West Salem Still Team to Beat

G-E-T should challenge, while Arcadia could be a sleeper in the Coulee Conference race that features defending league and D-4 state champion West Salem.

Coulee Conference

West Salem pulled away for the league championship with a 5-0 mark, winning the title outright after sharing the crown with Black River Falls in 2006.

Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau, which was the only other playoff qualifier, finished a game back at 4-1, which included a 21-18 setback to the Panthers.

West Salem

The Panthers entered their seventh straight postseason with an 8-1 record—the only loss being a 49-42 decision to Onalaska--and road it all the way to the D-4 state championship.

They upended Neillsville (35-0), league foe G-E-T for a second time (36-12), Wautoma (42-0) and Brodhead-Juda (31-7) before whipping Kettle Moraine Lutheran, 52-14, in the title showdown.

It was a wonderful finish after West Salem had reached the finale in 2005 and advanced to Level 4 in 2006.

Lineman Brock Mueggenborg, running back Hunter Burke, quarterback Dan Schneider and wide receiver Jacob Welch represented the Panthers' explosive offense, which averaged 38.4 points per game, on the all-West Central Region team.

Burke gained 1,975 yards on 265 carries (7.5) and a whopping 26 touchdowns. Schneider rushed for 343 yards and completed 140 of 233 pass attempts (60.1 percent) for 2,324 yards and a sparkling 30-6 TD-to-interception ratio. Welch was by far his favorite target, grabbing 65 balls for 1,258 yards (19.4) and 19 scores.

Those efforts earned Schneider and Welch honorable mention honors from the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association.

Burke is a preferred walk-on at Iowa State, but the Panthers got a boost when sophomore kicker Jake McCabe transferred from Viroqua.

Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau

The Redmen, who finished 5-2 and 7-2, qualified for the postseason for an 11th time overall and fifth in a row. They won their D-4 opener against Bradie Ewing and Richland Center, 30-23, but faltered in the second round to eventual state champion and league foe West Salem (36-12).

Senior defensive tackle Jordan Trim is one of only two returning defensive starters. Another key piece for Coach Jon Steffenhagen is senior fullback Jacob Bambenek, who stampeded for 1,057 yards and 12 touchdowns.

One of the main players that G-E-T must replace is standout lineman Justin Waldvogel, who is headed to Winona State.

But the Redmen, with a roster of more than 20 seniors, should be in the thick of the Coulee race all season.

Viroqua

The Blackhawks finished 3-4 in league action and 3-6 overall, failing to make the postseason for the third straight time and eighth time in nine years.

Viroqua suffered two major injuries early in camp, losing senior Sam Cain indefinitely with a dislocated left shoulder and sophomore Jesse Sheldon to a broken right leg.

One of the Blackhawks' top performers is senior quarterback Jacob Kanis, who scored the deciding touchdown and gained 177 yards rushing in the team's season-opening victory over Boyceville in a contest played at UW-Stout.

Arcadia

The Raiders ended at 2-5 in Coulee competition and 4-5 overall and haven't reached the postseason since 2003.

Coach Gordy Beyer's squad will rely heavily on seniors such as Tyler Tamke, Brandon Reid, Anthony Garafalo, Craig Tidquist, David Hansen, Ray Ouano and Isaac Vazquez.

Garafalo and Reid have overcome injury concerns and provide toughness and leadership, while Vazquez is an impact player in a lot of ways, having been an all-league defensive back, returning kicks and catching passes.

However, how much a talented junior class contributes—it went unbeaten as freshmen—will go a long way in determining Arcadia's fortunes.

Two of them got all-conference recognition last year. Kyle Tamke was a first-team linebacker and the Raiders' defensive player of the year, while Craig Thomas was an honorable mention offensive lineman.

A.J. Bellville topped the team with more than 500 yards rushing and seven touchdowns while throwing for 10 scores, but his two favorite targets, all-conference tight end Dylan Pronschinske and split end Alex Lettner, graduated.

Black River Falls

The Tigers also finished 2-5 in conference action but lost both non-league contests, which ended an impressive 15-year playoff run.

One of the team's bright stars is wide receiver Tyler Millis, who caught 38 passes for 443 yards and five scores for Coach Jim Bible's squad, including season highs of eight catches for 101 yards against Richland Center.

Black River Falls also gets senior quarterback Andy Seguin back.

Westby

The Norsemen stumbled to 0-7 and 0-9 finishes, their second straight playoff miss after qualifying six of seven years previous to that. They have reached the postseason 18 times.

Senior running back Tyler Fortun is one of the top returning performers.


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