High school football season kicks off Friday night
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
The 2018 high school football season will open Friday, Aug. 17, with each of the five area teams playing on the road at 7 p.m. against playoff teams from a year ago.
Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) travels to Neenah for a Valley Football Association (VFA) crossover game, while nonconference games will have Amherst at Merrill, Pacelli Catholic High School at Dodgeland, Almond-Bancroft at reigning Division 7 State Semifinalist Fall River, and Rosholt at Oconto.
The Panthers are set to open on the road at reigning VFA South Division (SD) co-Champion Neenah, which beat SPASH 38-6 in the season opener last year and advanced to Level 2 of the Division 1 Playoffs.
“We’re excited about having a game, and as excited as we are on one hand, we certainly have our work cut out for us on the other,” said SPASH football head coach Pete McAdams. “We can’t be too worried about our opponent, we’re going up against a very, very good opponent once again, and we’ve just got to find a way to do our thing, and really play aggressively and play with very few mistakes.”
Neenah is led by the return of the VFA SD co-Defensive Players of the Year last season in senior nose guard Alex Boehlen and senior linebacker Logan Eiden, along with fellow Unanimous First Team All-Conference selections in junior safety Sam Jung and senior defensive end Reece Heyerdahl. A NCAA Division 1 Northern Illinois commit, Heyerdahl is ranked 19th by WisSports.net on its list of Wisconsin’s Top 50 Seniors in the state for football, while Eiden is ranked 13th.
“They lost some offensive weapons, but they also return a few of those guys on offense, and I think they’ve got a phenomenal offensive lineman (senior Trevor Marquardt) that’s got to be one of the best in the state, no doubt in my mind,” said McAdams. “And on the defensive side of the ball, from their defensive linemen, their linebacking corps, and their defensive backs, they’ve got First Team All-Conference guys coming back, so we know their defense is going to be awfully stellar.”
Senior Brett Ehr will start at quarterback and senior Luke Bembenek will get the start at running back for SPASH, and McAdams wants his team to be able to go 100 percent and not play like they’re on eggshells.
“Going into Game 1 sometimes, and I saw it (Tuesday) in practice, where guys are afraid of making a mistake and afraid of messing up, and you cannot be afraid of that,” said McAdams. “Our big challenge is going to be playing aggressively, playing together and trying to play smart and have very few mistakes.”
The three-time defending WIAA Division 5 State Champion Falcons will start the season at Division 3 Merrill, which finished 4-6 last year after it lost 35-7 to eventual Division 3 State Champion Rice Lake in the Level 1 Playoffs.
“It’s hard to believe it’s already here, it seems like August is just flying by,” said Amherst football head coach Mark Lusic. “The scrimmage gave us some ideas, but Friday is our first true test, and we’re excited to be able to travel to Merrill.
“They are an option team, just like we are, and they are big up front; there will be a lot more size than us on the offensive and defensive front,” he said. “Defensively, they’re a 4-4 defense, but the key part will be stopping their option.”
Junior Lincoln Cullen will start at quarterback for Amherst, which will have defensive coordinator Doug Spadoni coaching from the press box, after he missed the first two weeks of practice and it was unknown if he would be back for the start of the regular season following a ruptured appendix this summer.
“Our coaches and the players have stepped up and filled the void, but we’re extremely happy he’s back,” said Lusic of Spadoni. “We have to tackle and block, play at a high level at all times, and be mentally into the game.
“In our scrimmage, we started off mentally engaged, and then as the scrimmage went on, we weren’t as engaged as we were supposed to be and we made a lot of mental mistakes,” he said. “And on Friday we’re going to have to be dialed in from the start to the end to be successful.”
The Cardinals will open the season against Dodgeland for the second year in a row, after Pacelli won 26-21 over Dodgeland at home in the season opener last year.
“The first week’s always exciting,” said Pacelli football head coach Drew Nelson. “You get through those first three weeks of practice, and you have the scrimmage last Friday, but this week is a little bit different, a little bit more intense and a little bit more focused.
“The weather has been hot, but the kids have been battling through it,” he said. “And hopefully we can go down to Dodgeland and have a little bit of success, and see what we can do.”
Dodgeland went 7-4 last year and advanced to Level 2 of the WIAA Division 6 Playoffs, where it lost 47-0 to eventual State Champion Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Springs, while Pacelli has won 18 consecutive season openers dating back to the 2000 season.
“It looks like they’re going to have some athletes across the board, and some guys that might provide us some challenges,” said Nelson. “But hopefully we can use our size and use our speed and our agility a little bit more.
“If we can get the run game going and get the backs through some holes, and minimize the turnovers, we should be in a fairly-decent position to hopefully come home with a win on Friday,” he said.
The Eagles will start the season at Fall River Friday night, as the two teams meet in the season opener for the eighth year in a row, as Almond goes in with a 4-3 advantage.
“We have a nice little rivalry, coach Zander over there does a nice job, and he’s got that thing turned around recently,” said Almond-Bancroft football head coach Andrew Bradley. “They’re tough, they went to the State Semis last year and they got some kids back from last year, so it will be a tough challenge for us right from the start.
“But we also have a lot of kids back, and we’ll definitely be ready,” he said. “We think we’re pretty good as well, so it will be good matchup.”
Fall River won 30-21 at Almond last year, and went on to finish 11-2 overall after it made a run to the Division 7 State Semifinals, where it lost to 56-8 to eventual State Runner-up Black Hawk.
“The first game, turnovers, penalties and the mistakes definitely need to be minimized, and then we just need to play our Eagle football and do what we do,” said Bradley. “We like our skill kids and the depth that we have with them, and we just have to make sure they all get involved.
“And for us defensively, they have their fullback and their quarterback back, so we definitely have to contain the both of them,” he said. “But we definitely have to limit our mistakes, I think that will be the key.”
The Hornets will begin the season on the road at Oconto, which won 40-0 at Rosholt in Week 1 last year.
“This is for real now, and the kids are excited,” said Rosholt co-head coach Mark McHugh. “Oconto is a very well-coached team and they were very strong against us last year, to a point where we were pretty much overwhelmed.
“They had a strong senior class last year that graduated, and from what I hear, their senior class isn’t as large,” he said. “But with that said, they have a lot of experience from their underclassmen, and it will be a challenge for us.”
Oconto finished 7-3 overall last year after it lost to Spencer/Marshfield Columbus in Level 1 of the Division 5 Playoffs, while McHugh said Rosholt came away from its four-team scrimmage at Pittsville last week healthy and feeling good about what it’s doing this year.
“Probably the biggest thing is we have to play mistake-free football, we can’t hurt ourselves,” said McHugh. “We can’t give them an opportunity to get on us early.
“We have to try to set the pace ourselves, and execute,” he said. “No doubt the battle is won at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football, and we have to try to be able to make as few mistakes as possible when it comes to that.”