You’ve read about Tristan Root, Aaron Borgerding, Carter Johnson, Tyler Werner and a few more. They are exceptional athletes, great leaders and keys to winning teams.
But there is more to it as the state high school playoffs head into the third round this weekend.
Just as important to success are defense and special teams, not to mention the unsung blockers up front.
Superior and Medford came up with vital special teams plays to stay alive, leading to Big Rivers teams Superior advancing in Division 2 and River Falls being bounced out in Division 3.
Superior faced a field goal attempt that would have tied the game and forced overtime. But the Spartans not only blocked the attempt, but returned it 87 yards for a touchdown with one second remaining in the 36-27 upset of No. 1 seed Pulaski.
That’s only part of the story. Pulaski took a 27-16 fourth quarter lead on a 95-yard run by Jo Jo O’Leary that looked like the ball game. But Superior answered with a score to pull within 27-24 and then took a 30-27 lead on Jarrett Gronski’s 11-yard run with 40 seconds to play. Pulaski managed to get in position for the field goal, but it wasn’t in the cards and Superior is heading to round three.
River Falls was in a tie game with Medford midway through the final period when a center snap sailed over the punter’s head and out of the end zone for a safety. Although Medford did not necessarily force the turnover, it benefited with a 16-14 win. A tough way to bow out for the Big Rivers co-champs, who had tied the game at 14-14 on Peter Noreen’s 59-yard pass to Joe Stoffel and had a chance late in the fourth quarter but couldn’t convert.
So it’s Medford that Menomonie gets in the third round this weekend with a chance to claim what might be called its share of the Big Rivers title after scoring earlier wins over Chippewa Falls and Rice Lake for a 3-0 record.
Heartbreaking losses took River Falls and Pulaski, and you can add St. Croix Central to the list. Central led 29-13 at the half and 36-19 in the third quarter but couldn’t hold on as Freedom scored two fourth quarter 6-pointers to force overtime and win it 49-43 with a touchdown. Ouch.
Borgerding does it all for Spring Valley, even on special teams. The Cardinals had a good lead but the grandson of legendary Spring Valley Hall of Fame coach Bob Thomas wanted to make sure. So he returned a third quarter punt 50 yards to pay dirt for the killer blow.
Defense. It doesn’t get any better than Mondovi, which makes sure you can’t roller skate in a Buffalo herd. For the ninth time in 11 games, the Buffaloes pitched a shutout and allowed just 157 yards. You can’t lose if you don’t give up any points.
Menomonie got outstanding play from Werner and a ground attack that piled up over 300 yards. But a key to the 35-13 win over New Richmond came in the second period. Holding a slim 7-0 lead, Thomas Poplawski came up with an interception and 34-yard romp to the end zone for a two-score lead. The Mustangs don’t lose leads like that.
Root had a hand in four touchdowns in the Regis win. But what is sometime overlooked is that he makes his share of key plays on defense. Along with 10 others. Colby had rushed for 365 yards in its playoff opening 35-14 win over Cumberland. But the Rambler stonewall shut the Hornets off with just 58 rushing yards and 87 total helped by Root’s seven tackles but led by Alex Leis’ 14 smacks.
Heart O’ North champion Northwestern is quietly – but loudly – marching along. Unbeaten. The Tigers allowed St. Croix Falls just one score while Colin Traut ran for 208 yards to go over the 1,000 yard mark for the season in the 42-7 win over St. Croix Falls.
Johnson, oh yes. He helps out with the defense and also took time to run and pass for 207 yards with a hand in five of the six Mondovi touchdowns. What can’t he do?
As we step closer to Camp Randall, the Big Rivers and Dunn-St. Croix lead the way with two each still alive. Can they take it all the way?