By RICK SOLEM
They were the WIAA football state runners-up last season. They won titles the three seasons prior. They have five football state championships and have been to the big game eight times.
They are the Waunakee High School football team and at 7 p.m. Friday, they head to Holmen for an opening-round, Division 2 matchup as one of the best underdogs ever in the state. Hear it on AM 1410 WIZM with Mitch Reynolds and Dan Deicher.
It appears to be a tough matchup for Holmen, an undefeated 9-0 and a No. 2 seed in the Group B of the Division 2 field, but, perhaps a good one mentally.
Usually, a first-round matchup for a top seed is a game that could often get overlooked – players eyeing a second-round game before playing a supposedly inferior opponent in the opener - like Homestead (9-0) taking on Milwaukee Madison University (3-5) on the other side of the bracket.
WIAA HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS
No. 6 La Crosse Central (7-2) at No. 3 Fort Atkinson (8-1)
*No. 6 Evansville (5-4) at No. 3 La Crosse Logan (7-2)
No. 5 Black River Falls (5-4) at No. 4 Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau (5-4)
No. 8 Durand (6-3) at No. 1 Arcadia (9-0)
No. 5 Cuba City (5-3) at No. 4 Whitehall (7-2)
No. 8 Florence (3-5) at No. 1 Pepin/Alma (9-0)
No. 5 Weston (7-2) at No. 4 De Soto (6-3)
And Holmen is a perfect case of a team that could be looking to the second round for more reasons than just underestimating the lowly seventh seed and its 5-4 record. Holmen could also be looking to Round 2 and its rivals potentially looming.
La Crosse Central (7-2) is a six seed against third-seeded Fort Atkinson (8-1). The Vikings could smell a rematch with the Red Raiders, whom they beat 33-14, but it was 14-14 at halftime the first time around.
That, however, is not happening, because Waunakee isn’t some run-of-the-mill, lowly seed that barely deserves to be in the playoffs. They’re a team that has made the state championship four years in a row and the playoffs 17 years in a row.
“They're a better team than they're 5-4 record,” Holmen coach Steve King said. “This will be an interesting test for us.
“All the history they have … their reputation, we know of that coming in. This isn't your typical 2-vs.-7 matchup. It's more like a 4-5 matchup, an even tossup here.”
Plus, their coach, Pat Rice, along with King, will both be inducted into the Wisconsin Coaches Association Hall of Fame in the spring.
With coaches like that, it’s obvious, both teams will be ready to play.
What you’re going to see from both teams is run-dominant offenses, but Holmen will be much more diverse.
Waunakee leaves no secret to who’s getting the ball and that’s 5-foot-11, 173-pound Troy Laufenberg. The junior has 1,282 yards (7.2 avg.) and 21 touchdowns rushing.
“Their offense has struggled a bit to get things going,” King said. “That may have something to do with the defenses they're playing against.
“They're so athletic, if you let down at all, they'll score on you.”
Athletic, yes, but the best athlete on the field is Holmen’s Dillon Martinez.
The 5-11, 158-pound senior has a 13.5-yard-per-carry average. He has 44 rushes for 593 yards and eight touchdowns to go along with six receptions for 151 yards (25.1 avg.) and two touchdowns.
“He's just something special when he gets that ball in space,” King said. “Not too many people are going to be able to catch him and he's got some moves out there.”
But Martinez is just part of the Vikings’ three-headed monster in the backfield. Quarterback Tyler Anderson leads the triple-option offense in rushing. The 5-11, 166-pound senior has 725 yards and 9 touchdowns, along with 548 yards passing. He’s 27-for-60 with 7 TDs and 1 INT in the air.
Behind Anderson 5-9, 143-pound senior, Mitchell Dienger, gets most of the workload with 108 carries for 468 yards (4.3 avg.) and seven touchdowns.
As impressive as the offense has been, however – an offense that’s put up 35-points a game – it’s the defense that’s the backbone of this team, led by tackle Hunter Huaser.
“He's our rock in the middle so to speak,” King said, “… a huge rock. Very strong. Very agile.
“Teams have really struggled running the football on us and he's a big reason why.”
King added proudly that, while his team has only given up 41 points, the defense has given up just 35 of those points.
No. 6 CENTRAL (7-2) at No. 3 FORT ATKINSON (8-1)
Here this game on AM 580 WKTY with Mike Kearns and Scott Erickson.
Fort Atkinson’s lone loss on the season came to undefeated Mona Grove, a Division 3 team.
The Blackhawks are led by running back 6-foot, 180-pound senior Tyler Zaspel and his 809 yards (6.0 avg.), 11 touchdowns rushing. Fort Atkinson is scoring 26.7 points a game and giving up 18.3.
