Cavernous Camp Randall Stadium and the chaos of a state championship game can be overwhelming for a 17-year-old athlete.
Don’t expect the Shiocton Chiefs to be blinded by the enormous spotlight.
The Chiefs represent one of the smallest towns among the 14 teams about to hit the largest stage in Wisconsin high school football. But they have big-game experience on their side.
Several Shiocton players, including quarterback Talon Heinemeyer and running back Jacob Van Asten, played as sophomores in the 2011 Division 6 state championship game won by Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Springs 24-0. The unbeaten Chiefs (13-0) are looking for a different outcome Thursday when they battle Darlington (12-1) in the Division 6 state championship.
“The last time we were there, Camp Randall seemed so huge,” said Heinemeyer. “There were cameras everywhere and we were all nervous. I think it will be a whole different experience this time. We’ll be better prepared for it.”
This will be Shiocton’s third trip to the state finals and the Chiefs are seeking the school’s first state championship.
“We have a lot of guys who were on that 2011 team and that experience should really help us,” said Chiefs tight end/defensive end Patrick Brouillard. “Getting to Camp Randall has been our big goal all year. Now we have a bigger one: winning it.”
The Chiefs are a unified, closely knit team led by seniors like Brouillard, Heinemeyer and Van Asten.
“A lot of us have played football together since we were little kids,” said Van Asten. “I remember when we were in Pee Wee football in the fifth grade. We had to play in the league in Hortonville because they didn’t have one in Shiocton. Even then, we had a pretty good team.”
That team was called the Spartans and most of Shiocton’s current seniors were members of it.
“That’s what makes us a good team — our cohesiveness,” said Heinemeyer. “We’ve been playing football together forever.”
Shiocton is an explosive team, averaging 48.6 points per game. But the Chiefs consider defense to be their strength. They have shut out 10 of 13 opponents and have allowed just 28 points all season, including 14 in a win over Amherst, the 2012 Division 5 state champs. The Shiocton defense is coordinated by Dion Heinemeyer, Talon’s father and the brother of head coach Dino Heinemeyer.
“Defense is our bread and butter,” said Dino Heinemeyer, a member of the 1983 Shiocton team that reached the state finals. “It’s what we hang our hat on. When you pitch 10 shutouts, you’re going to win a lot of ballgames. We have some really good athletes and my brother spends just endless hours working on schemes. I don’t know how he does it.
“We don’t have that one standout on defense. They all know their roles and trust each other. Plus, they’re big and fast and get to the ball.”
Offensively, the Chiefs have quality skill players in Van Asten, Talon Heinemeyer and Brouillard. Van Asten and Heinemeyer split duties at quarterback in the team’s pistol offense, with the other lining up as a running back or receiver.
Van Asten has rushed for 1,644 yards and 25 touchdowns, while throwing for 733 yards and 13 touchdowns. He tied former NFL player Clint Kriewaldt’s single-game rushing record of 317 yards in last week’s 50-0 demolishing of Hurley.
Heinemeyer has rushed for 714 yards and 10 touchdowns, and thrown for more than 400 yards and nine TDs.
“There are certain plays we run for each guy,” said Dino Heinemeyer. “Jacob throws a real good ball and is more of a power runner. Talon runs the option better, and is a great receiver. If we can exploit a defense by using one of them in a certain situation, we’re going to do that.”
Brouillard is a big-play receiver who has caught 33 passes for 769 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“We have some guys who can make plays in space,” said Dino Heinemeyer. “Patrick is a big target and he makes things happen in the open field. I don’t know of many receivers in the state who have 13 touchdowns.”
The Chiefs face a major challenge against a big, physical Darlington team, which beat St. Mary’s Springs 28-13 in last week’s state semifinal. Darlington boasts three 1,000-yard rushers in Myles Leahy (1,448 yards, 20 touchdowns), Jason Singer (1,140, 20) and Tanner Wiegel (1,137, 19), and the Redbirds average 44.1 points per game.
“Darlington is really big, and they like to play power football,” said Van Asten. “It’s going to take our best game, that’s for sure. We’re going to have to be clicking in all aspects to beat them.”