The road to a state championship for Wisconsin’s 350-plus football programs begins officially kicks off Thursday, Aug. 21, with a handful of games, including a nonconference matchup in Marion between Manawa out of the Central Wisconsin 8 Conference and Marion/Tigerton out of the CWC-10.
Most teams will open the season Friday, Aug. 22. Local teams in action include Fox Valley Lutheran at Waupaca, Iola-Scandinavia at Oconto, Weyauwega-Fremont at Adams-Friendship, Menasha at New London, Little Chute at Clintonville, Appleton East at Hortonville, Amherst at Rosholt, Wild Rose at Oshkosh Lourdes and Almond-Bancroft at Fall River.
Hortonville fans will notice a big change from past seasons. After several years of competing in the Bay Conference with New London, West De Pere, Shawano, Denmark, Luxemburg-Casco, Oconto Falls, Seymour and Marinette, the Polar Bears have moved to the Valley Football Association-South Division this season, where their new conference opponents are Neenah, Oshkosh North, Oshkosh West, Fond du Lac, Stevens Point, Wisconsin Rapids and Marshfield.
Menasha will take Hortonville’s place in the Bay.
This also marks Waupaca’s final season of football in the Eastern Valley Conference. Next year, the Comets will move to the Bay for football only for a conference that also includes New London, Appleton Xavier, Green Bay East, Green Bay West, Menasha, Seymour, Shawano and West De Pere.
In other words, the Comets’ rivalry with Xavier will remain, but Waupaca will no longer have conference matchups with Clintonville, Berlin, Ripon, Freedom, Little Chute, Fox Valley Lutheran and Winneconne.
Clintonville will remain in the EVC for football in a revamped league that includes Denmark, FVL, Freedom, Little Chute, Luxemburg-Casco, Marinette, Oconto Falls and Wrightstown.
CWC-8 and CWC-10 football teams won’t be dealing with conference realignments, at least for the time being.
Iola-Scandinavia, Weyauwega-Fremont and Manawa will remain in the CWC-8 with Amherst, Stevens Point Pacelli, Shiocton, Bonduel and Wittenberg-Birnamwood. CWC-10 teams Wild Rose, Marion/Tigerton and Almond-Bancroft will continue to play several nonconference games, as Port Edwards, Rosholt and Plainfield Tri-County round out the six-team league. Teams will play five conference and four nonconference games.
Although it remains to be seen which teams will compete for conference championships, here’s a look at some of the interesting matchups, at least on paper:
Little Chute at Clintonville, 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 22. The game marks the debut of new Truckers coach Scott Werfal, also the activities director at Clintonville High School. It’s been seven years since the Clintonville made it to the state semifinals, where the Truckers fell to New London in a Level 4 playoff game. Last year was especially rough for Clintonville’s players and fans, as the team lost all nine of their games by an average score of 52-3. One of those losses was a 62-0 setback to the Mustangs in the regular-season finale. Little Chute made it to the second round of the playoffs and, like the Truckers, has a new coach this season, as Brian Ryczkowski takes over for longtime coach Greg Enz.
Hortonville at Kimberly, 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 29. Although it’s a nonconference matchup, the Polar Bears will see how they stack up against one of the state’s elite programs. Kimberly won the 2013 Division 2 state championship with a 51-10 win over Oshkosh North. Two of the Polar Bears’ top players from last year – quarterback Andrew Thompson and running back Alex Lasinski – have graduated, so it will be interesting to see what co-coaches Andy and Tom Kolosso come up with this year. Hortonville opened a lot of eyebrows last year with a 9-0 regular season and a Bay Conference champion and convincing playoff wins over Superior and Menomonie. The Polar Bears’ season ended with a 14-7 loss to Menasha, a team that is replacing Hortonville in the Bay, in the third round of the playoffs.
Iola-Scandinavia at Shiocton, 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5. The CWC-8 had no shortage of quality teams last year, as two of them – Shiocton and Amherst – made it to the fourth round of the playoffs. Shiocton went on to win the Division 6 state championship with a 35-0 win over Darlington, the Chiefs’ 10th shutout of the season. Two of Shiocton’s 14 wins were a 34-8 win over Iola-Scandinavia in Week 3 and a 32-0 shutout of the Thunderbirds in Level 3 of the playoffs. I-S finished third in the CWC-8 standings behind Shiocton and Amherst, which made it to Level 4. Shiocton lost a number of seniors from last year’s team, one of the area’s most dominant teams in recent memory.
Waupaca at Winneconne, 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 12. Winneconne showed just how strong the EVC is as a football conference last year, as the Wolves overcame an 0-3 start to the season that included a 34-12 loss to the Comets in Week 3. The Wolves won four of their next six games to finish 4-4 in the EVC and 4-5 overall to qualify for the playoffs. Five wins later, the Wolves returned to Madison with a Division 4 state championship trophy following a 28-14 win over Platteville in the title game. The Comets weren’t as fortunate in the postseason. After wrapping up another undefeated regular season and EVC championship, the Comets dropped a 34-7 loss to Seymour in Level 2 to finish 10-1 on the season.
Amherst at Iola-Scandinavia, 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17. Conference championships and playoff spots will be up for grabs in the final week of the regular season. Although the Falcons and Thunderbirds should have playoff spots locked up by now, it’s possible that this game could help determine the CWC-8 championship. Both teams made it to at least the third round of the playoffs last year: Amherst to Level 4 and I-S to Level 3. The Falcons handed the T-Birds a 50-15 loss last year in Week 9.
Waupaca at Appleton Xavier, 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17. Waupaca kept its perfect regular season intact and clinched at least a share of the EVC championship last year with a 36-20 win over the Hawks at Haberkorn Field after outscoring Xavier 29-8 in the second half. The win helped the Comets receive a No. 1 ranking among medium-sized schools the following week in the Associated Press state football poll. The Comets and Hawks came into the game ranked second and fourth, respectively. Xavier eventually made it to Level 4 of the playoffs, but fell to Greendale 44-20. Seymour had eliminated Waupaca in Level 2.
• NOTE: Season previews for seven area football teams – Waupaca, Iola-Scandinavia, Weyauwega-Fremont, Manawa, Clintonville, New London and Hortonville – can be found in a special section included in this week’s editions of the Waupaca County Post, Clintonville Tribune-Gazette and New London Press Star.