SHS prepares for Polar BearsSuperior faces Hortonville in WIAA Division 2 playoff opener
By: Ken Olson, Superior Telegram
The Superior High School football team will make its 11th appearance in the WIAA playoffs this weekend, but this will be its first time the Spartans are playing in Division 2.
The Spartans are the largest school amongst Division 2 teams with an enrollment of 1,418 students. They missed playing in the Division 1 tournament by three students. Badger is the smallest Division 1 school in the playoffs with 1,421 students.
Despite dropping a division, the competition won’t get any easier for the Spartans, who will play Hortonville (9-0) at 3 p.m. Saturday in Schofield.
The Division 2 field is loaded with teams like Homestead and Kimberly, who were ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 all season long amongst all teams in Wisconsin in the weekly AP Poll.
Homestead is 45-15 in 19 WIAA playoffs. It won the Division 2 title last year; won three Division 1 titles; and finished second once.
Kimberly is 25-9 all-time in the playoffs, won two Division 2 state titles finished second once.
Homestead is 9-0 this year. One of its wins was 13-7 over Heartland Arrowhead, last year’s Division 1 state champ.
Then there’s the Menomonie Mustangs, a team the Spartans could play in the second round, if both teams win this week. Superior has never defeated Menomonie, including a 35-12 loss just two weeks ago. The Mustangs are 64-21 in 26 playoff appearances and won state titles in 1993, 1997, 1999 and 2002. They also finished second in 1985, 1994 and 2003.
Before Superior can worry about the rest of the field, it must focus first on the Polar Bears, who have a pretty impressive history themselves.
Hortonville has a 2-9 record in nine playoff appearances, including the past three seasons. Their playoffs wins came in Division 3 in 1996 and Division 2 in 2010.
Hortonville is a member of the Bay Conference and won league championships in 1956, 1957, 1969 and 1984.
“The Division 2 bracket we’re in is equally as tough as the Division 1 bracket we would have been in,” SHS coach Bob DeMeyer said. “There are teams with a lot of tradition and great programs, teams that have been in the playoffs year in and year out.
“There’s no way we’re taking anybody lightly. The kids know we’re facing an undefeated team and a conference champion, so we’re preparing to play a very tough football team.”
The Polar Bears are led on offense by senior quarterback Andrew Thompson (6-foot-1, 170 pounds), who has completed 62-of-95 passes for 1,476 yards, thrown 20 touchdowns and was only intercepted once.
Alex Lasinski leads Hortonville on the ground with 1,203 yards and 22 touchdowns. He also has caught three touchdown passes.
The top receivers are senior Mitch Lillge, 13 catches for 445 yards and six TDs; senior Trystyn Guyette, 12 catches for 272 yards and seven TDs; and senior Parker Thome, three TDs.
“They’re very skilled on offense; their offensive line is solid, big up front, and their quarterback is a great athlete,” DeMeyer said. “He’s efficient. Throwing 20 touchdowns with only one interception is unheard of.
“Their running back is a special athlete as well. We have to make sure to find a way to corral him, or it could be a long night.”
Hortonville has also been impressive on defense with five shutouts and has outscored its opponents 386-50.
“Hortonville’s got a very solid defense, their front four is very good, they have outstanding linebackers and their defense backs are solid,” DeMeyer said. “There’s a reason they are 9-0.”
Superior is 11-9 in 10 playoff appearances. The Spartans won a state title in 1990, finished second in 1988 and went 2-1 in 1991. They lost their first playoff game to D.C. Everest in 2007 and 2008 and to Appleton North last season.
“I’m looking forward to Saturday,” SHS junior Jake Libal said. “Last year wasn’t a good way to end the season. We almost didn’t make the playoffs then lost pretty bad, but this is a new season and a lot of us know what it’s like to play in a big game like this.”
Libal has had a lot of big games this season, leading the Spartans with 26 catches for 535 yards and six touchdowns. He also threw a touchdown pass, rushed for 148 yards and returned a kickoff 99 yards for a game-winning touchdown against Eau Claire Memorial.
Throwing the ball to Libal is junior quarterback Nick Mehlum, who has completed 122-of-199 passes for 1,906 yards, 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Also on the receiving end of Mehlum’s passes have been senior Addison Schwarz, 34 catches for 520 yards and five touchdowns; Grant Hanson and Tyler Anderson both with 17 catches for 237 and 168 yards, respectively; and senior Carter Anderson with 15 catches for 240 yards and four touchdowns.
“Nick really prepared himself in the offseason,” Libal said. “As an offense we worked a lot in our 7-on-7 program, just preparing and getting ready and all the hard work is paying off.”
Mehlum leads the Spartans in rushing with 365 yards and eight touchdowns. Senior Aaron Wakefield-Zubiate was Superior’s leading rusher before suffering a knee injury at River Falls.
Sophomore Ross Kennelly has stepped up at running back and rushed for more than 100 yards in last week’s win at Chippewa Falls.
“Division 1, 2 or 3, it doesn’t matter, it’s all competitive and we have to be on our game to win,” Mehlum said. “They’ve rolled in pretty much every one of their games, so we’re just preparing for a very tough game, and we’re just going to have to play our best to win.”
The Spartans played last week without running back Tyler Nystrom and linebacker Garrett Hobson, who both missed the trip because of illness. Both are back and ready to go.
“We came out of last week’s game healthy; we’re full strength this week and we’re ready to go,” DeMeyer said. “The kids are focused, they’re re-energized and the kids are excited. Winning at Chippewa Falls helped generate some momentum going into the playoffs.
“We’ve talked extensively about how we have to take care of the football. We just have to execute, don’t shoot ourselves in the foot and don’t do anything to hurt ourselves.”
There is a bit of a connection between Superior and Hortonville, but it’s a little complicated.
Here you go: Hortonville defeated Marinette 48-0; Marinette lost to Menominee, Mich., 56-27; Menominee defeated Antigo 20-0; and Antigo defeated Rhinelander 27-0 and Ashland 43-8. Superior defeated Rhinelander 57-6 and Ashland 52-12.
SPARTAN SPIN: Saturday’s game will be carried live on WNXR 107.3 FM and on the web at wnxrfm.com or ifan.tv. … The Polar Bears have made 15 state tournament appearances: eight times for baseball, once for girls basketball and boys bowling, and five times for softball. The baseball team won D-2 state titles in 1987, 1997 and 1998 (2-1 over Cumberland). The softball team won D-2 state titles in 1996 and 2000. … Superior’s last three playoff games have been played at D.C. Everest’s Stiehm Stadium.