Months of preparation will come to a head Friday as the prep football season hits the final week of the regular season.
For some teams, a playoff spot has already been secured and either momentum looking ahead to next week, or a conference title, are on the line. For others, one final victory is still necessary to join the ranks of the postseason bound.
Either way, fans will have plenty of excitement to follow this week.
So without further ado, here’s a look at this week’s area games in Week 9:
Warriors hope to cage rival Thunderbirds
Rivalry games usually bring out the best in teams.
Add in the fact that Portage is playing to guarantee a spot in the playoffs, rather than having to sweat out the tiebreaker conversation, and the Warriors should be more than amped up to take on Baraboo this week.
That should help especially as the Thunderbirds (6-2, 4-2 Badger Small Conference) have limped to the finish following a promising start. After opening the season 5-0, and sitting atop the Div. 3 WisSports.net Coaches Poll, a slew of injuries led to back-to-back losses for Baraboo against Fort Atkinson (27-6) and rival Reedsburg (21-20).
The T-Birds rebounded last week grinding out a 28-19 win over Sauk Prairie, with senior All-State utility player Luna Larson playing a big part in the playoff clinching win. Although he still isn’t quite the athletic force that ran for 623 yards and eight touchdowns through three games this season, Larson ran for three scores against the Eagles.
While Larson may not be 100% yet, the Warriors (5-3, 3-3) will still have to contend with senior Kane Mahoney, who has rushed for 1,150 yards and six TDs this season, and a stout offensive line to create plenty of holes.
It will pose quite a challenge for a Warriors defense that showed it has no quit in last week’s 20-16 loss to Monona Grove. While Portage couldn’t fully erase a 20-point halftime deficit, it did hold the Silver Eagles to just two second-half first downs.
The Warriors offense will also look to return to form, and they certainly have the weapons to do so. Gavin Thompson has completed 58 of 113 passes for 870 yards and seven touchdowns, while Erik Brouette has rushed for 640 yards and six touchdowns.
Seniors Jordan Starr and Ethan Bleich have combined for over 500 yards on the ground to add plenty of depth to the Portage backfield, while seniors Jaden Kikkert (21 catches, 383 yards, 4 TDs) and Sam Horn (17-262-3) are two reliable outside weapons looking to pick apart the T-Birds and end a three-game losing skid in the rivalry.
Ending playoff drought in Pumas’ grasp
After opening its return season in the South Central Conference with three losses, Poynette’s hopes of snapping a playoff drought dating back to 2014 looked to be on life support.
That’s far from the case for the Pumas now.
Poynette has won three straight games, including a 40-8 romp over two-time defending league champion Mauston, and just a win over Wautoma this week is the only thing separating the Pumas from the postseason.
And there should be plenty of optimism among Poynette (4-3, 3-3 SCC) it can do just that as the Hornets have dropped back-to-back games. The Hornets (2-6, 2-4) had no answer for Southwest Wisconsin Conference leading Brodhead/Juda last week as the Cardinals scored the game’s first 52 points in a 52-14 rout.
The Cardinals racked up over 400 yards of total offense with the bulk of that coming on the ground as Brodhead/Juda churned out 333 yards and five scores on just 28 rushing attempts. Not a single Cardinals player surpassed the century mark, but four players had at least 50 yards and three had at least 75 apiece.
That should have the Pumas licking their chops, especially Jimmy Heath. The senior speedster piled up 205 yards and four scores on 27 carries in last week’s win over Mauston and has rushed for a combined 634 yards and seven TDs in the Pumas’ last three games.
Junior Dylan Elsing (15 carries, 114 yards, 1 TD) also broke the century mark last week while the Pumas defense locked down the Golden Eagles on the ground for just 63 yards on 24 carries.
Rebels’ playoff fate hinges on rivalry tilt
Like Portage, Fall River/Rio finds itself currently on the outside looking in for the playoffs with one win putting the Rebels over the top.
And also like the Warriors, a win over one of its fiercest rivals, Cambria-Friesland, is what will ensure Fall River/Rio is playing at least one more week.