Central’s losses came in back-to-back games against Holmen, followed by Logan in a barn burner at UW-La Crosse (30-20).
The Red Raiders are led by Lamont Murphy’s 1,233 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing. The 5-10, 165-pound senior has a 9.6-yard average. Teammate Mitchell Johnson-Martin, the 5-9, 170-pound senior quarterback, is 27-for-51 for 463 yards with 7 TDs and 3 INTs. Max Hether has 11 catches for 207 yards and 2 TDs to lead Central’s receivers.
Brett Behselich, a 6-3, 170-pound junior, is 74-for-127 for 1,168 yards with 9 TDs and 5 INTs for the Blackhawks under center. James Nachtigal is his top target with 37 receptions for 686 yards (18.5 avg.) and 7 TDs.
No. 6 Evansville/Albany (5-4) at No. 3 LOGAN (7-2)
This game is at 4 p.m. Saturday on AM 580 WKTY.
Logan gave Holmen the best run for its money this season, losing 21-14 two weeks ago. They then had a tough time in a 32-28 win over Black River Falls heading into the playoffs.
Quarterback Mitch Schreiner, who’s a 5-9, 145-pound senior, is 57-for-114 for 788 yards with 7 TDs and 3 INTs.
Leading the Rangers in rushing is senior Raekwon Williams, who has 152 carries for 1,135 yards (7.5 avg.) and 16 TDs.
OTHER LOCAL MATCHUPS
Also in Division 3, a pair of teams were awarded playoff spots in West Salem (3-6) and Onalaska (4-5).
West Salem is the eighth seed, going against Lodi (9-0), which is led by 6-foot, 160-pound senior running back Garrett Bollant, who has 18 touchdowns and 1,430 yards rushing (8.6 avg.).
Onalaska (4-5) has the seventh seed and faces Reedsburg (8-1).
All the following games except Melrose-Mindoro will be played at 7 p.m. Friday.
Fourth-seeded Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau (5-4) takes on Coulee foe Black River Falls (5-4).
These teams met five weeks ago, and behind 139 yards and two rushing touchdowns from Erik Van Vleet, G-E-T won 42-31.
Van Vleet has 1,258 yards (9.8 avg.) and 16 touchdowns rushing.
Group A in this division is a tough one.
Top-seeded and undefeated Arcadia (9-0) takes on No. 8 Durand (6-3).
With a 7-2 record, Westby has just the seventh seed and takes on 9-0 Mondovi at No. 2.
Westby running back Travis Hofslien has 1,459 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns, while Mondovi is led by Brett Vetterkind and his 798 yards and nine touchdowns rushing.
Second-seeded Brookwood (8-1) will host No. 7 Riverdale (5-4). Brookwood, which is coming off its first conference championship in 26 years, won this matchup in Week 2, 41-0.
Brookwood running back Paul Ryan has 898 yards (7.2 avg.) and 11 touchdowns rushing.
Fourth-seeded Whitehall (7-2) will play No. 5 Cuba City (5-3), which is led by running back Preston Droessler’s 757 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing.
At 2 p.m. Saturday, No. 8 Melrose-Mindoro (4-5) will head to top-seeded Darlington (8-1).
Darlington has three running backs with 15 touchdowns each – Myles Leahy, Tanner Wiegel and Jason Singer.
Leahy has 1,109 yards rushing (8.7 avg.), Wiegel has 1,008 yards (14.2 avg.) and Singer has 810 yards rushing (12.3 avg.).
In this division, both Pepin/Alma (9-0) and Cochrane-Fountain City (7-2) were awarded top seeds.
Pepin/Alma hosts 3-5 Florence, while C-FC hosts 4-5 Independence/Gilmanton.
C-FC is led by running back Jordan Eikamp with 893 yards (8.8 avg.) and eight touchdowns rushing. Quarterback Cale Lisowski is 138-for-216 for 2,093 yards with 27 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also has 349 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing.
Receivers Brody Halverson, Eikamp and Evan Skroch all have over 400 yards. Skroch has seven touchdown receptions, while teammate Garrett Marklowitz leads the team with eight touchdown receptions to go along with 337 yards.
Bangor (5-4) was awarded the fifth seed and heads to 6-3 Pittsville, which has won five in a row and six of its last seven, while Bangor has lost three of four.
Seventh-seeded Blair-Taylor (4-5) heads to No. 2 New Lisbon (7-2).
De Soto earned the fourth seed with a 6-3 record and hosts No. 5 Weston (7-2).