STRUM — For most teams, a chance to clinch a playoff berth in the final game of the regular season would be the ultimate motivator.
But that might not be entirely the case in Strum this Friday.
Make no mistake, Eleva-Strum is excited to be in the position to grab a spot in the postseason. But the playoff berth there for the taking isn’t the only thing the Cardinals are looking forward to in their game against Cochrane-Fountain City.
The program’s annual Tackling Cancer game began six years ago, and the latest edition will be this week’s regular season finale. The fundraiser has rallied the community and football program in recent years to be a major success.
“It’s really become a focal point of our program now,” Eleva-Strum coach Chad Hanson said. “It’s really cool to see, no matter what our record is — whether we’re 3-6 or 6-3 — that game brings out a lot of people, and it’s bringing our community together to support something that affects so many people.”
The Cardinals, who don pink jerseys every year during this game, also spend a lot of time volunteering to help those with cancer and their families. They’ve teamed up with Marshfield Clinic’s CLIMB program, which helps kids deal with cancer in their families. The money raised at the game has been donated to that cause the past few years, according to Hanson.
“It’s still a game, but we’re playing for another cause too,” Cardinals quarterback Ryan Johnson said. “There’s another purpose we’re trying to fight for.”
The team has volunteered at various organizations — even in the offseason — to do its part over the last few years. Hanson said community support behind the fundraiser has been strong, with the amount of money raised even surprising him sometimes.
“It’s a huge thing for us here at Eleva-Strum,” Hanson said. “It’s a huge part of what we do, and we look forward to this game every year.”
They haven’t forgotten what’s on the line during the on-the-field action, either.
A win over the Pirates would guarantee Eleva-Strum a playoff berth, which would mean a return to the postseason after missing out last year.
The Cardinals enter the matchup playing well, having won three of their last four games. The only loss in that span was against Dairyland Conference champion Melrose-Mindoro last week. Eleva-Strum fell 26-20, which was the closest game anybody’s given the Mustangs all season.
“The game against Melrose, even though we lost the game, was probably the best game we’ve played as a team,” Hanson said. “It’s hard to say a loss is a victory, but sometimes it is. I think we learned a lot about how hard we can play physically, and what we can do when we play as a team.”
Cochrane-Fountain City comes to town sporting a 3-5 record and on a three-game losing streak. Eleva-Strum, on the other hand, may be playing its best football at the right time.
“I think working hard in practice all week, and doing our jobs offensively and defensively (has made a difference),” senior Garrett Miland said. “Being disciplined has really helped us the last four weeks.”
The Cardinals are already playoff eligible, and could still make the postseason with a loss on Friday. But they control their own destiny heading into crunch time, and that’s about all that can be asked for at this time of year.
That’s a stark contrast from last season, when they were already eliminated from postseason contention at this point.
“There’s a whole different atmosphere,” Johnson said. “Last year we were all flat. Now there can be another step after this week.”