MONDOVI — Entering the season, much of the conversation around Mondovi involved the Buffaloes being a team on the rise in the Dunn-St. Croix Conference.

After their conference-opening win over defending champion Elk Mound last Friday, that conversation made the leap from theory to reality.

Mondovi’s defense shined in a 20-0 win over the Mounders. The Buffaloes held Elk Mound, a team featuring all-state running back Brady Redwine, to fewer than 100 yards of offense in the shutout.

The performance was a huge difference from when the two squads met a year ago during the regular season. The Mounders scored nearly reached the half-century mark on the scoreboard in a 49-35 win last September.

But Friday’s contest was the third time the two had squared off in the last year, as they also matched up in the playoffs last year. The third time was the charm for the Buffaloes in their effort to stop the impressive rushing attack spearheaded by Redwine.

“We’ve seen them three times in less than a year,” Mondovi coach Craig Loscheider said. “The first time, we knew (Redwine) was good, but we didn’t plan anything special for him defensively, and he ran all over us. ... In the playoff game, we had a much better plan for him. He still broke two long runs, but nowhere near what it was the first time.

“It became kind of a rivalry for our guys. ... The focus last week was that we knew they were the champs, but we had played them tough. If we limited our mistakes, we had a good chance to win.”

They certainly limited their mistakes on defense, and it made a huge impact.

“I think getting our whole defense back in together, and playing hard as a family is really what sticks out. Everybody was doing their jobs,” senior linebacker Logan Uschan said.

Part of the difference this time around was a new hire on the coaching staff. Loscheider brought in Barrett Brenner, who had previously coached at Regis, to run the defense. Last season, Loscheider was in charge of both units.

With the coaching staff not stretched so thin, there’s more time for specialized learning on both sides of the ball. Loscheider said that has been a big deal this season.

And that budding rivalry he mentioned was in the forefront of the players’ minds, giving the Buffaloes an ultra-focused attitude in the week leading up to the game.

“Preparation was crazy last week. It was one of the best weeks I think we’ve ever had,” junior linebacker Nolan Seipel said. “Everybody was out there hitting hard during practice, and I think that really translated to the field.”

That game might have carried a little extra weight in the minds of the players, but they’re determined to remain focused week-to-week.

“That was a game we were really looking forward to,” Uschan said. “But now that it’s done and over with, we’re going to look to the next one, and the next one, and the next one.”

Mondovi sits at 2-1 on the season, with the only loss coming against perennial Marawood Conference contender Edgar — which has won a state title as recently as 2016 — by a 43-3 score.

Strong defense has been key in the Buffaloes’ two wins. 

They limited Eleva-Strum to 14 points and 168 yards in Week 1.

The team hiccuped on both sides of the ball against Edgar, but showed resiliency to bounce back in the following week.

“Edgar might have showed us that we weren’t quite there yet, but the next week we showed we’re ready, we’ll bounce back, and we’ll show you that Mondovi plays football,” Seipel said.

Loscheider believes it’s still too early to proclaim a standout favorite in the Dunn-St. Croix, but last Friday’s result gave Mondovi a push in the right direction.