The second season: Auburndale, Stratford, Spencer/Columbus play Level 1 games Friday
The 2016 WIAA football playoffs begin Friday with Level 1 games in seven divisions across Wisconsin.
Three local teams will hit the gridiron Friday night with aspirations of moving on in the postseason.
Marawood Conference champion Stratford (8-1) will host Colby (4-5), and Spencer/Columbus Catholic (7-2) will be at home at Spencer High School against Bonduel (7-2) in Division 5 first-round games.
In Division 6, Auburndale (4-5) will play at Marawood rival Marathon (8-1). All games Friday begin at 7 p.m.
Auburndale at Marathon
Auburndale lost 46-7 at home to Marathon just two weeks ago, surrendering 419 yards rushing, including 214 to Mitchell Putnam, the Marawood Conference’s leading rusher with 1,124 yards this season.
The Apaches earned a rematch in the postseason after qualifying for the playoffs with a 24-19 win at Tomahawk last Friday.
Auburndale hit one big play through the passing game against Marathon, a 77-yard touchdown from Ryan Isaacson to Cale Jacoby, and had 169 yards in the air despite completing only 7 of 23 attempts.
Coach Eric Custer said the Apaches will have to play much better defensively in order to compete with Marathon this time around.
“We’ve got to be able to stop the run,” Custer said. “I think they’re the best passing team in our conference. They have a really good quarterback and perimeter athletes. I think we focused (on) the pass a lot last time, but we have to be able to stop the run. We have to stop (Putnam) and force them to beat us passing the ball. If they beat us that way, then they deserve it.”
Following a disappointing 3-6 season a year ago, Auburndale regrouped this fall under the leadership of its five seniors to accomplish its goal of reaching the postseason.
“We’re happy to be back (in the playoffs), and it shows we’re a little bit better than last year,” senior running back/linebacker Aaron Willfahrt said. “Having this younger group, it means a lot to us.”
Marathon provides a difficult first-round matchup for the Apaches, and Willfahrt said it will take an improved defensive effort to give them a chance.
“We’re going to have to communicate a lot and cut down on the mental errors, like jumping offsides and things like that,” Willfahrt said. “They spread us out and running off tackle. Mitchell Putnam is pretty quick. I’m pretty confident in our pass defense. We are going to have to concentrate on our run defense.”
Colby at Stratford
Stratford has been playing at the top of its game for well over a month now, shutting out its last four opponents and winning eight games in a row overall.
The Tigers will get running back/linebacker Kamren Bornbach back this week after he missed the team’s finale. Bornbach scored a Marawood Conference-best 114 points this season on the strength of 16 touchdowns. He finished with 771 rushing yards in seven games, and Cole Hoffman added another 357 yards on the ground and seven scores.
Colby boasts a diversified offense led by quarterback Trevor Stuttgen, who has 885 passing yards and nine touchdowns. Three different running backs, along with Stuttgen, share the rushing duties.
“Defensively, we have done a great job stopping the run all year,” Stratford coach Jason Tubbs said. “Getting healthy in the secondary, with Dave Marquardt and Cole Hoffman, has made our pass defense a lot better and consistent.”
Bonduel at Spencer/Columbus Catholic
As has been the case the past two seasons, Spencer/Columbus has relied on the big play to fuel its offense.
The Rockets’ backfield tandem of Noah Zastrow and Hunter Luepke has combined for 2,000 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns. Of Zastrow’s 22 touchdowns, 14 are 35 yards or more.
The Rockets have averaged 39.7 points per game this season, but it could be the defense that will have to shine in their playoff opener against Bonduel.
Bonduel has won four games in a row by a combined score of 158-31 and has totaled 30 or more points in five of its seven victories this season. The Bears only losses came in back-to-back weeks to defending Division 5 state champion Amherst and Iola-Scandinavia.
Paul Lecker is publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com, a contributor to Hub City Times Sports. You can reach him by email at email@example.com.