Raiders and Pirates enjoy homefield advantage in first playoff round
WIAA LEVEL 1 FOOTBALL
BY MATT FREY
After highly successful regular seasons, the Medford Raiders and Gilman Pirates will start their WIAA playoff drives Friday at 7 p.m. with home games in Level 1 of their respective tournaments.
_ In Division 3, the Medford Raiders put the finishing touches on a perfect 9-0 season last week Friday with a 44-7 blowout win at Merrill and drew the twoseed in their eight-team grouping Saturday morning.
That creates a first-round matchup with seventh-seeded Hayward-Lac Courte Oreilles, who went 6-3 this fall in the expanded, 10-team Heart O’ North Conference.
The Hurricanes, who will join the Great Northern Conference for football next fall, have had a solid season under first-year head coach Chris Berghammer, who came to Hayward after stints at Clayton and Cumberland.
“He’s done a pretty nice job up there with them,” Medford head coach Ted Wilson said. “He’s transitioned them from more of a wishbone, flexbone type team into a spread team. So they’re three to four wide all the time. They’ve got a really nice running back in this Sorenson kid. The quarterback’s got a really nice arm and they have at least one really good receiver. They’re a tough team. They’ve won six games. That’s a lot of games to win. If you win six games you’re a good football team. We just have to take care of the ball and concentrate on getting better.”
The running back Wilson spoke of is Nate Sorensen, a 6-foot, 190-pound senior, who has gained 1,253 yards while averaging 7.1 yards per carry this fall, according to stats posted by Wissports. net. He’s scored 20 rushing touchdowns and also has a touchdown catch out of the backfield.
Sorensen had a monster 290-yard game with five touchdowns in a 49-31 win over Chetek-Weyerhaeuser in week five and 243 yards and three scores against winless Cameron in week three. Maybe more impressively, he had 177 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries in a 52-26 week-four loss to what was then an undefeated team from Bloomer.
Austin Wessel, a 6-1, 175-pound senior, has quarterbacked Hayward since week three and finished with 1,019 yards while completing nearly 65% of his passes (73 of 113). His top target is Danny Toles, a 6-foot junior who had 30 receptions for 373 yards.
“It looks like their bread and butter is to run the ball,” Wilson said, even though the Hurricanes like to spread defenses out. “(Sorensen’s) got 1,200 yards. I think that we have to stop the run first just like we want to do for everybody and then play good defense and not let them over the top of us with the pass.”
Medford counters with a dominant run-first offense led by Ean Wilson (1,669 yards and 24 touchdowns) and Emett Grunwald (674 yards and seven touchdowns) and a first-team defense that’s allowed points to only one team, 14 to Mosinee, during the regular season.
Hayward’s defense seems to have been steadily improving after allowing 49 points to conference champion Northwestern in a 49-0 week-two loss and 52 points and 31 points in back-to-back weeks to Bloomer and Chetek-Weyerhaeuser. The Hurricanes were solid in week eight but got no offensive help in a 24-0 loss to 8-1 Cumberland last week. Overall, the Hurricanes allowed an average of 185 rushing yards per game and 139 passing yards a game.
Menomonie (6-1 Big Rivers, 8-1 overall) got the bracket’s number-one seed, much to the chagrin of Raiders’ fans. The Mustangs, who have a long and decorated playoff history under head coach Joe LaBuda, host eighth-seeded Lakeland (3-3 GNC, 6-3) Friday, while fifth-seeded Mosinee (5-1 GNC, 6-3) goes to fourthseeded New Richmond (6-1 Middle Border, 7-2 overall). The Hayward/Medford winner plays either sixth-seeded Rhinelander (3-3 GNC, 6-3) or third-seeded River Falls (6-1 Big Rivers, 7-2 overall) in Level 2.
“The Big Rivers has a reputation for being a really good conference and has the reputation for putting teams deep into the playoffs,” Wilson said. “I guess I was happy with the two and we’ll just keep working from there. It is what it is.”
_ In Division 7, the Gilman Pirates are riding a five-game winning streak into the playoffs after ending the regular season with a 20-0 win over Loyal. Gilman finished 5-2 in the CloverWood Conference and 7-2 overall. The third-seeded Pirates will host the sixth-seeded Pittsville Panthers, who went 4-1 in the Central Wisconsin Small Conference and 5-3 overall. They did not have a week-nine game and last played in week eight, beating Menominee Indian 66-0.
Their losses are 38-0 to Auburndale, 26-6 to their conference champion and the bracket’s second seed Almond-Bancroft and 14-0 to Potosi-Cassville, all of whom are playoff teams.
Gilman head coach Robin Rosemeyer said offensively, the Panthers will show several different formations, but like to do a lot of work out of I-formations. Senior running back Eli Fox is one of the key players to watch. He has 997 yards in eight games, according to Wissports. net, and nine touchdowns and he was the CWC Small’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2018.
The Panthers will also use shotgun sets, where run-pass options come into play with signal-caller Matthew Kissner.
“The key to the whole thing is keeping their quarterback from getting out of the pocket,” Rosemeyer said. “On film he looks like a big kid. He has a really good arm.”
Kissner has thrown for 13 touchdowns, though his completion percent-
See LEVEL 1 age isn’t great at 42.5% (37 for 87). Fox has caught four of those touchdowns. Rosemeyer said another player to watch is Aiden Kolar, who is a quick scatback who comes into the game on shotgun formations. He has 366 rushing yards.
“They look pretty good defensively for the most part,” Rosemeyer said. “They’re a good football team.”
Pittsville averages 309 yards per game offensively, while Gilman was the CloverWood Conference’s top-ranked defense and allowed only about 138 yards per game overall. The Pirates produced about 350 yards per game offensively during the regular season, while Pittsville gave up about 212.
The winner draws either seventhseeded Athens (4-3 CloverWood, 5-4 overall) or Almond-Bancroft (5-0 CWC Small, 9-0) in Level 2. The other side of the bracket is headlined by top-seeded Edgar (4-1 Marawood, 8-1 overall), who hosts eighth-seeded Greenwood (4-3 Clover-Wood, 6-3) on Friday. Fifth-seeded Loyal (5-2, CloverWood, 5-4) goes to fourth-seeded Hurley (7-2 overall).