Still plenty to play in last week of regular season
WEEK 9 FOOTBALL
BY MATT FREY
The end of the high school football regular season is already upon us with Friday’s 7 p.m. finales in Taylor County carrying conference placement and WIAA playoff implications.
Playoff groupings and first-round matchups will be determined by early Saturday afternoon.
_ The Loyal Greyhounds will visit Gilman to determine second place in the CloverWood Conference. Loyal has won five straight games after an 0-3 start and currently holds the second position in the league behind undefeated Abbotsford at 5-1. Loyal rallied from a 12-6 fourthquarter deficit and beat Thorp Friday 22-18.
Gilman (6-2 overall) has won four straight after an 0-2 start to conference play. Not only is second place on the line, but playoff seeding could be a factor if the teams end up in the same Division 7 grouping, as they did last year when Loy- al won a memorable 24-17 Level 2 game over the Pirates.
This is a game that will most likely be determined by linemen up front and each team’s ground game, according to Gilman head coach Robin Rosemeyer.
“It might come down to who does better between the tackles,” he said.
Loyal almost entirely depends on its ground game offensively, led by Nathan Buchanan (915 yards) and Matthew Szymanski (793 yards), who are the second and third leading rushers in the conference. Buchanan gained a season-high 195 yards in the win Friday and has topped 100 yards in seven straight games. Szymanski also hit a season-high Friday with 175 yards and scored twice. He has hit 100 yards four times in eight games and had 97 in another. Szymanski had 78 yards in eight carries in last year’s playoff game, including two big runs early.
Defensively in its 4-4 scheme, Loyal has held conference opponents to 250
See WEEK 9 yards per game, which ranked second in the CloverWood behind Gilman’s 197 yards per game.
“They’re not overly big, similar to us, but I think both teams have some athletic kids,” Rosemeyer said. “They play a pretty similar defense in their 4-4 to our four front. Both teams run a lot of the same things on offense basically. They don’t throw much. We may need to throw the ball a little more to be able to move the ball. They give up some yards, but they haven’t given up a lot of points.”
_ There’s still plenty to be played for when the unbeaten Medford Raiders (5-0 GNC, 8-0 overall) visit Merrill (2-3 GNC, 2-6 overall) in those teams’ Great Northern Conference finale.
Medford is looking to clinch the outright conference title and the program’s first perfect regular season since 2000. The Raiders also will need all the ammunition they can get going into Saturday’s seeding meeting for whatever eight-team bracket they wind up in.
After five games, Merrill was winless but that fifth game, a 28-14 loss to La Crosse Central, got the Blue Jays pointed in the right direction. Since then, they’ve won two of three and the loss was a close 14-7 defeat to Lakeland.
Merrill pulled a bit of an upset Friday, knocking off host Rhinelander 27-21 in overtime.
Now Merrill can clinch playoff eligibility if it pulls a major upset Friday.
“They’re going to come out raring to go,” Medford head coach Ted Wilson said. “That’s part of why we really need to look at this as an opportunity to get better and that there’s a bunch to play for. It’s not like stuff is set and in the clear. They’re going to be raring to go. It’s at their place, they’re on a two-game winning streak. They kinda remind me of our team from 2017 when we made it into the playoffs at 3-3, 3-6. We got better at the end of that year and so have they.”
Merrill’s upset Friday was powered by quarterback Caleb DeJong, who ran for 162 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. Like Medford, Merrill’s offensive plan of attack isn’t built on finesse.
“Their linemen are big,” Wilson said. “They’re pretty big all the way across the board. They’re running a lot of power football, so it’s going to be very similar styles. We run a lot of power football, they’re going to run a lot of power football. We’ll see which team is better at it.”
DeJong leads Merrill with 738 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. Eddie Collinsworth has 330 yards and averages 3.5 yards per carry. The size Wilson refers to is shown on a roster that includes nine juniors and seniors over 200 pounds.
Merrill responded last week after Rhinelander completed a last-ditch eightpoint touchdown drive to tie the game at 21-21 with 14 seconds left. Merrill held Rhinelander scoreless on the first possession of overtime and then won it on Collinsworth’s 1-yard run.
Medford has won the last four games in the series, starting with a 2015 WIAA Division 3 Level 1 game the Raiders won on a walk-off field goal by Ben Meier.
_ Rib Lake-Prentice will end its tough 2019 season in Prentice Friday against the Auburndale Apaches, who have dominated every team they’ve faced this season with the exception of Marawood Conference powers Stratford and Edgar, who beat them 55-0 and 27-0 respectively.
Take away those two games and it’s been an impressive offensive season for the Apaches under head coach Jay Anderson mainly due to their balance.
Quarterback Cooper Weinfurter is completing 62% of his passes (84 for 136) for 1,005 yards and 10 touchdowns with just three interceptions.
The team has rushed for nearly 1,200 yards, led by small but hard-to-tackle senior Kyle Peterson (515 yards) and Dylan Paun (323 yards), another senior who is a bit bigger at 6-1, 171 pounds. Weinfurter also has six rushing touchdowns.
Auburndale has held its opponents to eight points or less in five of its six wins. The Apaches are 2-2 in Marawood play and would clinch a playoff spot with a win. Rib Lake-Prentice (0-4, 0-8) is coming off a 53-8 loss at Hurley where it moved the football much better than it had in recent weeks.
“They have a strong offensive unit,” Hawks’ co-head coach Jonah Campbell said of the Apaches. “Defensively we’re going to have to game plan something against an offense we haven’t really seen that spreads it out and throws the ball around. On offense, we’ll see if we can piece together a few drives like we did against Hurley and try to get in the end zone a few more times to finish up the year. It would be nice just to have some drives that we sustain and finish. I know we haven’t had that opportunity even to get into the red zone much this year. We’re looking to build off of this game and hopefully the morale is high to bring it early in the game this week.”