clinton 12
(from Friday, Oct. 24 @ Clinton)
#5 Platteville 10 7 7 7 — 31
#4 Clinton 0 6 0 6 — 12
P: Jacob Bernhardt 36 run (Zach White kick)
P: FG White 31
C: Payton Pope 29 run (conversion failed)
P: Luke Fugate 3 run (White kick)
P: Bernhardt 4 run (White kick)
P: Fugate 5 run (White kick)
C: Eliszewski 50 pass from Severson (conversion failed)
First downs — P 15, C 11. Rushing — P 51-227, C 45-167. Passing Yards — P 73, C 116. Passing — P 6-13-0, C 8-26-0. Fumbles–lost — P 1-1, C 1-0. Penalties-yards — P 8-68, C 11-105.
Rushing — P: Jacob Bernhardt 30-177; C: Payton Pope 10-114. Passing — P: Blake Wagner 6-13-0, 73; C: Derek Severson 8-26-0, 116. Receiving — P: Mitch Knockel 2-37; Marc Eliszewski 6-95.