Amherst, Almond-Bancroft set for second round of playoffs
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
The Amherst and Almond-Bancroft high school football teams will look to advance to the Elite Eight in their divisions when they compete in the WIAA Level 2 Playoffs at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26.
Third-ranked and third-seeded Amherst (8-2) will travel to play sixth-ranked and second-seeded Cedar Grove-Belgium (9-1) in Division 5, while 10th-ranked and top-seeded Almond-Bancroft (9-1) will host fourth-seeded Pittsville (9-1) in Division 7.
The Eagles will play Pittsville for the second time this month, after Almond won 34-7 at then-sixth-ranked and unbeaten Pittsville Oct. 5.
“We’ll have some familiarity, since we played just a couple of weeks ago,” said Almond-Bancroft football head coach Andrew Bradley. “And being able to play at home is big for us, I think we earned that right a couple of weeks ago by beating them.
“I’m sure they’re eager to play us again,” he said. “And our kids are excited to play them again.”
Pittsville won 42-7 last week over fifth-seeded Wisconsin Rapids Assumption (4-6), and has been led this season by four seniors in quarterback Sam Hardinger (75-of-150 for 1,458 yards, with 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions, 410 yards rushing and eight touchdowns on 95 carries), running back Beau Merritt (997 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns on 183 carries), wide receiver Chris Snook (28 catches for 576 yards and eight touchdowns) and wide receiver Hunter Wilkie (22 catches for 509 yards and nine touchdowns).
“They have a nice quarterback and nice running back, and some kids that can really catch the ball,” said Bradley. “They’re talented offensively, similar to how we are, and we just have to make sure we try to control the quarterback and control some of their skill guys.”
Junior running back Jackson Beggs rushed for 240 yards and six touchdowns on 20 carries as Almond led 56-0 at halftime in its 56-15 win over eighth-seeded Wabeno/Laona (3-6) last week, while the winner Friday night will advance to Level 3 to play either fourth-ranked and second-seeded Hilbert (9-1) or ninth-ranked and third-seeded Reedsville (9-1).
“We were really good defensively against them the first time around,” said Bradley. “And offensively, we need to do a better job early on of finding our way into the end zone; it took us a little while to get going.
“But there’s familiarity between the two of us, I think we each know what we’re going to do,” he said. “It’s just going to come down to execution and turnovers.”
The three-time defending Division 5 State Champion Falcons will travel to face Cedar Grove-Belgium for the first time since the 2016 State Championship Game, which Amherst won 38-35 on a last-second field goal from Carter Zblewski.
“They’re a very talented team,” said Amherst football head coach Mark Lusic. “They’re a Conference Champion, and they handled their business pretty easily in Level 1.
“It should be a heck of a challenge for us, especially because it’s a two-hour ride for us,” he said. “But we’ll be ready to go.”
Cedar Grove-Belgium won 42-0 over seventh-seeded Howards Grove last week and has been led by junior quarterback Michael Navis (31-of-71 passes for 539 yards, with seven touchdowns and six interceptions, 957 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns on 113 carries), senior running back Chris Jentges (746 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns on 118 carries), and junior running back Alex Acevedo (677 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns on 170 carries).
“They don’t throw as much as you think; in 2016 when we saw them, they threw all over the field and their quarterback threw for over 4,000 yards (that season),” said Lusic. “This quarterback has actually thrown for less than 1,000, so it’s a little different from two years ago.
“He can still sling it a little bit, but he’s really more dangerous I would say with his legs, so we’re going to have to do our best to bottle him up,” he said. “If he gets wild, it’s going to be a long night for us.”
The winner will advance to Level 3 next week to play at either top-ranked and top-seeded Fond du Lac Saint Mary’s Springs (10-0) or host fourth-seeded Omro (9-1).
“Offensively, we’ve got to continue to make plays,” said Lusic. “We’ll have opportunities to make some plays, and this past Friday we capitalized on those.
“And if we can do that again, we’ll have a chance to be successful,” he said. “But if we don’t, it’ll be a long night for us.”