We’re down to 20 area teams left playing postseason football, 18 in classes C1 through D6 and two in the All Nations Conference. It was a year ago this coming week that we went from having 20 to six teams left standing. It’s anyone’s guess whether we have better — or God forbid worse — luck this time around. A lot of these classes don’t have a clear front-runner. Even the ones that do have plenty of other teams that have what it takes to challenge them.
And with the Huskers back in action this week, it’s time to dig out that scarlet and cream from your drawers. With five losses already, they’ll pretty much have to go 3-1 if they want a shot at playing in a bowl game. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of hype surrounding some game in the state shaped like a mitten. Much more on that later.
For the first time in a long time, postseason football is a real possibility for Wayne State. The Wildcats will need outside help to win the conference, but there’s another way to get into the playoffs. Division II has four Super Regions. Each consists of four conferences where the top seven teams of each advance to the 28-team field. The Wildcats are clinging onto the seventh spot in Super Region Four. There are three games left in the regular season. How you finish is everything.
Well, congratulations to whoever had money on the Bengals and Cardinals being the top seeds in the AFC and NFC heading into the last week of October. It feels like just yesterday when these teams were trying to figure out who to take with the No. 1 pick in the draft. It’s nice to have parity in this sport.
Record last week: 5-5, 58-23 (.716) this season.
How city teams fared: Norfolk High dropped its final game of the year to Millard North (27-14 predicted, 32-24 final); Norfolk Catholic clinched the top spot in district C2-3 with a win over Hartington Cedar Catholic (24-21 predicted, 27-20 final); Lutheran High Northeast’s season came to a shocking close against Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family (36-24 Lutheran High win predicted, 36-35 HLHF win final).
Highlight: Clemson at Pittsburgh
The hard times are getting even harder for the Tigers. I can’t help but wonder if Dabo Swinney has an eye on the head coach opening in another Death Valley. (23-17 predicted, 27-17 final)
Lowlight: Wayne at Pierce
The Bluejays have a lot more in the tank than I thought. Who knows if they can keep it up, but one thing’s for sure, they won't let go of that state title without a fight. (31-14 Wayne win predicted, 35-27 Pierce win final)
Other results (predictions in parentheses): Elgin Public/Pope John 30, O’Neill St. Mary’s 26 (22-16 St. Mary’s win predicted); Pender 69, Creighton 32 (70-28 predicted); Wayne State 38, Southwest Minnesota State 16 (42-17 predicted); Iowa State 24, Oklahoma State 21 (21-18 Oklahoma State win predicted); Bengals 41, Ravens 17 (30-24 Ravens win predicted).
High school playoffs
Wayne (5-4) at Boone Central (8-1)
I don’t think the Blue Devils’ record really does justice to what they’re capable of. This team is balanced and can beat you in a multitude of ways on both sides of the ball. That said, I wonder how sharp they can stay after the past month they had. They’ve faced tough team after tough team, with three losses by no more than two possessions in that stretch. Boone Central, on the other hand, is coming off a dominant win over O’Neill on Thursday, which gives the Cardinals more time to get ready. Wayne will surely dig into the playbook a bit more this time, but the Cardinals take it home. Boone Central 38, Wayne 24.
Crofton (5-4) at Norfolk Catholic (8-1)
The No. 1 seed in Class C2 begins the playoffs with a rematch of a game played two weeks ago. The Warriors have a great running back in Jimmy Allen, who helped the team get out to an early lead in the first quarter of their last matchup. The Knights have been known for their running game throughout the season, but this could be a contest where using and defending the pass could be the difference maker here. Crofton completed just one pass in the second half of the previous game and was picked off twice, while the Knights have the athletes on the perimeter to keep a defense scrambling. Norfolk Catholic lost at home in last year’s first round, so I doubt the Knights will be looking past this one. Norfolk Catholic 35, Crofton 17.
Laurel-Concord-Coleridge (7-2) at Howells-Dodge (9-0)
A little over two months ago, Levi Belina and Evan Haisch were being lectured on safety procedures in a Norfolk sub plant for something called a Super Six for the Daily News’ fall sports preview. Now they’re facing off in Jaguar Country with a trip to the quarterfinals on the line. These teams have almost identical offensive ideologies: Run the ball as much as possible and pass when you have to. I like Howells-Dodge’s power in the trenches more than I do LCC’s, which got pushed around by Lutheran High in the regular-season finale. This game will be much closer, but the Jags roll onward nonetheless. Howells-Dodge 42, Laurel-Concord-Coleridge 30.
