Okay, the preliminaries are over. Now it comes down to the real season.
It’s high school tournament football and it begins this weekend around the state.
And, yes, in Northwest Wisconsin.
Let’s take a look at who’s hot and who’s not.
Division 1 — Hot. Chippewa Falls. The Cardinals have been waiting for this all season. After a period of frustration, they have come on to win three of their last five. It took an upset of Hudson to sneak into the playoffs and now they’re ready for more surprises. Heavy underdog to Kimberly, but you never know.
Division 2 — Not so hot. Menomonie. Overachievers with a young squad all season, the Mustangs fell out of the Big Rivers title picture due to a loss to Rice Lake’s big plays. And they had to struggle to beat Memorial with a backup quarterback. It would help if Jake Ebert would be ready. Pulaski will be a tough nut to crack. But who’s got a stronger winning tradition?
River Falls. Hot to trot. The Big Rivers champs are only two points (28-27 loss) from an unbeaten season and are rolling in high gear, looking for more victims. Logan Graetz to Jared Creen and Seth Kohel to the end zone is scary. Beware, Kaukauna and the rest of the field. The Wildcats are for real.
Division 3 — Rice Lake, who else. The Warriors have been going at it with Division 1 and 2 teams all season with only two losses – to River Falls and Hudson. And they’ve been sharpening up with wins over Menomonie and Superior the last two weeks. The defending champs are ready. Speed kills.
Division 4 — St. Croix Central. Sizzling. You can feel the heat all through the area. But that’s nothing new for the Middle Border teams that make Camp Randall their home field. Yes, been there the past four years with three champions. Central won it in 2016 and was runnerup last year. And this year they’re averaging 46 points. Another gold ball would look nice in the case.
Division 5 — Elk Mound. Warming up. A few bumps along the way but back on track the last three weeks and ready to carry it over with Brady Redwine cradling the football and Colton Ward taking the pressure off him with air balls. But its not an easy road any time you open against a tradition like Stanley-Boyd.
Bloomer – Luke warm. Tuned up with a 56-pointer last week, shaking off the losses to Cumberland and Northwestern. Seem ready to Ruf it up. But Josh Fizel’s Spooner troops are coming on and could make it a tougher go than the Hawks 28-14 earlier win.
Division 6 — Guess who? You got it right. Regis. The goal was to improve every week. Goal accomplished. Won the biggie at Spencer and completed an unbeaten regular season. And ready for the playoffs against the winner of Dunn-St. Croix tri champs Mondovi and Spring Valley if they win the opener. And if all goes well, ultimately Grantsburg. Hot.
Division 7 — Loyal. Must restart the furnace. Dropped Cloverwood title game to Division 6 team Abbotsford 49-22 last week and only other loss to powerful Bangor, in the opposite bracket. But the major hurdle to Madison is Edgar. That’s a tough hurdle for any team.
Eleva-Strum – Getting warmer. Led Dairyland champ Melrose-Mindoro into final quarter in a 26-20 loss and spotted Cochrane-FC a 12-0 lead, then responded with 36 unanswered points last week to earn spot as Andrew Schoen had a 93 yard excursion to a 234-yard day. And Ryan Johnson can scoot, too. DeSoto is next. Forget about Bangor, that problem lies ahead.
Who’s hot and who’s not? That’s a glance. But you never know who will come out of the woodwork.
A few highlights from last week:
Menomonie had two season firsts last week with five interceptions by the defense and two 100-yard rushers in Kade Schultz and Will Ockler after just one previously — by Schultz.
Brennan Christopherson brings a hot arm into the playoffs after tossing for 235 yards and four TD in the win over Durand.
Bryson Johnson became only the third passer in Memorial history to pass for more than 2,000 yards in a season and second with 25 scoring tosses after his 234-yard game against Menomonie. And he’s only a junior.
When you rush for 100 yards for Regis, you’re doing something. In the Ramblers musical chairs running back rotation, you don’t get a lot of tries. Hayden Reinders didn’t need that many to gain 137 at Neillsville.
Zach Taylor took a trip to gain some consolation in Indy-Gilmanton’s loss to Mel-Min. The distance 88 yards. The destination: pay dirt.
North saved some of its best for the last half of the last game at River Falls. The Huskies hit a season high of 20 points and had the first 100-yard rusher – Taylor Ellis with 104 – since Tyler Zainhofsky ran for 106 in 2016. That’s a start.