Football Weekend: Blowouts dominate playoffs

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John Barry
Thursday, October 26, 2017

Waunakee 57, Beaver Dam 0.


Bangor 63, Royall 6.


Rcaine Horlick 66, Milwaukee Hamilton/Audubon 8.


Those are just a few of the lopsided scores that littered the landscape on the first night of the WIAA football playoffs last Friday.


The majority of opening-round games were decided by two touchdowns or more, with many implementing a running clock in the second half due to a 35-point winning margin. I witnessed that in Clinton, where the Cougars overwhelmed Brookfield Academy 42-3 in a Division 5 opener.


So it begs the question: What, if anything, can be done to alleviate the problem of first-round blowouts?


Should the WIAA go to a 10-game regular-season schedule and eliminate half the playoff field?


Or how about putting a cap on how many teams a conference is allowed? The Big Eight had seven teams qualify for the postseason. That's probably three more than it deserved in a very down year.


Jim Matthys doesn't think any changes need to be made to the current format. The Brodhead/Juda head coach has been part of one the state's most successful programs for two decades. The Cardinals had qualified for the playoffs for 25 straight years before falling short this season.


"Things are great the way they are now," Matthys said. "You saw blowouts in the first round, and you're going to see blowouts in the second and third rounds, too.


"The playoffs are an achievement, first and foremost. Maybe a team got off to a slow start for whatever reason--an injury, a lot of new kids playing varsity football for the first time or whatever the case might be. But by the time the regular season ends, you're playing really well. You should be rewarded for that and not left out of the playoffs."


Matthys said many factors go into how a team fares in the postseason, and seeding is not one of them. He believes injuries, team chemistry and strength of schedule have a huge impact on a long postseason run.


"Now you might get a lower seed and have to go on the road, but kids don't care, and I know as coaches, we don't either," Matthys said. "There are a lot of factors that go into postseason success, and certainly luck is one of them.


"In 2010, we beat Nekoosa in overtime in a (Division 4) quarterfinal game on the way to making it to the state finals. And to this day, I still say Nekoosa was the better team but the bounces went our way. That's why the playoffs are so special, because you just never know what can happen."


Matt Hensler also knows a little bit about the postseason. The Lake Geneva Badger coach has taken the Badgers to back-to-back Division 1 state semifinal berths, and the program has 12 straight playoff appearances.


Hensler echoed the sentiments of Matthys.


"Making the playoffs is a benchmark, a hallmark for a lot of schools," Hensler said. "It's a big deal. I would never want the WIAA to take that moment away from the kids, and I don't think they will.


"There were three or four six seeds that won opening-round games and even a seven seed (Laconia). Those teams aren't even in the field if you eliminate half the teams that qualify. I'm totally OK with the way things are right now."


No system is perfect. The WIAA's postseason football format is far from it. The Big Eight will likely have a team in the Division 1 state semifinals simply because six of the seven conference playoff teams were in the same bracket. Trust me when I say this: The Big Eight is not the state powerhouse that it once was.


With second-round games on tap Friday night, here's a look at the only two area teams left:


Prairie du Chien (8-2) at Clinton (10-0), Division 5, second round, 7 p.m. Friday, Clinton Middle School--The Blackhawks are in the playoffs for only the second time in the last seven years, while the Cougars are making a fifth straight appearance, including last year's state semifinal berth.


Prairie du Chien tied for third in the Southwest Wisconsin Conference, losing to Lancaster and River Valley.


The Blackhawks come in averaging 26.9 points per game thanks to a balanced attack. Quarterback Gavin Gillitzer has thrown for 1,328 yards and nine touchdowns, while tailback Tyler Smoak has rushed for 1,367 yards and 11 TDs.


The defense allowed 102 points in the two losses, including a 62-27 loss to Lancaster.


The more things change, the more they stay the same with Clinton. The Cougars put it on cruise control in their 42-3 opening-round win over Brookfield Academy.


Clinton continues to lead the state in rushing at 408.7 yards per game, and senior Zach Krause is the state's leading rusher with 2,202 yards for the season.


Defensively, scoring continues to be a problem for opponents. Clinton is allowing only 10.5 points per game and has held five of its last six opponents to seven points or less.


Best guess: Clinton 35, Prairie du Chien 13


Lake Geneva Badger (9-1) at Franklin (9-1), Division 1, second round, 7 p.m. Friday, Franklin High School--These two programs know each other very well. This is the third time since 2012 they've played each other in the postseason. Franklin eliminated Badger 35-14 in a state semifinal game a year ago.


Max Alba is the catalyst for the Sabers' high-powered offense. The senior quarterback and University of North Carolina baseball recruit has thrown for 1,845 yards and 21 touchdowns this season. He torched the Badgers for 296 yards and four TDs in last year's playoff win.


"He's really good, but he's not all they have," Hensler said of Alba. "They are running the same general schemes they were a year ago, and our job is to try and find a way to stop it.


"We certainly want to control clock and keep our offense on the field."


Badger counters with an offense that seems to be getting better and more efficient each week. The Badgers exacted revenge in the their playoff opener by dismantling Kenosha Bradford 42-26. Bradford had given Badger its only loss of the season in Week 2.


The Badgers are averaging 38.7 points per game and have piled up 133 points in their last three games.


Running back Will Keller went over the 1,000-yard mark last week and now has 1,068 yards rushing for the season.


"Our defense had to go through some growing pains early on," Hensler said. "We lost two kids that were all-state.


"Offensively, we have a blueprint and a plan that this year's group has really bought into. I think we're in a good spot."


Best guess: Franklin 27, Badger 14

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