Entering the final week of the high school football calendar, as is the case every season, teams are in win-or-go-home situations. A win, and you can punch your playoff ticket, while a loss brings the cold reality of what could have been.
For others, the final week isn’t as nerve-wracking, but stakes remain high with conference championships on the line in three local conferences.
This season, two Wausau-metro teams find themselves in need of a victory in the final week to earn a trip to the WIAA playoffs.
But for Wausau East and D.C. Everest, it has been playoff mode for a couple weeks, as both teams picked up must-win victories last week.
The Lumberjacks used a stout defensive effort to pull out a 12-6 victory over Appleton East and D.C. Everest eked out a narrow victory over Wausau West when Tyler Pankow reeled in a touchdown pass from Nick Sierakowski with roughly 20 seconds remaining to give the Evergreens a 21-14 win.
East will face bitter rival Wausau West in the Log Game, in the same situation as last season’s bitter crosstown matchup.
“Its going to be the same as last year. With a win, we get the Log and earn a playoff berth,” East coach Steve Jung said. “Coach (Kevin) Grundy’s team is much improved and they are sound and they have a stout defense. We will definitely have our hands full. It’s going to be a battle.”
Everest meanwhile, will take on a winless but dangerous Kaukauna club.
“We know if we don’t show up its going to be our last game,” Everest coach Luke Coenen said. “I talked about us being a desperate team and we need to play like one. We are playing better and West is a good defensive team and gave us a great effort, which will help us this week.”
“Kaukauna does some things we have struggled with, which makes me nervous. We need to play better and we are working on improving game to game. We are still making changes and trying to make us the best team possible. If we are going to be a playoff team we need to play like one.”
“It helped our kids that we can make big plays when we need too. That was real important. In retrospect we need to make big plays defensively, too. Those are things we are working on. It does give us some confidence that we can win a tight game and that is important.
“Playing better in pass defense is key. We need to improve there and we need to get better and that has been a point emphasis. Our offensive line has to block better up front. Point of emphasis.
Elsewhere, Abbotsford, winless just a season ago, finds itself one victory away from getting back into the postseason. It will be no easy task, though, as 6-1 Loyal is on the docket.
Despite last season’s struggles, Falcons coach Jake Knappmiller and his team had a playoffs-or-bust mindset before the season.
“It was a goal from day one. We had a lot of players coming back and we knew we would be a lot better,” Knappmiller said. “Our seniors set a goal that they wanted to make the playoffs. To start the year, we had some major breakdowns that led to some losses to (Chippewa Falls) McDonell and Gilman. We feel if we would be playing the way we are now, we wouldn’t have to worry about (winning against) Loyal. We are excited to be in this position, but it’s bittersweet, because we feel we should be in a better position.”
Lastly is Port Edwards, who despite being just 2-5, has a chance at extending its season. The Blackhawks need a win over Wild Rose (6-1, 4-1), which would put them at .500 in conference play and eligible for the WIAA playoffs.
“They have some nice backs and their line up front is as big as they are up front. We are hoping to force them into throwing situations where they might not be as comfortale.
“Hold on to the ball and stay healthy. Things that have plagued us. Penalties and holding on to the ball is why we aren’t in a better position. If we hold on to the ball and play stout defense we will be in the ball game.
Much like East and Everest, the Falcons have been in must-win mode for a while and it might be an advantage entering the final weeks.
“It has been do-or-die for a few weeks,” Knappmiller said. “For a coach it is easy, because the motivation of the playoffs, the kids have put it upon themselves and know the stakes. This is a special group. Loyal is playing for a chance at a piece of the Cloverwood Conference title. It is going to be a big game, with stakes high on both sides.”
“It is exciting to be in this spot,” Blackhawks coach Justin Crandall said. “We have had a rough couple of weeks, but to have goals in front of you at this time is exctiting.”
“They are a very good team and playing for a piece of conference title. They have been a different team since getting healthy and stopping the run game is going to be key for us,.
“Ben has been a great quarterback and spark the new system. He can through the deep ball and if things break down hyas the ability to run. Nice to have a quarterback who can do big things.
Wild Rose has the potential to win or share a conference title, as well, so the Blackhawks want to win for more than just a postseason bid.
“At this point in the year, seeing a team in the top of the league with them having a lot to play for, we want to knock them off to not only put us in the playoffs, but to cost them a conference title. There is plenty of things to motivate our guys.”