Late-night surprise keeps season alive for SpartansSuperior faces Appleton North in playoff opener
By: Ken Olson, Superior Telegram
Superior High School’s Ben Erickson thought his high school football career was over when the Spartans wrapped up their regular season Friday night with a 28-8 win over Chippewa Falls.
After all, Superior’s record was 4-4 overall and 3-4 in the Big Rivers Conference, and the No. 1 criteria for getting invited to the WIAA playoffs is at least a .500 record in league play.
In what has become a tradition after the final game of the season, Erickson and the Spartans huddled near the end zone and said their goodbyes to their teammates, coaches and Ole Haugsrud Field.
Those tears and heartaches turned into exhilaration around 11:30 p.m. Friday when a tweet on wissports.net said that the WIAA playoff field was going to include four teams with losing conference records. Minutes later another tweet said Superior might be one of those teams.
Official word on teams making the playoffs was expected to be released at midnight, but it was put on hold for an hour as the WIAA tried to solve a problem where two teams with identical enrollments were on the border of Division 5 and 6.
At 1:13 a.m. the situation was resolved, and it was official that the Spartans would be in the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season.
Superior received the No. 8 seed and will play No. 1 Appleton North at 2 p.m. Saturday at D.C. Everest in Schofield.
Although the Spartan coaching staff and many of the players knew within minutes they were in the playoffs, Erickson didn’t realize his football career would continue until he woke up the next morning.
“Coach Rob Scott sent me a text at 2 a.m. that said ‘just prevails,’” Erickson said. “I didn’t know what that meant so I looked again and saw that I had four or five texts saying that we were in the playoffs.
“That was a great feeling to wake up to, finding out that we were in the playoffs.”
Equally excited was SHS coach Bob DeMeyer.
“I was surprised, but I knew we had a shot,” DeMeyer said. “Everybody was thinking there’s a good chance we were done, then wow, we’re in this thing. So it was very exciting for all of us, that’s pretty cool.
“Now we have a new season, new life and have a chance to play another game with our brothers.”
The good news seemed to carry out to the field as the Spartans enjoyed their best practice of the season Tuesday.
“Our theme this week in perfection,” DeMeyer said. “We want to demand perfection from ourselves, our teammates and at Tuesday’s practice we did that. They were focused.
“We’re on a mission. They believe they can win and that’s the first step. They want to keep it going.”
Standing in Superior’s way are the Lightning, who enter the game ranked No. 3 in the state with an 8-0 record.
North is led by quarterback Tanner Schuh, who has completed 108-of-153 passes for 1,336 yard, 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
“He’s a big time kid,” DeMeyer said. “He’s completed 70-some percent of his passes, he has a lot of different targets, he’s accurate, he has a quick release, he’s just a solid quarterback. He doesn’t run the ball a ton, from what we’ve seen on film, but he’s capable of running though.”
Other offensive weapons for North are running back Sawyer Schultz, who has rushed for 613 yards and nine touchdowns, and wide receivers Troy Van De Voort and Frank Van Handel.
“They’re wide outs are tall, athletic kids that can run and do a lot of things similar to what we saw with River Falls,” DeMeyer said. “They have a lot of weapons, a lot of athletic kids that he’s going to try and get the ball to.
“Defensively they’re very solid, very fundamentally sound and don’t make a lot of mistakes. They run a scheme that we’re familiar with. They just have 11 solid athletes on the field.”
The Spartans enter Saturday’s game relatively healthy, but will be playing without Aaron Wakefield-Zubiate, Trent Olson, Tyler Nystrom and Lukas Gall.
Olson and Wakefield-Zubiate have already missed most of games, while Nystrom was recently injured and Gall was hurt over the weekend.
“We thought Trent might be ready to go but now wouldn’t be available until the third round of the playoffs,” DeMeyer said. “We also have a lot of small injuries, everybody does at this point of season.”
The winner of Saturday’s game will play the winner of the Green Bay Preble and Stevens Point. If Superior and Point win, there’s a chance the game would be played at Ole Haugsrud Field on Oct. 27.
Superior senior quarterback Spencer Urban has completed 76-of-175 passes for 891 yards, six touchdowns and seven interceptions. His main targets have been Kyle Turkowski (20-191), Erickson (19-252) and Jack Kline (19-179).
Jaylon Brown leads the Spartans on the ground with 330 yards on 56 carries. Next is Aaron Wakefield-Zubiate, who rushed for 298 yards on 48 carries in three games before being an leg injury ended his season.
Right behind Erickson defense is Anthony Valentine, who has 72 tackles, including seven tackles for losses and 1 ½ sacks.
Urban leads the Spartans in scoring with 30 points on five rushing touchdowns. Kicker McKenzie Schwarz is next with 21 points. He is 15-of-19 on extra points and 2-of-3 on field goals.
SPARTAN SPIN: The last time Superior made the playoffs was 2008, when seven lost fumbles and an interception returned for a touchdown led to a 24-21 loss at D.C. Everest. “That was one we’d like to have back, that win would have been great for our program,” DeMeyer said. “We physically beat them. They played Point the next week and were still beat up.” … Superior’s last playoff win was over Eau Claire North in overtime in 1991. It was also the only home playoff game the Spartans host hosted. Superior then lost in the semifinals to the Appleton West Terrors, whose coaching staff included current North head coach Rob Salm.