Check out comments from the 14 coaches involved in the WIAA state playoffs this weekend.
Burlington Catholic Central (13-0) vs. Hilbert (13-0)
Hilbert earned its seventh trip to a championship game and first since its second of back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2002. The Wolves have won three titles, the last in 1996. Catholic Central lost the 2004 title contest, but it has five trophies in 10 WISAA title showdowns.
The Hilltoppers got 156 yards rushing, including a 42-yard scoring scamper, and touchdown receptions of 11 and 37 yards from Max Vos in their 36-10 semifinal victory over De Soto. Both TD tosses came from Reese Hartlage, who completed 7 of 13 attempts for 143 yards.
The Wolves registered their second playoff shutout and have allowed 13 points in four games. They forced three second-half turnovers in a 6-0 victory over high-powered Shell Lake in the semis.
Vos, who's also the team's top tackler, led Central with 1,436 yards and 18 scores through its first 12 contests, while Sam Wagner had chipped in 617 and was averaging 8 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Hartlage had tossed 26 TD passes and had accumulated 146.3 yards per game, including 36 hookups and 11 scores to B.J. Ritzman.
Central had only one real test during the regular season, a 35-27 victory against Racine Lutheran in the finale, and has outscored its four playoff foes by an average margin of 39.5-13.3.
Hilbert was even more dominant through Level 3, manhandling opponents 115-13 before its defensive slugfest against the top-ranked Lakers. The Wolves feature the one-two rushing punch of Nick Sweere and Luke Pattermann, who gained 1,241 and 1,092 yards, respectively, through 12 contests, while Ben Gruett wasn't far behind with 851.
The Wolves' stop troops, who have allowed 20 or more points only twice this season, feature linebacker Ben Krueger and Skylar Stecker. Krueger has 120 tackles and four sacks, while Stecker has 89 stops. Sweere has chipped in five sacks.
Hilbert's defense definitely showed up against Shell Lake, which had scored 111 points through the first three rounds. The Wolves scored on their first drive, a 68-yard journey, and made it hold up.
Edgar (13-0) vs. Stratford (12-1)
The Wildcats are chasing their fifth state title, having won once in D-4 and three times in D-5. Marawood Conference rival Stratford already is the only school to have won more than three crowns in a row and is working on its sixth straight in D-6 and seventh overall.
The Tigers have never lost a title contest, but they must avenge their first regular-season setback to a Wisconsin foe in six years after suffering a 16-8 loss to Edgar in week eight.
Edgar had allowed one touchdown in each of its first three postseason outings before stopping Stevens Point Pacelli, 14-0, last weekend. The Tigers had allowed only 14 points in three games before their 23-20 triumph over Fennimore on Saturday.
The Wildcats feature a strong, balanced attack that included a combined 1,300 yards rushing from senior Gabe Pospyhalla and junior Sam Lemmer and the passing of junior Justin Sinz, who threw for 20 touchdowns and nearly 1,700 yards through 12 games. Pospyhalla, Pat Lemmer and Noah Werner have combined for 62 receptions and 14 scores. Defensively, Edgar hasn't given up double-digit scoring since its season-opening 41-12 win over McDonnell Central. Andy Borchardt led the way with 106 total tackles and added three sacks. Adam Nowak (five) and Doug Wagner (four) are the sack leaders.
Stratford has been nearly as stingy this season and even more so during the playoffs, where they've knocked off defending champion Eleva-Strum and two unbeatens in Bangor and Fennimore.
The Tigers sport a good rushing tandem in Ryan Schalow (913 yards through 12 outings) and Nick Bergs (837), while Mason Nesbitt completed nearly 57 percent of his passes for 1,318 yards and 16 TDs. Ben Frodl had 31 catches and eight touchdown receptions while Schalow had registered 24 and seven, respectively. Rick Drews (99) and Jordan Bauman (93) are the top tacklers.
Edgar recorded six sacks, intercepted three passes and stopped Pacelli twice inside the red zone, both drives in the first half, in their semifinal battle. Meanwhile, Stratford overcame a 17-7 deficit to take a 20-17 lead and then got Josh Franklin's 21-yard field goal with 30 seconds remaining to advance after Joe Carl's second three-pointer, a 30-yarder, had knotted the score earlier in the fourth.
Cedar Grove-Belgium (13-0) vs. Colby (13-0)
The Rockets are playing in their first championship final, while the Hornets are making their third appearance and first since claiming their first title in 1998.
