High school football kicks off Friday
Will 2014 be a bounce-back season for area football?
Walworth Big Foot was the only team in The Gazette's circulation area to advance past the second round of the WIAA playoffs a year ago, as the majority of teams were one and done.
After dominating the landscape for years, a number of tradition-rich schools from the area deserve a mulligan. The question is, will they use it?
The season kicks off officially tonight with a handfull of games, including Waunakee at Madison Edgewood in a Badger crossover game, but Friday Night Lights begins in earnest tomorrow night.
Here's a look at a few storylines to keep on eye on in 2014.
n Does the Rock Valley dominance finally come to an end for Big Foot? The Chiefs have won 48 straight conference games and seven straight Rock Valley South titles but lost a wealth of talent, including longtime coach Rodney Wedig, who takes over at Beloit Memorial.
Brodhead/Juda appears to have the best chance of dethroning Big Foot in the Rock Valley South. The teams meet in the regular-season finale on Friday, Oct. 17, in Brodhead.
n Will Milton's rise back to prominence in the Badger South continue? The Red Hawks won only three games in Bill O'Leary's first season at his alma mater, but they made the playoffs and gave Division 3 state champion Monona Grove its closest game of the season in losing 14-7. Monona Grove has not lost a Badger South Conference game in six years.
n Can Sun Prairie keep its stranglehold on the Big Eight? The Cardinals have gone unbeaten in conference play in winning back-to-back Big Eight titles, but stubbed their toes in losing a Level 2 playoff game after finishing runner-up in Division 1 in 2012.
n Waterford, Lake Geneva Badger and Wilmot shared the Southern Lakes title in 2013, and the race appears to be wide open again this season.
Waterford is looking for its fourth its fourth straight title, while Badger shoots for an eighth straight playoff berth under coach Matt Hensler. The Badgers return only three starters.
Here's a look at three area games Friday:
n Beloit Memorial (0-0) at Janesville Craig (0-0), 7 p.m., Monterey Stadium—The Rodney Wedig era begins at Beloit. Wedig won a Division 4 state title at Walworth Big Foot in 2009 and led the Chiefs to runner-up finishes in 2008 and 2012.
The Purple Knights were 0-9 last season and have won just two games in the last five years. Beloit hasn't been to the playoffs since 2009.
“We're really not sure what to expect from Beloit,” Craig coach Ben McCormick. “There are a lot of unknowns as far as what might see, both offensively and defensively, from them.
“But with Coach Wedig's track record and the success that he had building a great program at Big Foot, we expect Beloit to be a much-improved football team.”
Craig counters with a senior-dominated team. McCormick plans to start 20 seniors.
“That's a good sign in our league to start that many seniors,” McCormick said. “Plus, with 75 kids on the team who are either juniors or seniors, we have pretty good depth at most positions.
“It's very important to get off to a good start. The kids are well aware that we play (Janesville) Parker in Week 2, but right now all they need to think about is Beloit.”
n Best guess: Craig 34, Beloit 13.
n Janesville Parker (0-0) at Middleton (0-0), 7 p.m., Breitenbach Stadium—The Vikings haven't beaten Middleton since 2006 and will be heavy underdogs on the road in this Big Eight opener.
Parker has won four games in coach Eric Skrzypchak's first two seasons. It needs to find the end zone with more regularity this season if it hopes to make the playoffs for the first time since 2010. The Vikings averaged only 15 points per game a year ago and were held to 10 or less in five of nine games.
“The biggest key for us offensively is taking care of the ball,” Skrzypchak said. “Too many good drives ended for us last season with a turnover. If we can eliminate those, and cut back on our penalties, we should see improvement on both sides of the ball.
“We've got to be able to step up and make plays, and we've got the guys to do that. It's a matter of playing with confidence and going out and executing on each and every play.”
Sophomore Juan Harris will play for Parker. The massive 6-foot-5, 365-pound defensive tackle announced this week that he had narrowed his Division I choices to five, with the University of Wisconsin at the top of his list.
Middleton has made 18 straight playoff appearances and never has trouble reloading. The Cardinals' program is as deep and talented as any around.
Coach Tim Simon must replace his entire offensive backfield from a year ago, but last season's unbeaten junior varsity team should help make the transition a smooth one.
n Best guess: Middleton 28, Parker 6.
n Delavan-Darien (0-0) at East Troy (0-0). 7 p.m., East Troy High School—Is there any way this year's game can top last year's track meet that saw the two teams combine for 122 points in the Comets' 70-52 win?
Delavan-Darien quarterback Jesse Collins rushed for 219 yards, threw for 143 and scored seven touchdowns in the game a year ago, and he returns for what should be a star-studded senior season. Collins was the Southern Lakes' offensive player of the year in 2013 after throwing for 1,141 yards and rushing for 961. He accounted for 33 touchdowns a year ago.
Bret St. Arnauld takes over for Steve Tenhagen as Delavan-Darien's coach. St. Arnauld comes from the successful Niagara/Goodman/Pembine co-op program in Northern Wisconsin.
The Trojans return eight starters on offense, but quarterback Brandon Matz is not one of them. Matz threw for 2,357 yards and 29 touchdowns last season.
East Troy must play better on defense. The Trojans allowed more than 30 points a game a year ago, including the 70 Delavan-Darien put up in week one.
n Best guess: East Troy 41, Delavan-Darien 26.
--John Barry, Gazette sports writer
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
All games 7 p.m.
Waunakee at Madison Edgewood
Beloit Memorial at Janesville Craig
Janesville Parker at Middleton
Madison Memorial at Madison East
Verona at Madison West
Madison La Follette at Sun Prairie
Baraboo at Milton
DeForest at Fort Atkinson
Portage at Monroe
Sauk Prairie at Oregon
Mount Horeb at Monona Grove
Stoughton at Reedsburg
New Glarus/Monticello at Edgerton
West Allis Hale at Lake Geneva Badger
Elkhorn at Cudahy
Westosha Central at Walworth Big Foot
Orfordville Parkview at Columbus
Cambridge at Beloit Turner
Burlington Catholic Central at Whitewater
River Valley at Brodhead/Juda
Evansville/Albany at Union Grove
Delavan-Darien at East Troy
Palmyra-Eagle at Martin Luther
Jefferson at Watertown Luther Prep
Lodi at McFarland
Shoreland Lutheran at Clinton