MONDOVI — An upset on the other side of the bracket means Mondovi football’s stout defense will avoid the challenge of facing the state’s all-time leading rusher.
That doesn’t mean the unit is out of the woods heading into the Division 6 state semifinals.
Instead, standing between the Buffaloes and their first trip to Camp Randall since 1990 is a team that’s made itself at home in the state’s capital, second-seeded Saint Mary’s Springs.
“We want to be them,” Mondovi coach Craig Loscheider said. “We want to be a program that’s accomplished what they have. For me, the chance to play them, that’s what we’re looking for.”
The Ledgers, the pride of Fond du Lac, earned their second-straight WIAA state title and their state-record eighth overall last season, besting Stratford in the home of the Wisconsin Badgers. All eight have come since 2009 and under legendary head coach Bob Hyland, and two, including last year, came in D5.
In all, Saint Mary’s Springs has made it to Camp Randall 11 times under the WIAA format. Mondovi only made the trip in 1990, and hadn’t even made it out of Level 3 since then until this season.
Mondovi’s Raith Bauer, an all-conference pick on both the offensive and defensive line, said the Buffaloes look at themselves as the new kids on the block with something to prove.
“Everyone’s talking about how good they are and how many state championships they’ve won,” Bauer said. “I guess it’s kind of good to be the underdog sometimes cause they’ll be overthinking us.”
The Ledgers, champions of the Flyway, are Regis-esque in their focus on the ground game and use of a variety of runners. Six Saint Mary’s Springs rushers have totaled 100 or more yards, led by David Mueller with 1,341.
Mueller, Isaac Hyland and Marcus Orlandoni have combined for 2,832. The strong ground game helped Saint Mary’s Springs to a ten-game win streak following a pair of losses to open the year and powered an offense that scored at least 30 points in nine straight heading into last week’s 20-0 Level 3 win against Racine Lutheran.
That strong offense is backed up by an equally strong defense which hasn’t allowed more than seven points in a game since September.
“They’re big, physical,” quarterback and defensive end Carter Johnson said. “They’ll probably be one of the better teams we play, if not the best.”
If any group can slow down the Saint Mary’s Springs attack, it may be the Buffalo defense. Mondovi’s accumulation of shutouts this season — the Buffaloes have nine on the year — is likely over with the caliber of opponent it will face the rest of the way, but the depth of talent from the front seven to the DBs makes the team a challenge to anyone in the state.
“That’s what’s neat about getting to this level,” Loscheider said. “If for some reason they lost earlier than this or we lost earlier, you’ll always wonder how good you really are. We’re not going to have to wonder after Friday night.”
And while a majority of Mondovi’s games this year have been blowouts, including the first two levels of the playoffs, the team has proven a knack for coming up clutch in its only two opportunities. Bauer hit a 33-yard field goal with less than 10 seconds remaining in regulation to break a tie and all but earn the team a Dunn-St. Croix title with a win against Spring Valley on Oct. 11. Last week Johnson snagged a pick-6 with 32 seconds remaining to clinch a 29-22 win against Mineral Point.
“In those situations our kids don’t panic and they don’t point the finger at each other,” Loscheider said. “They come together and encourage each other and find a way. I think that says something about who they are. If it happened once, that’s a fluke, but when you see it for a season and just know who they are, I feel like we can expect them to be the same on Friday.”
That being said, the Buffaloes haven’t seen a team like Saint Mary’s Springs yet. But this group, which showed its passion in practice with loud chants throughout warmups Wednesday, isn’t going to back down when the lights turn on Friday night in Medford.
“We can see our goal, it’s right there,” Bauer said. “I think everyone has state in their eyes. I don’t think anyone wants to quit right now.”