MARKESAN – Most teams would be scared to schedule the Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Springs prep football team during the non-conference portion of the regular season.
“We wanted to get ready for the playoffs,” Hornets’ head coach Travis Winkers said of why he had the Ledgers on the schedule in Week 1. “Some people might shy away from that, but we haven’t. We scheduled Shiocton (in 2015 and 2016) as soon as they won state (in 2013). We got Springs who’s been to Level 4 every year (since joining the WIAA).”
Markesan lost to Springs in Week 1, 35-0. But from it, the Hornets learned they were able to hang in there physically (despite, what the final score suggests, they did acquit themselves well) and gained a great deal of motivation for the weeks to come.
“That confidence we’re talking about, that needs to be instilled throughout our team,” said Winkers who will be coaching the Hornets as they face the Ledgers in Slinger tonight for a chance to play for the WIAA Division 6 state championship game in Camp Randall Nov. 16 at 1 p.m.
“We’re saying we’re not afraid to play anyone, anywhere,” Winkers added. “It was for this year’s team, but it was for every team that comes from Markesan.”
During that first game Markesan had crucial starters missing.
“It was a lot of mental mistakes,” senior linebacker Ty Plagenz said of the result of not having the starters in. “There were a lot of missed assignments. We’ve obviously been playing lights out now.
“I think we’re more mentally ready, more mentally prepared.”
That’s a good thing because Plagenz – the Trailways Large Defensive Player of the Year – leads the Hornets defense against a Springs team that has outscored opponents by an average score of 41.3 to 3.8.
What makes Springs so dangerous is that quarterback Mitchell Waechter is a dual threat who can cause opposing defenses all sorts of problems.
“There quarterback is phenomenal,” Winkers said. “We still faced two really good quarterbacks the last two weeks, but he’s still the best dude we’ve faced all year at any position. He was really good. He can make any throw, he can scramble, he’s more athletic than any of the quarterbacks we’ve seen.
“He’s obviously one of the dudes we need to stop.”
Another player the Hornets will have to key in on will be running back/linebacker Clay Schueffner, who rushed for 1,012 yards and 22 touchdowns on 123 carries. He leads the team on defense as well, with a total of 103 total tackles.
“He is an all-state player,” Winkers said. “He’s got two or three DI offers at linebacker.”
Springs isn’t the only team in the contest that has talent, though – the Hornets do as well.
And they’re much healthier than they were in Week 1, to boot.
For instance, Zac Triggs missed the game against Darlington but came back last week to play both receiver and cornerback.
“The worry about Zac is we had to shuffle guys around,” Winkers said. “Drew (Bernhagen) and Austin (Triggs) had to play both ways and they’re going to play both ways this week too, but we didn’t have that flexibility when they need a blow. Who are we going to put in certain spots. We have depth, but we’re limited on some stuff.
“Having Zac back allows us specifically to move Bryce Plagenz – who has also been playing awesome. The versatility (he has), we can line him up as a D-end then drop him on a semifinalist for the receiver of the year award like we did against Fennimore and lock him down. You don’t see many guys that do that. You might see that with guys in zone, but he’s playing man-to-man or he’s getting up there stopping the run. H’s another kid that the last three weeks has just been balling out.”
Triggs isn’t alone in playing at an all-star level, defensive lineman Bryce Friday has been as well.
He “has been out of this world and if he can play that way this Friday, our chances go up a lot,” Winkers added of Friday.
“He’s going to face a really good center and a really good line, but last week against Point they were triple teaming him because he was so good,” Winkers said. “When he can command a double or triple team that frees up everyone else to play fast.”
Adding to the array of versatility for Markesan is Brandon Kuphal, who moved to safety this season after playing linebacker a season ago.
So with so many players capable of doing multiple things well, Winkers said it allows the Hornets to use a 4-3, 3-4 or 5-2 base defense.
“I think that helps us when something’s not working,” Winkers added. “(We can say), ‘Hey, we can try this now’ and throw up a little different wrinkle, where some teams are just stuck in their base defense.”
Then on offense the Hornets have Carson Clark at quarterback, with Bernhagen and Austin Triggs as weapons on the perimeter.
Those three have been cruising in fifth gear from Week 2 on, and they’ll need to put the pedal to metal again Friday if they want to make it to Camp Randall.
“I really think our mindset hasn’t changed (from the Week 1 loss) because we still have the confidence that we’ve always had,” lineman Tanner Weber said. “I feel like us seniors are more competitive. We’re more stronger. We’re just more everything.”