The Rebels (2-6, 3-3 Trailways) narrowly missed their chance to qualify for the postseason last week in a 28-22 loss to Johnson Creek. Fall River/Rio scored early in the fourth quarter to knot things up at 22 following a failed conversion attempt, one that the Bluejays made the most of as Dylan Bredlow rushed in from two years out with just over 2 minutes left to play as the deciding score.
Matthew Miller again did it all for the Rebels as he threw for 122 yards and a touchdown on 4-of-8 passing — all of his completions were hauled in by Clay Blevins — while adding a team-high 81 yards and a score on the ground. Miller has just over 900 total yards this season, including a team-high 526 yards rushing and 12 TDs.
He’s the top player the Hilltoppers (4-3, 4-2) will look to stop as they try to gain some momentum ahead of the playoffs. Cambria-Friesland is back in the postseason for the eighth time in nine years after receiving a forfeit win over Beaver Dam Wayland last week.
Prior to the forfeit victory, the Toppers had a two-game winning streak snapped against Randolph in which the Rockets raced away for a 55-22 win. Cambria-Friesland’s rushing attack, which had averaged 267.3 yards per game entering the contest, was held to just 119 yards in the defeat and will be eager to get things revved back up this week.
Bulldogs look to finish strong
Unlike its Columbia County counterparts, Pardeeville is locked in for the playoffs following a one-year hiatus last fall.
The Bulldogs (4-3, 4-2 Eastern Suburban) can do a lot for their confidence, and seeding potential this week, when they host Waterloo in a regular season finale.
Pardeeville generated plenty of steam heading into this week’s clash with the Pirates thanks to a dominant 54-6 win over Dodgeland last week. Everything clicked for the Dawgs as they rushed for 367 yards and six touchdowns, led by senior Derek Lindert’s 126 yard, four TD performance, while senior Devin Seth completed 7-of-8 passes for 130 yards and a score with a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
Seth also nearly broke the century mark with 99 yards rushing on just four attempts with a TD, while the Bulldogs defense locked down the Trojans last week to the tune of 59 yards rushing on 33 carries. That could be a good omen looking ahead to the run-heavy Pirates (6-2, 4-2) and star running back Eugene Wolf this week.
Wolff has run roughshod all season long and it didn’t change in last week’s 33-18 win over Clinton as he had 127 yards and two TDs on 28 carries. The bruising 6-foot, 190-pound senior has gone over 100 yards in every game this season with 1,358 yards and 17 scores, good for an average of 169.8 yards per game and 6.9 yards per attempt.
Stopping, or at least trying to slow down, Wolff will be crucial for the Bulldogs this week as they can lock up a third-place finish in the conference standings with a win.
Other area games
- Thanks to Poynette’s stunning win over Mauston last week, Wisconsin Dells locked up at least a share of the South Central Conference title last week. The Chiefs (8-0, 6-0 SCC) now have the chance to earn their first outright league title since 1986 with a win over those same Golden Eagles in this week’s bitter rivalry matchup. Wisconsin Dells has been on a roll since grinding out two conference wins to open the year, winning each conference game by an average of 34.3 points per game. The Golden Eagles (6-2, 5-1) meanwhile were held to a season-low 8 points in last week’s loss to Poynette and must win to secure a share of their third straight league title.
- Following a two-year playoff hiatus, Lodi is back in the postseason for the first time since 2018. While the Blue Devils’ return trip was soured by back-to-back losses to Columbus and more recently Lake Mills, 27-20, last week, they can do a lot for their playoff seed this week with a win over Watertown Luther Prep. The Phoenix (5-3, 3-3) themselves need a win to get guarantee a playoff spot for the second straight season after ending a 14-year drought last fall.
- Just pride and momentum looking ahead to next year are on the line this week for Westfield and Montello/Princeton/Green Lake as both the Pioneers and Phoenix will miss the postseason. The Pioneers (2-6, 1-5 South Central) faded in the second half against Adams-Friendship last week, 54-20, while the Phoenix (0-8, 0-6) gave up a second straight forfeit win to Wisconsin Dells. The win could got a long way for both teams as the Pioneers haven’t won more than two games since 2013, and the Phoenix can earn their first victory of the year.
Follow Sean Davis on Twitter @SDavis_PDR or contact him at 608-745-3512.