Now that we have the 14 teams set to represent the state in the football championships at Camp Randall Stadium (all of which you can hear on The Big 1070), here's how Level 4 played out. On Wednesday, I'll offer my thoughts on each title game.
Pre-Playoffs Pick: Kimberly vs Franklin
Pre-Level 4 Pick: Kimberly vs Sun Prairie
State: Kimberly vs Sun Prairie
Sun Prairie battled Muskego in a classic, holding off the Warriors down the stretch and avoiding the late magic Muskego has found in toppling Oak Creek, Racine Horlick, and Franklin in the playoffs. It was the first time Sun Prairie had been tested all year, and the 21 points they gave up in the win were the most the Cardinals had surrendered all year, one week after setting their previous high of 17 points allowed against Madison West. Kimberly was in a fight early against Appleton North, but pulled away down the stretch to win their state-record 69th consecutive game.
This is one of three undefeated vs undefeated games at state. Sun Prairie hasn't played an undefeated team since Week 2 against Middleton, a team that went out in Level 2. The major storyline will be how Sun Prairie's star-studded defense can contain the balance and physicality of Kimberly's offense, while the Cardinals' offense will need to avoid the spate of turnovers they've had deep into the playoffs against a very opportunistic Papermakers defense.
*I will be calling this game for The Big 1070 / The Big 920
Pre-Playoffs Pick: Brookfield Central vs Waunakee
Pre-Level 4 Pick: Brookfield Central vs Waunakee
State: Brookfield Central vs Waunakee
Brookfield Central played a wild game against Waukesha West, but was able to hold off the Wolverines and pick up a two-score win. While Waukesha West was a little short-handed minus their starting quarterback, that isn't the case with the Waunakee Warriors, who have rolled up eye-popping stats in their first 13 contests. Waunakee hasn't seriously been tested outside of the opening quarter-plus against both Mount Horeb/Barneveld and Slinger, and neither game felt like it would go any other way than a Waunakee win. Suffice to say, Brookfield Central will provide that test.
This is the second undefeated vs undefeated contest in the state finals. Waunakee's last game against a perfect record was in August against Mount Horeb/Barneveld, a team that went out in Level 2. Brookfield Central has had a very difficult path to state, including a big win over cross-town rival Brookfield East, the defending D2 champion, to get to this point. This should be an interesting case of two extremely talented teams with very different paths to 13-0.
Pre-Playoffs Pick: New Berlin Eisenhower vs Notre Dame
Pre-Level 4 Pick: New Berlin Eisenhower vs Notre Dame
State: New Berlin Eisenhower vs Rice Lake
Oh me of little faith in a team I covered two or three times a year for a decade back up north. Rice Lake exacted revenge in a 28-7 win over Notre Dame, and the Warriors will take their potent option offense on a trip down 53 & 94 to Madison to take on New Berlin Eisenhower. The Lions' defense has been suffocating all playoffs long, and that has been their calling card as they have navigated a tough path to get to Camp Randall Stadium. Beating a good Whitefish Bay team to get to state is as impressive as Rice Lake's W over Notre Dame.
New Berlin Eisenhower comes in undefeated, while Rice Lake, the smallest team in the Big Rivers, suffered two losses this year (and a 13th game was called off due to a widespread illness for the players for one of their non-conference opponents). Rice Lake's option offense has been difficult to stop for pretty much anyone in the last quarter-century, and their coach, Dan Hill, cites the mental fortitude and attitude of his teams frequently when talking up the success of the Warriors over the years. New Berlin Eisenhower's defense is the real deal, however, and their roll to state has been largely due to how effectively they've slowed other teams down. Expect a lower-scoring game.
