With a WIAA playoff berth on the line for Oshkosh North and the chance to play a huge spoiler for Oshkosh West, the intra-city rivalry returns to the gridiron.
Some of the starch was taking out of the contest when the Wildcats were knocked out of playoff contention with last week’s loss to Fond du Lac — that would have meant the winning team of the game was in the playoffs and the losing team was not.
But there is still a playoff berth on the line, not to mention bragging rights for a year, and it’s a safe bet that both teams will hit J.J. Keller Field at Titan Stadium tonight ready to play and focused on winning.
Here’s how I see the matchup unfolding:
* When Oshkosh North has the ball: The Spartans’ offense has put up 73 points in the last two weeks, scored more points against VFA South leader Stevens Point than any other team this season and is bulging at the seams with weapons.
The Wildcats’ defense has been the strength of the squad this season. They have overcome a lack of size with a great team effort, which included allowing an explosive Marshfield team just one offensive touchdown earlier this season.
But right now, West has been besieged by injuries at some key spots and against an offense like North’s that could mean trouble.
* When Oshkosh West has the ball: Sam Olejnik played the entire second half at quarterback last week and it will be interesting to see if West sticks with him or returns to alternating series with Olejnik and Isaac Xiong under center. The Wildcats do have talented skill position players and don’t be surprised if head coach Ken Levine digs deep in the playbook against the Spartans.
After allowing an average of 31 points in its first four VFA South games, North has surrendered just 22 points combined in the past two weeks. Some of that is the level of competition, but it’s also a sign that the Spartans are starting to play better on that side of the ball.
West, at times, has had a propensity for turnovers and North has been good at taking the ball away from opposing offenses. That will make the difference.
* Special teams: A couple of weeks ago, this would have been a push. Picking the better kicker/punter between North’s Turner Geisthardt and West’s Ethan Nelson would be like trying to decide if Allison Brie or Kelly Pickler is better looking.
However, with Nelson missing last week’s game because of injury, I am not expecting him to play in this one. And if he does, how healthy would he be?
* Intangibles: The lure of a WIAA playoff berth can be a powerful one. With that reward within their reach, I have no doubt that the Spartans will come out prepared to extend their season another week.
West, though, definitely has some motivation on its side, too. There would be no better feeling than keeping its rival out of the playoffs as well and there is a definite measure of pride on the line for the Wildcats.
And, West has won three of the last four meetings in this series. The Wildcats could just have the Spartans number.
In the end, I think North’s bevy of offensive weapons prove to be the difference against West’s injury-riddled roster and the Spartans secure the much sought-after WIAA playoff berth.
Team of the Week
Clinch a playoff berth with a convincing win and its worthy of being honored so this week’s mention goes to Omro who reached WIAA playoff-dom with a 21-0 rout of Kettle Moraine Lutheran last Saturday. The win was sparked by Eddie Schug’s 223 rushing yards and two touchdowns from Nick Blythe.
Five Players to Watch
* Nate Neveau, QB, Oshkosh North — He’s the linchpin of the Spartans’ offense and if he has a big game that will go a long way to getting North a victory.
* Josh Kalmus, RB/LB, Lourdes Academy — The Knights want to head into the playoffs on a winning note and Kalmus is capable of leading them there.
* Nick Vandenlangenberg, RB, Winneconne — Freedom’s defense is good and will be focused on Dylan Hecker. That should open up some running room for Vandenlangenberg.
* Derek Potratz, LB, Omro — Potratz is the Foxes’ leading tackler and Winnebago Lutheran will look to run the ball.
* Jake Aronson, DL, Oshkosh West — Aronson isn’t likely to make any eye-popping plays, but he’s played the entire season basically on one leg because of a knee injury and that’s impressive in itself.