Bruning-Davenport/Shickley (6-3) at Pender (9-0)
The Pendragons are one win away from their first quarterfinals appearance since 2001 and their first since making the switch to eight-man football in 2007. However, the defending Class D2 champions stand in the way. The Eagles have lots of size, which makes a big difference in this state. However, they’ve tended to struggle a bit with high-octane offenses. BDS has allowed an average of 30 points a game and is 2-3 in games where the opponent scores 30 points or more. This is great news for a Pender team that’s made a living putting points on the board, averaging just over 56 a game. The Pendragons will use that to their advantage here. Pender 48, Bruning-Davenport/Shickley 22.
Elgin Public/Pope John (6-3) at Bloomfield (8-1)
If you love physical, old-school football, I’d suggest making your way to the Knox County Fairgrounds this Friday night. The Wolfpack have a strong QB-RB duo in Paiton Hoefer and Jack Wemhoff while the Bees have Braeden Guenther and Cody Bruegman. Both also have great receiving options in Colton Wright and Layne Warrior. What will make the difference in my eyes is the defense. As a team, Bloomfield has 24 more tackles for loss and 17 more turnovers forced. That’s not to say that Elgin Public/Pope John’s is anything to scoff at, but the Bees’ unit has been more consistent over the course of the year. Bloomfield 32, Elgin Public/Pope John 24.
Hartington Cedar Catholic (7-2) at North Platte St. Patrick’s (8-1)
This has a familiar feel to it. The Trojans heading out west for their playoff game after a tough loss to Norfolk Catholic to end the regular season. What awaits is an Irish team that also knows a thing or two about the ground-and-pound. Jackson Roberts has emerged as one of the better running backs in the state. Meanwhile, the offense throws in just enough trickeration to keep you on your toes. It’s a lot for teams to handle, but I think Cedar Catholic’s schedule, even in the losses to Battle Creek and Norfolk Catholic, has prepared it for a game like this. Hartington Cedar Catholic 28, North Platte St. Patrick’s 14.
Purdue (4-3) at Nebraska (3-5)
I’m not sure what to make of the Boilermakers. One week they go to Iowa and scorch one of the better defenses in the country, the next they’re getting boat-raced by Wisconsin at home. I’ll be honest, the voice from the week of the Michigan State game was making some noise early on, but I’m more inclined to listen to my head here. It tells me that although Purdue’s receivers are dangerous, they can hardly get anything going in the run game. When you put that up against a Nebraska offense that, while inconsistent, is more complete, it bodes well for the Huskers, who have also had more time to get ready for the Boilermakers. Nebraska 31, Purdue 27.
Wayne State (7-2) at Upper Iowa (0-8)
Nick Bohn is becoming a jack of all trades for these Wildcats. He’s not only completing 61% of his passes for 1,221 yards and nine touchdowns, but his 99 carries for 493 yards and seven touchdowns make him one of the best rushers on the team. Barring unforeseen circumstances, he probably has the job locked up even when Tavian Willis comes back. They travel to take on a Peacock team still looking for that elusive first win. I don’t foresee many problems for the black and gold in this one. Wayne State 49, Upper Iowa 14.
No. 6 Michigan (7-0) at No. 8 Michigan State (7-0)
The week of the Nebraska-Michigan game, I stated how Wolverines fans suffer just as much as Husker fans, sometimes more. By mid-afternoon on Saturday, you’ll see exactly what I meant.
What you’ll hear most from the national media in regard to the maize and blue is how great their defense, discipline and running-back tandem all are. What they won’t tell you is that this same defense cannot keep up with an offense that takes the ball from sideline to sideline and puts it in the air on a frequent basis. Meanwhile, Michigan’s offense not only has a quarterback who fails to establish a vertical passing game, but is run by a coaching staff that will call a draw play on third and 15 at their own 20 and a jet sweep on first and goal at the 2.
Conversely, Michigan State has a Heisman candidate at running back, a level-headed coaching staff and *gasp* a true vertical passing game. Even one of those would be plenty to knock off Michigan. They have all three, so this could get ugly. If you see me walking around town in a bad mood from Saturday night onward, now you know why. Michigan State 45, Michigan 28.
Steelers (3-3) at Browns (4-3)
There’s a real sense of urgency on both sides of this one. Last Sunday, the Bengals and Ravens showed just how tough winning the AFC North is going to be. Meanwhile, the other two teams are scrambling to not be the ones left at the bottom of the division. As a whole, the Browns have the more talented roster but are currently decimated by injuries. The Steelers are more healthy but lack consistency on both sides. This won’t be the prettiest game of the week, but I have a feeling it’ll be one of the most entertaining, for better or worse. The Steelers use a late field goal to win a seesaw affair. Steelers 23, Browns 20.