T-Birds, Falcons returning to state
By Greg Seubert
Amherst handed Iola-Scandinavia a 32-14 loss in the Thunderbirds’ Homecoming football game in October.
No one knew it at the time, but both teams were headed for a return trip to Madison’s Camp Randall Stadium to play for a state championship.
Iola-Scandinavia (11-2) will face 13-0 St. Mary’s Springs at 1 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16, for the Division 6 championship, while Amherst (12-1) will go for its third straight Division 5 title at 4 p.m. against 13-0 Lake Country Lutheran.
I-S is playing for its first state championship after placing second in Division 6 in 2007 and second in Division 5 in 1999.
Amherst, on the other hand, has won three of the last five Division 5 championships.
The T-Birds’ only other loss this season came against Bonduel. That 47-20 loss at Thunderbird Field helped the T-Birds turn the corner, according to coach Scott Erickson.
“We started off real strong with three or four conference wins in a row, then we met up with Bonduel and kind of had a down game,” he said. “We just didn’t play like we were capable of. We just continued to grow and get better from that point on. As the season went on, we got better and better.
“When we played Amherst in week eight, at halftime it was 20-14 and we had opportunities to be in that game,” he said. “We played them tough. I think they gained a lot of confidence and belief in themselves. Through the playoffs, they refuse to let themselves play at a different level.”
The T-Birds haven’t lost since the Amherst game and outscored their four playoff opponents 167-71, including a 27-26 win Nov. 10 over defending Division 6 champion Regis in a state semifinal.
I-S last played Springs in 2015 in a Level 2 playoff game at Thunderbird Field. The Ledgers won that game 28-21.
“I had a good feeling about these kids last year,” Erickson said. “A couple of them played on our 2015 team that was very strong. We lost to Springs that year in round two. They won the state championship and we lost to them by seven. They just had a little bit different mentality. They knew what they had to do to prepare for this season and they worked from last year to this point for this opportunity.”
Erickson said the Ledgers are balanced on offense.
“They have a very good running attack,” he said. “(Clay) Schueffner’s one of the top guys in the state as far as talent goes. They can do it all. They’re a challenge to defend.”
The T-Birds’ roster includes only five seniors, but the juniors include running back Bryce Huettner, who has rushed for more than 2,600 yards and 32 touchdowns.
“You talk about a kid gaining 2,600 yards, he is a threat any time he gets the ball and he’s going to get it a lot,” Springs coach Bob Hyland said. “We have to figure out how to stop that, so I’ll leave that to my defensive coaches. They’ll figure out something, I hope.”
The Ledgers will also need a game plan to deal with sophomore quarterback Connor Kurki, who has thrown for 679 yards and rushed for 739.
“He doesn’t bat an eye and he’s pretty cool under pressure,” Erickson said. “Last Friday night, he threw a bad ball early in the game, but he came right back and threw three touchdown passes that were tremendous plays. He’s a very good corner on defense, too. We match him up against some of the best kids that we face.”
Hyland’s teams have won Division 6 championships in 2002, 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015 and a Division 5 title in 2009.
“They played a tremendous schedule and they’ve really done a great job these last four weeks in the playoffs,” he said. “Any team that can get to this level is going to be extremely competitive. The advantage we have is probably that we have a little more depth and experience. With only four or five seniors that they have, we’re a little bit stronger there, but their underclassmen are excellent.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” he added. “This is for a state championship.”
Springs handed Amherst its only loss of the season, a 14-13 setback in week two. Since then, the Falcons have won 11 straight games, including a 35-6 win over previously unbeaten Grantsburg in a state semifinal.
Although the Amherst offense is centered around senior quarterback Marcus Glodowski, the Falcons’ defense has been strong all season, coach Mark Lusic said.
“We’ve been very solid on defense the whole year,” he said. “We’re really becoming a good tackling team. We’ve put a big emphasis on it the last seven, eight weeks and it’s starting to pay big dividends now.”
Amherst held University of Wisconsin recruits John and Leo Chenal of Grantsburg to a combined 114 yards on 23 carries.
“I thought we had a chance to be really, really good this year,” Lusic said. “I’m not going to say I knew for sure we were a state-caliber team. The most satisfying thing is from where we were in August to where we are now. We are a totally, totally, totally different team. We’re playing together as a team. The kids are dialed in and playing at a high level. Our defense is clicking, our offense is clicking. I’m glad it’s all coming together at the right time.”
The Falcons will face a Lake Country Lutheran team making its first trip to the WIAA State Football Championships.
“It’s our first time playing them and we have the utmost respect for them,” Lusic said. “We’re still learning from the film what to expect. They have a very nice team and we’re going to have our hands full.”
Lake Country Lutheran coach Greg Brazgel said his team won’t be intimidated going up against one of the state’s top Division 5 football programs.
“I would say our kids are going to be comfortable in that situation,” he said. “They’re not going to panic. They didn’t the last two weeks and I don’t expect them to on Thursday.”