High School football season set to open Friday
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
The High School football season kicks off this week, with each of the five area teams in action Friday, Aug. 23.
Almond-Bancroft will be at home to play Fall River/Rio and Rosholt will host Oconto, while Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) will play at Appleton North, Pacelli Catholic High will travel to take on Owen-Withee, and Amherst will face Antigo in a neutral site game at Waupaca.
After opening last season with an 8-6 loss at Fall River and winning 44-6 win at home over Rio the next week, Almond-Bancroft will kick off the 2019 season at home against Fall River/Rio, which joined forces as a co-op program this season.
“Our seniors are excited to start off their senior year, and I’m just looking forward to another season,” said Almond-Bancroft football head coach Andrew Bradley. “And it’s always good to get started off at home.
“Fall River is co-oping with Rio this year and they have a new coach as well, so although we’re familiar with them, it’s a whole new system, so we’re a little unsure exactly what they’re going to bring,” he said. “But it’s been a good rivalry with both Fall River and Rio, so it’ll be interesting.”
Fall River reached the Division 7 State Semifinals in 2017 and was ranked eighth in Division 7 in the final WisSports.Net Coaches Poll of the regular season last year before it lost 35-7 to Benton/Scales Mound/Shullsburg in the Level 1 Playoffs to finish 8-2, while Rio was 3-6 overall last season.
“We’ve got to be balanced on offense,” said Bradley. “We’re going to have (senior running back) Jackson (Beggs) back, he’s going to be a key for us, but we’re going to also want to be able to throw the ball.
“And then defensively, it looks like they spread it out, so we’ve just got to contain them and try to keep them off the perimeter,” he said.
Rosholt will open the 2019 at home with a nonconference game against Division 5 Oconto, as the two teams square off in Week 1 for the fourth year in a row.
“We’ve had a good week of practice so far, and the guys are really excited to get going,” said Rosholt football co-head coach Mark McHugh. “We came off a good scrimmage last week against Pittsville and Nekoosa, and they’re anxious to get started with the season.
“Oconto is a bigger school and they show a lot of challenges for us, they’re a good football team and well-coached,” he said. “We played them last year, and they definitely have the talent to make things difficult for us. With that said, we’ve had a taste of them already, and we look forward to that challenge this year, because I think we have a good football team.”
Oconto won 33-6 at home over Rosholt last year and went on to finish 2-7, as it missed the postseason following back-to-back trips to the Division 5 Playoffs.
“The biggest thing is, if we stay in control, as far as running our offense, everybody doing their jobs, I think we’ll be fine,” said McHugh. “Defensively, we just need to play our positions and take the responsibilities that we have, and play together as a unit.
“It’s going to be whether we play as a team or not,” he said. “And we expect good things, they’ve practiced real well together and the team bond is really good this year, so I think if we play together and execute, we should be fine.”
In a Valley Football Association (VFA) crossover game, SPASH will visit Appleton North at 7 p.m. Friday.
Appleton North won 56-36 at Community Stadium at Goerke Field last year, and went on to finish 6-4 overall last season after a 31-21 loss to Bay Port in Level 2 of the WIAA Division 1 Playoffs.
Pacelli will kickoff the season at 7 p.m. Friday with a nonconference game on the road at Owen-Withee, which finished 2-7 overall last year and 2-5 in the Cloverwood Conference.
“It looks to be two evenly matched teams,” said Pacelli football head coach Drew Nelson. “Owen-Withee’s head coach has been there for quite some time, so he’ll have those guys ready, and hopefully we can give them a little bit of a challenge on Friday.
“They’ve got a pretty talented tailback, and then they’ve got a defensive end and a defensive tackle that, on film, look to be real game changers,” he said. “They’ve definitely got some playmakers on both sides of the ball, so it’s going to be a challenge.”
Under longtime head coach Terry Laube, Owen-Withee won WIAA Division 6 State Titles in 1992 and 1999 and the Division 7 State Championship in 2014, and missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2010.
“We’re thin across the board again, and we’ve got to have all 25 guys play as hard as they can every snap, and then play error-free football as much as possible,” said Nelson. “You’re never going to be error free at our level in high school, but we’ve got to try and purse that.
“And if we can do that and limit our mistakes and limit our turnovers, hopefully we’re going to get a chance come fourth quarter to have a score toward the end to win the ballgame,” he said.
With its home field under renovation, Amherst will take on Antigo at Waupaca at 7 p.m. Friday.
“They’ve got some big boys up front, we’re going to definitely be outweighed up front on both sides of the ball,” said Amherst football head coach Mark Lusic. “They’re more of a traditional Wing-T offense, fullhouse backfield.
“Defensively, they’re big up front, their quarterback’s actually a really, really good linebacker inside, and we’re going to have to get a helmet on him at all times,” he said. “We’ll have our work cut out for us, but we’re excited to go.”
Antigo went 3-3 in the Great Northern Conference last year to reach the postseason for the 11th year in a row, where it fell 52-14 to eventual WIAA Division 3 State Runner-up West De Pere in the Level 1 Playoffs to finish 4-6 overall.
“Hopefully we start fast,” said Lusic. “In the scrimmage, it took us a while to get going.
“And execution, I don’t want a bunch of mistakes, that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “If we execute, take care of the ball, and of course tackle, we’ll take our chances.”