Mike's BlogDude, whatever I want to talk about
October 30, 2012 | 05:25 PM
Note: This exclusive column appears on page 1C of Wednesday's Lake Geneva Regional News.
We are witnessing a historic time in area high school football playoffs.
For only the second time, both the Badger and Big Foot gridiron boys advanced to Level 3, or the third round, of the WIAA playoffs.
On Friday night, third-seeded Badger went on the road in a hostile environment and upset the dangerous, pass-happy Franklin Sabers, 28-21. Meanwhile, in Walworth, Big Foot took part in another yawner, building a 28-0 halftime lead en route to a 49-7 evisceration of rival Brodhead.
Rewind back to 2009. Badger finished the season with two losses and was led by a gritty running quarterback with a wrestling background in John Leibforth. In the Division 2 playoffs, the Badgers made it to the third round for the first time in school history thanks to victories over Whitnall (led by current Wisconsin Badger quarterback Joel Stave) and South Milwaukee. However, a one-point loss to Franklin ended Badger's run at 9-3.
Head 15 minutes west, and the Chiefs were untouchable and hungry in '09. A year after losing in the Division 4 state championship to Wautoma Faith Christian (which featured current Wisconsin star Jared Abbrederis), the Chiefs, led by current St. Cloud State running back Michael Walker, ran the table.
They finished off the school's first state championship run with a 42-13 victory in the D4 state title. Walker ran for a championship-game record 255 yards. It was my first time covering a state game in Madison, and right away I could sense how special football is at Big Foot.
This year, it may seem like deja vu. The Badgers feature a gritty, run-first quarterback, Peter Krien, who also has a wrestling background. Like the 2009 team, this fall's Badgers rack up big chunks of yardage in the ground game but have a couple game-breakers, much like former player Trevor York, who can make a dynamic play in the passing game.
Like 2009, Badger started with a home game against a metro Milwaukee-area school, Muskego, and traveled to Milwaukee County for round two in Franklin. During both runs, the Badgers shut down a superior passing squad (Whitnall in '09, Franklin in '12) and ran all over both opponents. Like 2009, this year's team features two 1,000-yard rushers with Krien and Robert Johnson.
One slight difference is caliber of opponent, though. Never before has Badger faced a defending state champion like it will Friday against Kenosha Bradford. While the Red Devils have three losses, they know how to win in November, and nothing trumps experience.
But on the positive end, Badger has never hosted a third-round playoff tilt. Expect the student section to be jumping, ripe with Santa Claus costumes and firing off its own rendition of the "Twelve days of Christmas." The Badger kids finish the song with "and a state championship ring." Anything can happen, and Badger is three wins from a state title.
As for Big Foot, similarities are evident as well. Like '09, the Chiefs feature a running back who is breaking as many records as he does tackles. Mason Dixon, who has racked up 1,590 yards and 32 touchdowns, actually broke Walker's school rushing record. Who knows, maybe Dixon will break Walker's state-title game record in a couple weeks?
Also, continuing the tradition of skilled linemen from '09, senior defensive lineman Garett Cary is a finalist for the state's top lineman. Cary is the school's all-time sacks leader. This year's bunch features a big-play receiver, Matt Ripkey, much like Alec McGreevy in '09. And like three years ago, the Chiefs have rolled through the first two rounds without a hitch.
One difference in this year's team is quarterback Carter Hehr, hands down the best running quarterback in school history. The Chiefs have never had this kind of dual threat under center. The exceptional athlete, who holds the school record for interceptions, has run for 600 yards and passed for 835. With 28 total touchdowns, including a kick and punt return, the only time Hehr comes off the field is when the team is punting. While he tends to run first, Hehr is deadly accurate when he throws. He has completed a mind-boggling 78 percent of his passes (46-for-59), and Ripkey, Dixon, Gus Wedig and Daniel Pierce provide weapons downfield.
Both teams host third-round playoff games this Friday. Badger will have its hands full, but so will the Chiefs. They are facing fellow unbeaten Lakeside Lutheran. The Spartans are very similar to Big Foot, with a power running game and stingy defense.
No matter the outcome of this weekend's games, this postseason has been plenty of fun for me, too. After Badger's win over Franklin, I interviewed coach Matt Hensler while being filmed by TMJ4's "PrepsPlus." No makeup, no prep time, but somehow I pulled off the interview without cracking up or being fake for the camera.
The night wasn't missing its share of bizarre moments, as one student took a picture of me taking pictures and another tweeted "whereisramczyk?" With the emergence of social media, nothing is private anymore, and I can have direct dialogue with readers and fans alike.
The journalist in me says I hope both Badger and Big Foot make it to state. The 30-year-old husband and loving dog owner says it would be nice to finally have a Friday night off. Finally, the passionate, crazed sports fan in me simply loves to watch good football at any level, and Friday's games won't disappoint.
Badger 28, Kenosha Bradford 21
Big Foot 35, Lakeside Lutheran 21