Cedar Grove-Belgium runs and then runs some more. The Rockets had received 1,969 yards and 24 rushing TDs from Brandon Garcia in 12 games, while Skyler Ebbers had chipped in 1,140 and 13. Meanwhile, quarterback Kyle Bruggink had completed only 31 passes but 10 of them were for scores. The Rockets' defense also has been stellar, not allowing double digits in its last nine outings and has allowed only 16 points in the playoffs, including a 24-0 whitewashing of perennial power Lancaster in the semis. The leader of that unit is Spencer Jacque, who had 152 combined stops.
Colby hasn't been as dominant in the playoffs after holding seven of nine regular-season foes to single digits. However, the Cloverbelt champion Hornets have done enough to win by an average margin of more than 17 ppg in the postseason and held a powerful St. Mary's Springs unit in check during a 25-20 triumph last weekend.
The Hornets' arsenal includes Adam Esselman, who had rambled for 1,435 yards and 28 TDs in 12 games; Josh Hodd, who added 742 yards and 12 scores on the ground; and nearly 1,200 yards passing and 12 touchdowns from Jordan Rahm.
Hodd and Esselman were the leading tacklers with 88 and 71 stops, respectively.
Rahm scored on two TD runs, including a 1-yarder that gave Colby a 25-13 lead they never relinquished against the Ledgers, a contest that also featured 20 carries for 106 yards from Esselman.
The Rockets picked off six Lancaster passes, and Ebbers' 80-yard TD return stopped a potential Flying Arrows' rally to within a touchdown or less and turned it into a 21-0 score in the third quarter.
Wautoma/Faith Christian (12-1) vs. Walworth Big Foot (13-0)
This is a matchup of title game rookies as the explosive Hornets and quarterback Jared Abbrederis rolled to Camp Randall with a 42-24 win over Baldwin-Woodville, while the top-ranked Chiefs disposed of defending champion West Salem, 27-14.
The Hornets survived a 47-46 double overtime thriller against Appleton Xavier in the first round and have been in control ever since, eliminating their last three opponents by an average of 31-14.3. Wautoma has ridden the arm and legs of Abbrederis, who has accumulated 1,454 yards and 25 TDs rushing and 1,584 yards and 19 scoring passes in 13 contests. His favorite target has been Theo Maglio, who's hauled in 32 tosses for nine scores. Parker Detjens leads the defense with 77 tackles and seven sacks, while Maglio and Ryan Renner each have five interceptions.
Big Foot hopes to finish off an unbeaten campaign and season-long stranglehold of the top spot with one more win behind a balanced attack that features 1,000-yard rushers in Michael Walker (1,208 and 13 TDs) and T.J. Schaid (1,016 and nine) and 1,00-yard passer Steven Dowden (1,119 and 10 scores). The Chiefs also got 607 yards and 11 scoring runs from Mike Crusan through 13 contests.
The defense includes top tackler Matt Fogerty with 146 tackles and two sacks and Nathan Nagel with 11 sacks among his 52 stops.
Big Foot turned a busted play into a 75-yard scoring pass from Dowden to Walker midway through the fourth quarter to secure its victory over West Salem, while Wautoma got two scoring passes and three TD runs from Abbrederis and used a 17-0 margin in the fourth quarter to subdue Baldwin-Woodville.
Reedsburg (10-3) vs. Waupaca (13-0)
The Beavers, arguably the Cinderella story of the state playoffs, take their juggernaut offensive attack against a Waupaca team that has allowed 20 points in a round-two contest against Mosinee and pitched shutouts in its other three playoff matchups.
Reedsburg finished behind D-2 playoff qualifiers Waunakee and DeForest in the Badger North and have had momentum since dropping a 28-21 decision to Waunakee in week eight to make its first finals visit. Waupaca has reached Madison for a fourth time, finishing second twice before earning the title in 2006.
Reedsburg won the turnover battle, 6-0, so it's little wonder that they pulled off a shocking 40-20 win over defending state champion Wisconsin Lutheran. Quarterback Tyler Mazur carried 28 times for 196 yards and three TDs and sophomore back Matt Lennon added 160 yards, including a 38-yard scoring burst, on 15 tries. Mazur's only completion in five attempts was a 31-yard connection with Justin Huinker.
Huinker and Mazur had churned for 1,192 and 1,119 yards rushing, respectively, through 12 outings and had combined for 27 running TDs, while Matt Lennon had added 671 yards and 17 scores. Mazur had only 66 pass attempts but completed 36 for 1,036 yards and 13 scores to that point.
Those numbers were mostly necessary because Reedsburg has had trouble stopping people, holding only two opponents to single digits all year while allowing 20 or more points eight times.
