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Holmen’s reward for 8-1 season? Playoff trip to Superior

By Todd Sommerfeldt La Crosse Tribune The Holmen High School football team will pack up and leave town around noon today for a WIAA playoff game that will take place more than 200 miles away. That isn't treatment generally associated with a team ...

By Todd Sommerfeldt

La Crosse Tribune

 

The Holmen High School football team will pack up and leave town around noon today for a WIAA playoff game that will take place more than 200 miles away.

That isn’t treatment generally associated with a team that won eight of its nine games with its lone loss being by three points to an undefeated conference champion.

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When Vikings’ coach Steve King awoke at 2:30 a.m. Saturday to look for eight-team groupings released by the WIAA, he knew his Vikings were going to have a Saturday they hadn’t expected.

“When I saw the group we were in, I thought, ‘Oh, boy. This is gonna be a tough sell,” King said. “We were going to go to the (seeding) meeting and be on an island as the only team from the western side of the state.

“I was originally hoping we could get a three or four seed. When I saw the group we were in, I was hoping for a five or six.”

The Vikings received a seven seed and were given a first-round game at second-seeded Superior (9-0) tonight. The game was moved briefly to Saturday, but a conflict with ACT testing moved it back to tonight.

The group of eight also includes another unbeaten conference champion -- Menasha -- and Ashwaubenon (8-1), which spent most of the season ranked among the state’s best team.

“It is what it is,” King said. “Now we have to go out and earn respect and give (the Spartans) a heck of a ball game. If we would have gotten the sixth seed, we’d be going to Ashwaubenon, which isn’t much different.”

King said that process will begin when the team leaves Holmen at 12:15 p.m. today. A stop to stretch and grab sandwiches somewhere around Rice Lake, Wis., will make the trip more manageable with the game kicking off at 7 p.m.

King said it will turn into any other Friday night when the team is dressed and starts offensive and defensive meetings at 5:10 or 5:15 p.m.

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“It’s four hours to get there, but we’ll be fine if we get our normal routine before a game,” King said. “We do feel bad for our fans because it’s going to be tough for them to get there, but we’ll be fine.”

Once Holmen gets there, it will have to fine-tune its defensive approach for the Spartans, who won the Big Rivers Conference by scoring a lot of points.

Superior is averaging 40.6 points in its last eight games, and it scored a combined 108 in beating Eau Claire North and Eau Claire Memorial to end the regular season. But the Spartans also give up points, and the Vikings can take advantage of that with quarterback Camryn Zimmerman (97 carries-863 yards, 14 TDs) and fullback Mitchell Dienger (135-752, 11 TDs).

“I feel good about the fact that we’ll be able to score points based on the fact that they’ve give up a lot,” King said of the Spartans. “What we’ll have to do is play well defensively.

“We aren’t going into the game in awe of them. We just have to do what we do.”

The Vikings have played well defensively all season and have allowed just 76 points in nine games and an average of 176.1 total yards per game.

Superior senior quarterback Nick Mahlum (139-for-216-2,540 yards, 30 TDs, 4 INTs) is a direct threat to that defense, and the secondary will be challenged harder than it has all season.

The Vikings have only allowed two passing touchdowns, but they’ll have to find a way to defend against 6-foot receiver Jake Libal (49-994, 11 TDs), who caught 11 passes in one game, had 248 receiving yards in another and has been kept out of the end zone in just one game all season.

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The combination has hurt a lot of teams and starts with Mahlum’s ability to get the ball where it needs to be.

“He’s a tremendous thrower and very accurate,” King said of the 6-foot-3 Mahlum. “They also have a very good runner than will keep us occupied.”

That runner would be junior Ross Kennelly (94-643, 9 TDs), who has rushed for 219 yards and scored five of his touchdowns in the last two games.

Holmen’s defense has risen to the challenge a number of times this season. This game, however, is going to be the biggest challenge of them all.

 

-- Copyright (c) 2014, the La Crosse Tribune/Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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