WIAA football: Jets look to keep rolling

WIAA football: Jets look to keep rolling

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WIAA football: Jets look to keep rolling

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It might be time to turn off autopilot.

Ever since the season began back on Aug. 23 with a 42-0 win over Mishicot, the Roncalli football team has been dispatching opponents with relative ease, outscoring opponents through 11 games 392-58.

That could be about to change.

The deeper the Jets get in the WIAA State Football Playoffs, the stronger the opposition grows. The Division 4 Level 3 matchup between No. 1 seeded Roncalli (11-0) and visiting No. 2 Freedom (8-3) is expected to be the Jets’ toughest game all year.

Roncalli, though, has a habit of exceeding expectations.

The last time the Jets were expected to be tested, in Week 9 in a matchup of unbeatens against Kewaunee, Roncalli led 35-0 midway through the third quarter to start the running clock.

“We’ve had really good scouting reports and game plans this whole season,” said Roncalli coach Ray Baranczyk on why his Jets have done so well no matter who they play. “When you have great preparation for an opponent it makes executing that game plan much easier because you know what to expect in almost any situation.”

Last Friday’s 20-7 victory over No. 5 Little Chute was the smallest margin of victory all season for the Jets, although the Mustangs didn’t score until 15 seconds were left in the game.

Entering the contest, Little Chute looked to control the aerial battle behind 1,600-yard passer Sam Merryfield but it was Roncalli’s Jared Patek who stole the show. Patek threw for 125 yards on an efficient 8-for-14 while Merryfield, harassed all game by a tenacious Jets pass rush, completed almost as many passes to the opposition (three) than his own team (five) for 33 yards.

“We don’t have a lot of yards passing, but we haven’t had to,” Baranczyk said. “I think last week proved if we have to pass Jared is more than capable of getting the job done.”

Freedom played the same Little Chute squad Sept. 20, but eked out a narrow 20-19 victory with Merryfield throwing for 288 yards and two touchdowns, meaning Roncalli appears to have the edge based on a small sample size of common opponents.

In the favor of the Irish is the fact they reached Level 4 a season ago despite being seeded No. 8 before losing to state finalist Big Foot.

“I think (Freedom) is excited to get back and most likely face Big Foot again, but so are we,” Baranczyk said. “The kids returning (for Freedom) have experience going deep in the playoffs which is a big advantage especially when you get this late in the season. Fortunately, we’ve been to the playoffs three out of the last four years so we have experience too. It just gets tougher and tougher as you progress past each level.”

Freedom, like Little Chute, has a balanced offense behind quarterback Andrew Connelly (1,234 yards) and running backs Nathan Peters (1,185) and Isaac Gonnering (511).

“Freedom isn’t really fancy on offense,” Baranczyk said. “They run out of the I-formation 98 percent of the time…they don’t do a lot of misdirection or pulling. They’re nothing fancy but there’s a reason they are where they are as the No. 2 seed.”

Baranczyk wants his defense to focus on trying to stop what he calls a pair of very good running backs in Peters and Gonnering, who has really started to emerge as a real threat.

While Roncalli’s own offense may lean heavily on the run with 3,213 yards on the ground, its rushing attack is more than just star running back Joey Macdonald, which causes opposing coaches to pick their poison.

Macdonald, the Olympian-Packerland Large Offensive Player of the Year, averages nearly 113 yards per game while having found the end zone 18 times on the season despite rarely playing past halftime.

Sharing the load for the Jets is Alex Deets, who handles the tough yardage for Roncalli including a team-high 97 yards against the Mustangs when Macdonald was held to just 22 yards on 10 carries.

Deets and teammate Nick Stelzer have combined for just under 1,100 yards in relief of Macdonald, though JP Ruether has also come on strong of late for the Jets, providing a dose of speed to the outside according to Baranczyk.

“I’m fairly certain (Freedom) will stay with eight men in the box against us defensively,” Baranczyk added. “They fly to the ball, especially in the secondary, and crash their ends into our inside gaps which will create a few interesting blocking problems for us.”

Anchoring the offensive line and paving the way for the stable of backs are a pair of first-team all-OP Large selections in Nathan Miller and Spencer Fricke.

Not to be overshadowed by the offense, Roncalli’s defense has put up just as impressive of numbers. The Jets have sacked opposing quarterbacks 35 times while snatching 12 interceptions and recovering 20 fumbles to routinely give the offense great a short field to work with.

Several Roncalli players including Deets, the O-P Large Defensive Player of the Year, Miller and Fricke play both ways meaning conditioning is key. Baranczyk has taken steps to limit the wear and tear on his players, including shortening practices.

“I feel the conditioning we’ve done throughout the season has really done it’s job,” Baranczyk said. “We haven’t had to do as much technique work in practice lately which has allowed us to spend more time getting a game plan together and keep the kids fresh.”

Baranczyk is confident his players are ready for any obstacles their opponents present, whether it comes from Freedom or another team should Roncalli advance.

“The quality of the players we’ve faced this season has been strong all season,” Baranczyk said. “We’ve usually been the smaller school or had the smaller players but that hasn’t affected us. We’re not intimidated by size or numbers…Our kids are battle tested and ready.”

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