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Spartans get another crack at Chi-Hi

Superior High School quarterback Gunner Johnson (19) tosses the ball to Beau Girard (10) for a touchdown against Menomonie earlier this season. Superior opened the WIAA Division 2 playoffs tonight at Chippewa Falls. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

There are a number of things the Superior High School football team will need to do to defeat the Chippewa Falls Cardinals in their WIAA Division 2 playoff game at 7 p.m. today in Chippewa Falls.

Spartan quarterback Gunner Johnson and running back/linebacker Ross Kennelly gave their opinions on what it will take to beat the Cardinals, and every one of them falls back on taking care of the football.

Chippewa Falls took advantage of six turnovers (four fumbles, two interceptions) to easily defeat Superior 39-7 Sept. 11 at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex.

“I think their average starting position was the 49-yard line, so they were working with a short field most of the game — and that really hurt,” Kennelly said.

Johnson agrees that the Spartans need to protect the ball, but then quickly turns the focus to his offensive line of Keegan Stanley, Dalton DeRosia, Blake Graskey, Oscar Flaherty and Sam Oosten.

“We know we have to hold onto the football, but after that it all starts with our offensive line,” Johnson said. “They’ve been great all season and we just have to keep pushing up front. I really believe in them, they’re all great guys and put in the work just like the rest of the guys on the team.”

In their first meeting, the Cardinals outgained the Spartans 359-182 in total yards, including 93-5 after one quarter and 190-47 at the half.

Chippewa Falls built a 27-0 lead before Kennelly scored from 5 yards out with 1:10 left in the third quarter.

“We’re excited and ready to go,” Kennelly said. “We have a lot of motivation going into this game. Obviously it’s a playoff game, but they also handed us our first loss on our new field and they got us pretty good.

“There’s kind of maybe a little bit of a revenge factor in there. We’re just excited to get another shot at them in the playoffs.”

The Cardinals are fresh off clinching a share of the Big Rivers Conference championship with a 31-30 come-from-behind win at Rice Lake.

That game went back and forth until Rice Lake took a 30-17 lead with 3:38 remaining.

That’s when Cardinal quarterback Justin Czech took over.

Czech threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Evan Spaeth 30 second later and then a 5-yard TD pass to Marcus Crumbaker with 1:13 remaining to get the Cardinals within 30-29.

Chippewa Falls elected to go for the win and took the 31-30 lead with Czech’s pass to Kole Mewhorter on the two-point conversion.

Chippewa Falls and Rice Lake both finished with records of 8-1 overall and 6-1 in the BRC.

“Coach (Chuck) Raykovich just stated in our seeding meeting that this is one of the best team he’s coached in his career,” SHS coach Bob DeMeyer said. “I would say they are on par with some of the dominant teams they’ve had in the last 10 years. It’s going to be a fun battle.”

On the season Czech has passed for 988 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was 7-of-15 for 102 yards and three TDs against Superior.

Leading the Cardinals’ three-headed rushing monster are Mewhorter (912 yards, 9 TDs), Aaron Knez (837 yards, 13 TDs) and Kyle Bowe (539 yards, 10 TDs).

Czech’s main target is Spaeth, 11 receptions 279 yards and four touchdowns. Mewhorter and Knez both have 10 catches and two touchdowns.

“They jumped on us early the first time we played, but at the same time we did a lot of great things,” Kennelly said. “If we execute our defense, I feel we have a good chance. But we have to take care of the ball and control the ball on offense — that will help our defense a lot.”

The Spartans are coming off a 27-14 loss at Eau Claire Memorial.

“I think we’ll come back stronger this week,” Johnson said. “Our team has a lot of guys that work hard, whether in the classroom, weight room or on the field, so it shouldn’t be any problem getting prepared for this week.”

Johnson has complet ed 38-of-103 passes for 623 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions.

Kennelly leads the Spartans in rushing with 835 yards and 11 touchdowns. Senior Beau Girard is next with 429 yards and seven touchdowns, and Mitch Anderson has 362 yards and two touchdowns.

Johnson has a handful of receivers he relies on, including Brendan French who has a team-high 11 catches for 149 yards. Anderson has caught eight passes for 175 yards and two TDs; Brett Lozon has eight catches for 144 yards and one score; Kennelly had 10 catches for 196 yards, and Girard has seven catches for 117 yards.

“As we have before, our team will bounce back this week,” DeMeyer said. “We know what’s at stake and we’ll be focused in our preparation to go to Chippewa and give them a game.”

The winner will advance to play the winner of No. 2 Menasha (8-1) and No. 7 Hortonville (5-4).

Playoff history

Superior is 13-11 all-time in 12 WIAA playoff appearances. ... The Spartans won the state championship in 1990 and finished second in 1988. ... The Spartans also went 2-1 in 1991 and 2014. ... SHS assistant coach Chad Johnson, father of quarterback Gunner Johnson, was the Spartans’ quarterback in 1988. ... Superior and Chippewa Falls have never played in the playoffs. ... The Cardinals are playing in they playoffs for the first time since 2010.

SPARTAN SPIN: Chippewa Falls leads the all-time series with Superior 16-14. ... According to the Cardinals’ radio team, Superior won the first meeting between the two schools 67-0 in 1906. … Before its loss to Chippewa Falls earlier in the season, Superior had a three-game winning streak over the Cardinals. Chippewa Falls defeated the Spartans 47-6 in 2011, and Superior outscored Chippewa Falls 107-56 in winning the next three games. … Superior is the fifth largest school in the Division 2 playoffs with an enrollment of 1,341. Badger is the largest with 1,433 students, followed by Germantown, 1,399; Chippewa Falls, 1,391; and DePere, 1,346. … Menomonie is the fourth smallest school in Division 2 with 984 students. … In DeMeyer’s 10 seasons at SHS, the Spartans are 49-46 overall and 34-36 in the BRC.

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