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Spartans focus on stopping the run

Superior High School’s Gunnar Gronski (43) fights for yards against Holmen earlier this season in Rice Lake. Superior won 35-30. The teams meet again tonight in a WIAA Division 2 playoff game at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelgram.com)

Going into last week’s regular-season finale, the Superior High School football team knew it had to win to qualify for the playoffs.

The Spartans did just that with a 42-0 win at Eau Claire North and qualified for the playoffs for the fifth straight year.

One week later, Superior now knows that if wants to defeat Holmen in a Division 2 first-round playoff game, it must stop the Vikings’ vaunted running attack.

The Vikings have 3,256 yards on offense this season, including 3,003 rushing.

Leading the way is senior Seth Wilson, who has rushed for 1,602 yards and 25 touchdowns and has broken Holmen records this season for rushing yards in a game, rushing yards in a season and rushing touchdowns in a season.

In last week’s win over Sparta, Wilson rushed for 318 yards and four touchdowns. The son of former Cincinnati Bengals running back Stanley Wilson has been held to less than 100 yards once all season and has 835 yards in the last four games alone.

“There is no question, Wilson is one of the top running backs, maybe the best all-around in the state,” SHS coach Bob DeMeyer said. “He is so physical, explosive and durable. He’ll get a million carries, he’s tough to bring down and capable of scoring every time he touches the ball.”

Friday’s meeting between Superior and Holmen will be the third in the last three seasons.

Superior defeated Holmen 21-0 in a first-round playoff game in 2014 and then 35-30 in Week 2 this season in Rice Lake.

In their meeting this season, Holmen had 514 total yards and Superior had 379. All 893 yards came on the ground.

Wilson led Holmen with 275 yards and three touchdowns. Drew Becker added 77 yards and Seth Holden had 53.

Gunnar Gronski led Superior with 171 yards and three touchdowns. Corey Sanders added 89 yards and quarterback Gunner Johnson had 88 yards.

The Spartans took what seemed like a comfortable 35-12 lead on Johnson’s 13-yard touchdown run with 1:44 left in the third quarter.

Things got interesting in the fourth quarter when Wilson scored from 4 yards out and the Vikings recovered back-to-back onside kicks which led to two more TDs and a 35-30 score with 4:51 remaining.

Superior sealed the victory when defensive back Max Plunkett tackled Becker behind the line of scrimmage.

Holmen was its own worst enemy, getting penalized eight times for 59 yards, turning the ball over four times — three fumbles and an interception — and failing to score on all five of its extra-point attempts.

“Having played earlier in the season isn’t advantageous to either of us,” DeMeyer said. “They do what they do, and we do what we do. The first game was close and I expect this one to be also.

“Two good teams, it will come down to who makes the fewest mistakes.”

Holmen coach Travis Kowalski sees things a bit differently.

“It definitely helps to know them,” Kowalski told the La Crosse Tribune. “We don’t see a lot of (opponents) running option, but we’ve seen what they do and know what they can do.”

Superior is making its 13th postseason appearance with an overall playoff record of 13-11.

 “Making it to the playoffs is always one of our top team goals,” DeMeyer said. “As a coaching staff, we are especially proud of the players and excited for them. They’ve earned it and it’s something that not everyone gets to experience.

“We’ve talked to the younger players about not taking it for granted, giving their best effort and enjoying the journey as there’s no guarantee they’ll be back. We fully expect to be, but it takes a lot of work, especially with our schedule.”

SPARTAN SPIN: Today’s game begins at 7 p.m. and will be carried live on the web at ifan.tv. … SHS will pre-sell tickets for tonight’s game from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the activities office in room B-1 (enter door 11). Tickets cost $4 for children, students and adults. Children six years of age or under are $1. This is a WIAA event so no passes will be allowed. Gates open at 5:50 p.m.

About the Vikings

Holmen went 6-3 this season and finished tied for second in the Mississippi Valley Conference with a 5-2 record (along with West Salem and La Crosse Logan).

Besides their loss to Superior, the Vikings lost to Onalaska (43-21) and La Crosse Logan (46-40). Holmen opened the season with a 15-14 win at Chippewa Falls.

Leading the Holmen offense is Isaac Handland, who made is quarterback debut against Superior when Connor Duncan went down with an injury. Handland is third on the team in rushing for 351 yards. He is also 8-of-28 passing for 253 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Holmen has an enrollment of 1,173.

The Vikings average 333 yards and 32.2 points a game.

About the Spartans

With an enrollment of 1,340 Superior is the fifth largest school in the Division 2 playoffs. Germantown is the largest with 1,416 students and Wausau West is fourth at 1,394.

In 2014 the Spartans won two home playoff games — 21-0 over Holmen and 56-35 over Ashwaubenon. Superior’s only other home playoff game was a 20-14 overtime win over Eau Claire North in 1990.

Superior lost at Chippewa Falls 28-6 in the first round of last year’s playoffs.

Superior’s final record of 6-3 included losses to Menomonie (42-21), Rice Lake (42-35) and Hudson (35-14), which had combined records of 22-5.

Superior averages 25 points and 381 yards a game.

Johnson has completed 72-of-125 passes for 1,391 yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The senior is also second in rushing with 511 yards and four TDs.

Gronski leads Superior on the ground with 785 yards and 10 TDs; Sanders has 265 yards and two TDs; and Zach Tharge has 170 yards and five TDs.

Plunkett has 21 catches for 511 yards and five TDs, followed closely by Sam Kline, 22 catches for 366 yards and four TDs.

Senior linebacker Blake Graskey leads Superior with 82 tackles. Tharge is next with 42 tackles and Sanders has 35.

Despite missing a couple of games with an injury, Josiah McDonald has 27 tackles, including two sacks, four tackles behind the line of scrimmage and two fumble recoveries.

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