Pre-Playoffs Pick: Lodi vs Osceola
Pre-Level 4 Pick: Lodi vs St. Croix Central
State: Lodi vs St. Croix Central
I backed the wrong Middle Border horse; St. Croix Central returns to defend their title, although the defense will be against an extremely dangerous Lodi Blue Devils squad that has trampled virtually every opponent with a big-time running game and a defense that has put it to pretty much everyone they've seen this year. Outside of a Level 1 scare from Mayville, Lodi has looked every part the title contender, and even in that game they got a super-human performance from Jacob Heyroth, who has carried the offensive load for the Blue Devils all playoffs long (and had a punt return score against Martin Luther in Level 4 to boot). St. Croix Central has been the beneficiary of a booming population in far western Wisconsin, much like the Somerset and Osceola and Hudson programs as of late have seen a deeper talent pool courtesy of that population increase.
This game could be a wild one. Both teams can put up the points, and it certainly wouldn't surprise me to see it turn into a shootout, albeit one done primarily on the ground. Lodi probably has the best player on the field, but St. Croix Central brings experience to the table. Lodi enters as the undefeated team in this contest.
*I will be calling this game for The Big 1070
Pre-Playoffs Pick: Grantsburg vs Clinton
Pre-Level 4 Pick: Amherst vs Cedar Grove/Belgium
State: Amherst vs Lake Country Lutheran
Division 5 was insanely deep this year, and credit to Amherst and Lake Country Lutheran for surviving some pretty tough competition. In the case of Amherst, it was more steamrolling opponents, while for Lake Country Lutheran, they've eked out wins on the strength of their defense and kicking game over two undefeated opponents: Clinton and Cedar Grove/Belgium.
I could definitely make the argument that this game could be closer than it would appear at a glance; Amherst is the favorite in this game, but Lake Country Lutheran has been picked against all playoffs long. The Lightning are actually the undefeated team in this match-up, but Amherst's lone loss was to D6 favorite St. Mary's Springs. Amherst has dominating line play, enabling much of their success in the playoffs. Lake Country Lutheran has been a hard team to figure, especially for opposing offenses. A lower-scoring game definitely will favor LCL.
Pre-Playoffs Pick: St. Mary's Springs vs Spring Valley
Pre-Level 4 Pick: St. Mary's Springs vs Regis
State: St. Mary's Springs vs Iola-Scandinavia
Iola-Scandinavia's thrilling rally to win 27-26 over Regis got them into the state title game, but what awaits is the juggernaut that is the Ledgers of St. Mary's Springs. The Thunderbirds used turnovers and big plays to gash the Ramblers of Regis last week, while St. Mary's Springs settled for a 21-9 win over Markesan to advance. The title game match-up should be more of the same between the teams: low-scoring, physical, all boiling down to a few 50/50 plays that could swing the game in either direction.
There's no doubt the undefeated St. Mary's Springs Ledgers will be the favorite in this game, as they have been all playoffs long; the question is whether or not Iola-Scandinavia can take advantage of a low-scoring game to jump up and nip the Ledgers. If the scoring margin gets into the 30's, it's hard to see most teams being able to keep up against a tough defense. Then again, the Thunderbirds were able to put up points last week against a similarly physical team, so it should be an interesting Day 1 game.
*I will be calling this game for The Big 1070
Pre-Playoffs Pick: Edgar/Bangor winner vs Black Hawk
Pre-Level 4 Pick: Bangor vs Black Hawk
State: Bangor vs Black Hawk
I officially picked Edgar pre-playoffs based on them having the home-field advantage in Level 3 over Bangor, but the Cardinals got the upper hand in a 16-8 victory. Either way, it seemed like Black Hawk and the winner of that game were on a collision course at state. Black Hawk got running clock against Fall River, while Bangor took down a solid Abbotsford squad 30-7.
The first game of the state tournament will be a doozy. Black Hawk is the smallest school in the entire playoff field, enrollment-wise, but when I saw them in Week 1 dismantling a playoff team in Owen-Withee over at UW-Platteville, I said right then and there they had the look of a state team. Flash forward a few months and here we are. Bangor, on the other hand, usually has that look as well. I've called both Black Hawk and Bangor title games in the last few years. This is the third of three undefeated vs undefeated battles at state.