By RICK SOLEM
Undefeated vs. undefeated. No. 1 vs. No. 2. Offense vs. defense.
The third round of the WIAA Division 2 playoffs features two teams that have gotten here by different means.
Oshkosh North and its read-option offense vs. Holmen and its 3-4 defense. The two teams kickoff at 4 p.m. Saturday at Titan Stadium in Oshkosh, Wis.
Neither team is very conventional in what they specialize. Conventional at a high school level, anyway, but, between the two, a 3-4 defense doesn’t sound all that odd, except to North coach Chris Kujawa.
“Holmen is a little more unconventional than we're used to seeing,” he said of Holmen’s defense. “What they're playing front wise isn't rare, but how they're playing it, we haven't seen that type of style.”
But the coach couldn’t quite explain what he meant.
“How they line up … I know what they're playing, but how they're moving around is very unique.”
The numbers aren’t much different. Holmen’s defense is giving up just 6.3 points a game, while scoring 32.4. Oshkosh North is averaging 31.5 and giving up 10.5.
But Holmen is predicated on its defense – with four shutouts and three more games giving up just 3 points - while North has gotten this far based on its offense.
“Similarities, we're both ball-controlled offense,” Kujawa said. “They just go about it in a little different manner than we do.”
The Spartans run a read-option led by 5-foot-6, 165-pound Nate Neveau. The senior has 1,181 yards passing with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions to go along with 953 yards and 13 touchdowns rushing.
“If you were to see him in the hallway, you'd probably say, “That's your starting quarterback?” North coach Chris Kujawa said. “He's a 1-in-25-, 1-in-10-year kid.
“You don't meet too many kids like him, that compete like this.”
Neveau’s favorite target is Cameron Parish (27 receptions, 409 yards, 4 TDs), but he spreads the ball around fairly well.
“He's a tremendous athlete,” Holmen coach Steve King said of the quarterback. “You can't let that size fool ya too much. You can't not know where he's at, at any time, or he'll single handedly take it to the house.
“He's definitely one player we're going to have to keep our eyes on.”
Alongside Neveau, Alex Hintze is the go-to in the backfield with 929 yards (5.6 avg.) and 13 touchdowns.
Defensively, Oshkosh is, of course, not terrible, either.
“They have a tremendous inside linebacker,” King said. “The rest of their defense is very workman-like. In other words, they don't make a lot of mistakes.
“But that's really not the strong suit of their team. Their strong suit is their offense.”
While Oshkosh’s offense is all the hype and the quarterback is a three-year starter and they’re the No. 1 seed, it may be Holmen’s offense that is the difference.
King plays off his offense. Something about it’s all about the defense and he hopes the offense can just get a few touchdowns.
But this offense scores just as much as North. This option offense, with its three-headed monster in QB Tyler Anderson and RBs Mitchell Dienger and Dillon Martinez, is just as big a hype.
“It's that gosh dang option,” Kujawa complained. “It forces you to be disciplined. I know why they play it, and you're banking on the fact that one of the (defenders) is going to make a mistake and they're going to exploit it.”
But what may have Kujawa more worried are the guys blocking for those three. He’s just as worried about them as he is Holmen’s “unconventional” defense.
“Their center and their two guards are as good as I've seen this year,” he said. “Just nasty.”