Amherst will face seventh-ranked Cedar Grove-Belgium for State Title
The top-ranked Amherst High School football team will look to win its second consecutive State Title and third in five years when it battles seventh-ranked Cedar Grove-Belgium (12-1, 7-1) in the WIAA Division 5 State Championship Game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison at 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17.
The Falcons (12-1, 6-0) won 42-15 over second-ranked Stanley-Boyd (11-2) at Merrill in the State Semifinals last week, while Cedar Grove-Belgium won 42-35 against Division 4 sixth-ranked Clinton (11-2) at Slinger in the other State Semifinal to advance to the State Championship Game for the second time in school history.
“It’s exciting,” said seventh-year Amherst football head coach Mark Lusic of going back to state. “You try to enjoy it as much as you can, but you also try to take it as, ‘it’s just another game’ and try to prepare that way.
“But the kids know what we’re playing for,” he said.
Led by a record-setting offense, Cedar Grove-Belgium comes into the State Championship Game averaging 41.7 points per game this season and has an 11-game winning streak, after it lost 40-35 at Big East Conference co-Champion and Division 6 eighth-ranked Ozaukee (10-2, 8-0) in Week 2 of the regular season.
Cedar Grove-Belgium won 34-27 in the regular-season finale over Omro (5-5), which Amherst beat 27-13 in the regular-season opener, and as the second-seeded team in its bracket, won 42-0 over seventh-seeded Oostburg (5-5) in Level 1 of the playoffs.
In Level 2, Cedar Grove-Belgium trailed 40-35 against third-seeded Racine St. Catherine’s (8-3) with under three minutes to play, when it converted a pair of fourth downs to keep the drive alive and scored the game-winning touchdown with less than a minute to play to pull out a 43-40 win at home.
Cedar Grove-Belgium jumped out to a 21-0 lead at Division 4 second-ranked and top-seeded Columbus (11-1) in Level 3 before it held on for a 35-28 upset victory, and then was tied with Clinton 28-28 last week with under eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter, when it scored a pair of touchdowns to go up 42-28 and won 42-35 to advance to state.
“They knocked off the No. 1 seed in their Regional, Columbus,” said Lusic. “They’ve got an All-State quarterback and an All-State receiver, and they put up big numbers offensively.”
Cedar Grove-Belgium senior quarterback Josh Weiss was named First Team All-State this week by the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association (WFCA) and is a finalist for the Dave Krieg Award, which is given to the top senior quarterback in the state. This season he has thrown a state-record 54 touchdown passes and ranks second in state history with 3,848 yards (behind the record of 3,947), while he has completed 217-of-305 attempts (71.1 percent) and thrown 10 interceptions.
Cedar Grove-Belgium senior wide receiver/defensive back Reid Hilbelink was also a WFCA First Team All-State selection and is a finalist for the Al Toon Award, given to the top senior wide receiver in the state, as he has 83 catches for a state-record 1,821 yards receiving this season and is tied for the state record with 22 touchdowns.
The offense is also led by junior running back/linebacker Bryce Morgan (787 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on 153 carries), senior wide receiver/safety Ethan Brochtrup (57 catches for 822 yards and 16 touchdowns) and senior wide receiver/linebacker Matt Dirkse (46 catches for 870 yards and eight touchdowns), while junior linebacker Jacob Mueller (95 tackles, three sacks), Brochtrup (84 tackles) and Hilbelink (17 tackles, five interceptions) lead a defense that is allowing 17.3 points per game.
“They’ve got some damn good players,” said Lusic. “And it’s not just one quarterback, one receiver, they’ve got three receivers total who can all catch it and run it and make plays, and they’ve got a quarterback who can absolutely zing it. You don’t see too many quarterbacks in Division 5 who can throw like he can.
“Defensively they’re fast, and we’re going to have to score when we get a chance,” he said. “And for us defensively, we’re going to have to try to slow them down.”
Amherst also carries an 11-game winning streak into Madison, after it lost 20-17 to Division 6 top-ranked and reigning back-to-back Division 6 State Champion Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Springs (12-1) in Week 2 of the regular season.
The Falcons are averaging 41 points and allowing 11 points per game this season, after they rolled to playoff wins over Oconto (41-6), 10th-ranked and reigning Division 5 State Runner-up Spencer/Marshfield Columbus (42-14), ninth-ranked Winnebago Lutheran (44-27) and second-ranked Stanley-Boyd (42-15) to earn a return trip to Madison.
“There are more and more signs going up around town rooting us on, and I’ve had a lot more kids and teachers saying, ‘good luck’ and ‘go get them,’” said Lusic. “And I know a lot of our kids are hearing the same thing.
“When you get this far, people want to see you finish it now,” he said. “And of course, we want to finish it too.”
This week, senior offensive guard/defensive lineman Mike Singer (67 tackles, eight sacks) was named First Team All-State by the WFCA as an offensive lineman and First Team All-State as a defensive lineman, while senior wide receiver/cornerback Josh Cisewski (56 catches, fifth in state with 1,322 receiving yards, one behind state record with 21 touchdowns) was named Honorable Mention All-State at wide receiver.
Senior quarterback Brandon Piotrowski has completed 120-of-173 passes (69.4 percent), with 29 touchdowns (eighth in state) and six interceptions, and rushed for 681 yards and nine touchdowns on 133 carries. The team is also led by junior running back Chandler Benn (956 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns on 171 carries), senior wide receiver/outside linebacker Josh Schude (26 catches for 455 yards receiving and seven touchdowns, 35 tackles and three sacks on defense), junior wide receiver/defensive back Marcus Glodowski (27 catches for 342 yards and four touchdowns, 236 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 31 carries) and junior offensive tackle/linebacker Bryce Holderman (team-high 80 tackles).
“We’re playing well, there’s no doubt,” said Lusic. “I’m hoping we’re peaking at the right time, and we’ve got one more to go.
“I keep telling the kids, ‘every week we want to build on our successes, take the failures and build them to successes,’ and we’re playing at a high level right now,” he said. “And if we continue to mentally prepare ourselves, stay in the game mentally on Thursday, we’ll take our chances.”
Cedar Grove-Belgium finished as the Division 5 State Runner-up in 2008 when it lost to Colby 42-13, while Amherst beat Lancaster 19-7 in the 2012 State Championship Game and Spencer/Marshfield Columbus 42-0 in the State Championship Game last year, as it looks to win its third State Title Thursday.
“They’re going to make plays and they’re going to complete balls, you’re not going to shut that quarterback out, just don’t give up the big play defensively,” said Lusic. “When they complete balls, tackle them and make them earn everything they’re going to get.
“Offensively, we cannot turn the ball over,” he said. “We had two turnovers on Friday, we can’t expect our defense to bail us out every time on offense, so we’re going to have to protect the ball. Punting the ball is OK.
“And then of course, when we get a chance to score, we’ve got to punch it in,” he said. “We cannot be denied points in this game.”