Raiders, Pirates look to take out two of area’s perennial powers
WIAA LEVEL 3 FOOTBALL
BY MATT FREY
The Medford Raiders and Gilman Pirates each extended their football seasons with satisfying wins Friday in Level 2 of the WIAA football playoffs.
Level 3 provides each with an opportunity to reach next weekend’s state semifinals in their respective divisions and take out two of northern Wisconsin’s perennial football powers.
_ In Division 3, second-seeded Medford puts its 11-0 record on the line at top-seeded Menomonie, who comes in at 10-1 and is riding a four-game win streak since being upset 14-13 in week seven at Superior, when the Mustangs’ senior quarterback Tyler Werner did not play due to injury.
Menomonie shared the Big Rivers Conference title with River Falls as both went 6-1 in league play. The Mustangs beat River Falls 21-7 in week four. Medford beat River Falls 16-14 in a Level 2 playoff thriller Friday.
Medford is 3-0 against Big Rivers teams this year, also having beaten Rice Lake 14-0 in week one and Chippewa Falls 42-0 in week two. Menomonie beat Chippewa Falls 42-18 in week three and Rice Lake 35-0 in week eight. Both teams have also played Lakeland. Medford won 49-7 in week four, while Menomonie destroyed the T-Birds 52-8 in Level 1.
More often than not, Menomonie has been in Division 2 come playoff time, while Medford has been in Division 3 since 2002, so the teams have not played against each other since 1996. But the two teams have scrimmaged each other the past two Augusts in a four-team session that’s also included Edgar and Eau Claire Regis. The combined record of those four teams in 2019 is a remarkable 42-2.
“Having scrimmaged them the last two years is going to be helpful,” Medford head coach Ted Wilson said. “That’s part of this whole thing of about our schedule and the conference and the scrimmage. I’ve been asked for years, ‘why do you go to such a difficult scrimmage?’ The reasons are if you’re going to be a good team you have to be able to play good teams. That scrimmage is heavily loaded. There’s two losses in the entire scrimmage. Menomonie’s got one and Edgar’s got one and everybody’s still playing.”
No one goes into a scrimmage heavily scheming against each other, but this year’s scrimmage gave Medford’s coaches and players their first inkling that something big could be brewing.
“We did not get handled,” Wilson said. “I’ve been to the scrimmage before where we’ve been physically handled or been to a game or suddenly you get physically handled a bit by a team. That was not the case this year.”
Menomonie head coach Joe LaBuda (315-58) will be inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2020. The team has made the playoffs for 30 straight years now under his direction and has won five state championships and had two secondplace finishes in that run.
Wilson said offensively, the Mustangs are a lot like Medford, using different formations and looks to ultimately run the same plays. Menomonie, though, will use a lot of shifts and motions to get defenses thinking. The Mustangs have a knack for big plays and aren’t afraid to throw out a trick play or two.
“(LaBuda) really tries to get kids confused about what the formation is,” Wilson said. “They’re going to pre-snap shift a bunch and try to get us outnumbered in locations. It’s a power toss, blast type of game, kinda like us. Multiple formations, same plays and then a little play action to try to get the ball over the top.
They’ll be very good.”
Werner has a fine 70.4% completion rate (76 of 108) for 1,222 yards and 13 touchdowns with just one interception. Menomonie isn’t reliant on one running back as DeVauntaye Parker, Will Ockler, Zach DeMarce and Thomas Poplawski all have had big games and big plays this year when called upon. Brock Thornton, a 6-5 junior, and senior Davis Barthen have been key targets for Werner.
Menomonie’s defense allows 126 rushing yards and 54 passing yards per game.
The teams have met three times in WIAA playoff history with Menomonie holding a 2-1 lead. All three matchups took place in Division 2 in the 1990s. Menomonie won 36-28 in 1990 and Medford won 42-21 in 1991 in first-round games played in Eau Claire. Menomonie won a first-round game in 1996 on its home field 27-0.
“I think River Falls is much bigger, but I think Menomonie’s faster and Menomonie plays very physical football,” Wilson said. “Their kids are extremely well coached. They have a ton of history there. That history plays a big role in who they are. Menomonie football is the number-one sport over there so all their good athletes play.”
This is Medford’s first Level 3 playoff appearance since 2015. The Raiders haven’t advanced to Level 4 since 2003.
_ A decisive 35-15 at unbeaten Almond-Bancroft gives third-seeded Gilman (9-2) some momentum heading into its toughest matchup of the season, a date at top-seeded Edgar (10-1). The Wildcats’
See LEVEL 3 only loss was a 6-0 loss to undefeated Stratford in week eight in what was the Marawood Conference’s championship game.
The Wildcats are the defending Division runner-up. They had a 15-8 firstquarter lead in last year’s title game, but Black Hawk scored the next 14 points and ruined Edgar’s undefeated season with a 22-15 win at Camp Randall Stadium.
Edgar has not been threatened by anyone else but Stratford this season. The Wildcats beat a solid Auburndale team 27-0 in week three, routed Dover-Eyota, Minn. 42-8 in week four, pounded Division 4 Mauston 42-0 in week two and beat Middle Border Conference co-champion Baldwin-Woodville, another Division 4 school, 26-12 in week one.
Under Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sinz, Edgar has played in 12 state championship games since 1979, winning seven of them. Gilman has won two Division 7 state titles since Rosemeyer took over in 2005 and appeared in another championship game.
Gilman head coach Robin Rosemeyer said defense and special teams are major factors in Edgar’s success.
“It’s going to be quite a challenge,” Rosemeyer said. “They will be the best team we’ve seen this year. Their whole defense is just very fast and very physical. They just present so many challenges trying to run the ball. They’re going to play a five-man front more than likely. Whether it’s run blocking or pass protection, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on us. They just kind of pin their ears back and go. It’s not like they’re worried about getting trapped or any gap control. They just go.”
According to wissports.net statistics, Edgar’s Austin Dahlke has 10 tackles for losses and four sacks among his 30 total tackles and Ethan Heil has seven among his 13. Carson Lemmer has 52 tackles and three fumble recoveries. Kaleb Hafferman had four forced fumbles and three interceptions, two of which he’s returned for touchdowns. The defensive unit is allowing about 80 yards per game.
Offensively, Rosemeyer said Edgar’s style doesn’t differ much from what the Pirates have seen most of the year. It’s the speed Gilman will have to be ready for. Hafferman is the leading rusher with 809 yards and 20 touchdowns in 11 games. Mason Stout has 347 yards in eight scores, Dahlke had 343 yards and six touchdowns and Kyle Brewster had 328 yards and four touchdowns.
Left-handed quarterback Konnor Wolf has completed 43 of 83 passes for 813 yards and nine touchdowns. He has been intercepted five times. Brewster has 254 yards while Drew Guden has a team-high four touchdown catches.
“Their kickoffs are going to the end zone or right down to the goal line, so field position is a big deal,” Rosemeyer said. “A lot of times teams have had to start at their own 20 and when you start at your own 20 against a defense like that and you don’t get a first down and you have to punt, they’re always playing with a short field. Getting first downs and not giving them the short field will be big. They’re very well-known for their punt returns, so we have to be careful of what we do on punts.”
Gilman’s defense led the CloverWood Conference this season and has been on a roll since a week-four loss to Abbotsford. If the Pirates stay turnover free, they believe they can give the Wildcats a run.
“Everybody’s going to be pretty good at this level,” Rosemeyer said. “Everybody is going to be facing a tough challenge this week. Sometimes you just sit back and feel fortunate that you’re still part of the equation. Have fun with it.”