A year ago, Berlin’s football team found itself with a No. 8 seed in the program’s first playoff appearance in a decade.
The Indians promptly went out and knocked off top-seeded Plymouth, 28-0.
So when this year’s brackets were unfurled by the WIAA last Saturday and Berlin found itself with a No. 1 seeding in its Division 4 bracket playing host to eighth-seeded Mauston, head coach Joe Stellmacher had a message for his team.
“One of the first things I said to them on Monday when we met for film study was we have been in that exact position and we know what it’s like to be the underdog and to have that chip on your shoulder with nothing to lose,” Stellmacher said. “We certainly know how it is and hopefully our kids understand that they can’t just show up and expect to win.”
Both of last year’s playoff games were on the road – the win over Plymouth and then the Level 2 loss to Luxemburg-Casco – and that has been the case for the Indians’ postseason appearances for a while.
In fact, Berlin hasn’t hosted a WIAA playoff game since 1997, when the Indians lost to New Holstein in the opening round.
“I think I was in seventh or eighth grade then,” Stellmacher said. “It’s very cool, not only for our school but for our community. It’s been almost 20 years since we hosted a playoff game, so we’re hoping for a pretty electric and fun atmosphere on Friday night.”
Mauston enters the postseason after finishing second in the South Central Conference, however the Eagles finished just 4-5 overall and dropped their last two games of the regular season.
Still, Mauston scored 42 points against Wautoma last week as quarterback Tarren Hall finished with 352 yards passing and four touchdowns. It’s an area that Stellmacher is definitely concerned about.
“They had some deep balls over the heads of the Wautoma DBs so the key for us is no big plays,” Stellmacher said. “The 4- or 5-yard out routes, as long as we come up and tackle, that’s not going to beat you but we have to eliminate the big plays over our heads.”
One and win
Two years ago, Omro was stunned by a visiting Wautoma team in a Level 1 playoff game. Then last year, it was a trip to Little Chute and a loss to a Mustang team that ended up playing for a state title.
So, as the second-seeded Foxes gear up for Friday’s playoff opener at home against Nekoosa, the goal is simply to end the run of one-and-done playoff appearances.
“They are very hungry to put that behind them and try to make a run this year,” Omro head coach Dave Wellhoefer said. “They are excited to get going. The goal was to get one of the top seeds in the bracket and now that’s another goal we can check off the list.”
Nekoosa isn’t a totally foreign foe to the Foxes either. The two teams met in the season-opener in 2014 with Omro rolling up a 41-14 win.
This season Nekoosa is 4-5 overall and tied for second in the South Central Conference. The Papermakers have an offense that scored 53 points in the regular-season finale, topped the 40-point mark three times and have a running back in Tarek Tuttle that has gained more than 1,400 yards this season.
“They have an excellent back in Tuttle. He’s a great running back,” Wellhoefer said. “Once you get into the playoffs, everybody is good. You have to earn your way forward.”
On the road
When Winneconne marched to the 2013 WIAA Division 4 state title, it started on the road.
That’s the way things will begin again for the Wolves, who drew No. 5 seed in their Division 4 bracket and will play at Adams-Friendship.
Also opening the postseason on the road will be Oshkosh North, which will travel to face top-seeded Brookfield Central in a Division 2 Level 1 game on Friday.
When the NCAA Tournament bracket comes out in March, it’s always fun to fill it out and try to predict what’s going to happen on the court.
The same holds true for the WIAA playoff brackets and here are my thoughts on the state title games to be played at Camp Randall Stadium in late November.
•Division 1: Final Four — Kimberly, Fond du Lac, Middleton, Muskego; Kimberly defeats Muskego for the state title.
•Division 2: Final Four – De Pere, Homestead, Milton, Waukesha West; Waukesha West defeats De Pere for the state title.
•Division 3: Final Four — Rice Lake, Wisconsin Lutheran, Catholic Memorial, La Cross Logan; Rice Lake defeats Catholic Memorial for state title.
•Division 4: Final Four – Osceola, Freedom, Lodi, Berlin; Freedom defeats Lodi for state title.
•Division 5: Final Four – Stanley-Boyd, Amherst, Cedar Grove-Belgium, Westby; Amherst defeats Cedar Grove-Belgium for state title.
•Division 6: Final Four – Regis, St. Mary’s Springs, Darlington, Melrose-Mindoro; St. Mary’s Springs defeats Darlington for state title.
•Division 7: Final Four – Hurley, Coleman, Catholic Central, Bangor; Catholic Central defeats Coleman for state title.
Final Top 5
Here are the final rankings for the area teams for the 2015 season.
•1. Berlin (8-1): The Indians get to enjoy a home playoff game for the first time in nearly 20 years.
•2. Omro (8-1): The Foxes got the No. 2 seed behind Berlin in the Division 4 bracket, which could make for an interesting Level 3 clash.
•3. Oshkosh North (6-3): The No. 8 seed seems a little low for a team that has won four straight, but Spartans are capable of pulling an upset.
•4. Winneconne (5-4): Do the Wolves have another magical postseason run in them?
•5. Valley Christian (5-4): The Warriors finish with a winning record for a second straight season.
Steve Clark: email@example.com or follow on Twitter at @skcreno27