Waupaca quarterback Brock Jensen rushed for 117 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries and passed for 91 yards and three scores as the Comets took a 14-0 halftime advantage and dominated after the break in knocking off previously unbeaten Kewaskum, 42-0, in the semis.
The Comets have shut out eight teams this year behind the likes of James DeYoung and Matt Volkman. DeYoung posted 90 total tackles and 12 sacks through 12 games, while Volkman had registered 47 and six, respectively.
Michael Solberg had topped the squad in rushing with 1,196 yards before the shellacking of Kewaskum, scoring 16 times. Jensen had 17 running TDs and had gained 989 yards while completing 63 percent of his passes for 1,427 yards and 18 more touchdowns. Nate Nelson is his favorite target, having grabbed 53 balls for 1,022 yards and 14 TDs.
Kimberly (13-0) vs. Verona (12-1)
The defending champions are making their second straight and overall trip the finale after posting a 20-7 victory over DeForest in the 2007 contest. This is the first finals appearance for Verona, co-champions with D-1 semifinalist Middleton in its first season in the Big Eight Conference.
Sophomore Ryan McDonald's 35-yard scoring jaunt sealed the Wildcats' 28-14 semifinal triumph over Sussex Hamilton with 3:13 remaining. McDonald also contributed runs of 23 and 26 yards on the clinching 93-yard march.
Kimberly erupted for 20 points in the first quarter and cruised from there in whipping Marshfield, 40-7.
The Papermakers have limited nine foes to single-figure scoring, including the last three playoff combatants. No. 1 Kimberly had four runners with at least 400 yards through 12 games, topped by Benny DeBruin's 825 yards and 13 scores. Ryan VanAsten was next with 12 TDs and 714 yards. Meanwhile, Tyler Wolf's precision passing (63 percent) accounted for 1,481 yards and 21 touchdowns, including 45 catches by speedster Jayme Wells, a Northern Illinois baseball recruit, for 961 yards and 14 scores.
Iowa State University recruit A.J. Klein spearheads the defense with 115 total stops and five sacks, while Dan Lenzner chipped in 95 and four, respectively.
The underdog Wildcats have limited only three foes to single digits, so they've relied on their offense to carry them as they've averaged 30.3 ppg through 13 contests. Verona features the rushing of standout Cameron Bathe, who's averaged 8.3 yards per carry for 1,576 yards and 16 scores. Mason Meyer has 10 TDs and 554 yards. Quarterback Trevor Burmeister had completed 61 percent of his aerials for 1,320 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Meyer scored on three short plays, one pass reception and two runs as Verona opened a 21-7 lead after three quarters against Hamilton.
Because it's given up so many yards and points and its offense has done the same, Verona features four defenders with at least 100 tackles, led by Sam Riebau's 130 and five sacks.
Mequon Homestead (13-0) vs. Hartland Arrowhead (13-0)
This is the third straight bout between these two heavyweights who've split the past two seasons, the Highlanders winning 35-0 in 2006 and the Warhawks bouncing back 31-7 a year ago. Homestead is after its third title, while Arrowhead tries to earn its fifth in this, a record ninth finals appearance.
The Highlanders ride a topnotch running attack that has three ball toters with more than 400 yards, including Aric Daniels' 930 and 11 touchdowns. However, their passing game may be just as or more explosive behind Casey Barnes, who completed nearly 65 percent of his attempts for 1,980 yards and 20 TDs. Mike Collins his key threat, having caught 38 balls for 745 yards and 12 scores.
Collins sparkled in Homestead's 35-21 win over Middleton, scoring all five TDs, three on pass receptions in the first half. He finished with seven catches for 144 yards and then bolted 99 yards for a score on the second-half kickoff and added a touchdown on an end-around.
The Warhawks downed five playoff qualifiers during a 9-0 regular season that saw them scored 31 or more points in all but one outing. They've continued that trend in the postseason, averaging 40.8 ppg while surviving a 30-25 win over Oshkosh West in round two.
Arrowhead features the two-pronged running firepower of Calvin Ramsey and Brian Crook. Ramsey had registered 16 touchdowns and gained 1,261 yards and Crook had totals of 24 and 1,071 through 11 contests. Meanwhile, quarterback Tom Parish had chipped in 407 yards on the ground and 667 through the air in 12 games and ripped off an 80-yard TD to kick-start Arrowhead's eventual 49-21 win over Stevens Point last weekend.
Parish also contributed a 52-yard TD scamper and a 51-yard scoring pass to Russell Finco in the first half, but the Warhawks didn't put the game away until they ripped off three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, capped on Ramsey's 65-yard jaunt.