Prep football playoff preview: Regular season perfection means little in playoffs
McGregor found out a year ago that once the playoffs start, it doesn't matter if a team has gone through the regular season undefeated. Moose Lake-Willow River seemingly goes through every regular season unbeaten, and isn't fazed by that success ...
McGregor found out a year ago that once the playoffs start, it doesn't matter if a team has gone through the regular season undefeated.
Moose Lake-Willow River seemingly goes through every regular season unbeaten, and isn't fazed by that success during the playoffs.
For Virginia, which not so long ago ended a two-year drought without a win, any playoff victory is another step in the revival of the program.
Though their paths to the high school football playoffs may have differed, the three remaining undefeated Northeastern Minnesota teams hope to keep their common denominator going until next month's state tournament.
McGregor was 8-0, including two forfeits, before Floodwood derailed the Mercuries' unbeaten hopes in their first 2009 playoff game. That team only had two seniors, while nine seniors make up this year's team.
"We're a better football team this year," said coach Bob Staska, whose team outscores opponents 47-9 on average. "Last year we had a goofy schedule at the end of the year with a couple of byes, and the flu hit us -- the whole month of October we were out of sync. This year we're in a lot better shape going into the playoffs. We're healthy and experienced, and putting together a really good season."
Sixth-ranked McGregor (8-0) earned the top seed in Nine-Man Section 5 and will play either Hill City or Silver Bay in Saturday's semifinal round. Second-seeded Floodwood and No. 3 Cromwell meet in the other semifinal.
"Everyone was fighting for that No. 1 seed," Staska said. "If you get the 2 or 3 seed, you have to beat two of them and the 1 seed only has to beat one of them."
Led by Alex Carlstrom's team-high 806 yards rushing and 104 points and Zerek Marsyla's 16 touchdown passes and 26 yards per completion, McGregor rolled through its schedule without winning by fewer than 14 points in any game.
"They know how to finish things, and the adjustments the kids make during the games are better," Staska said. "That extra year under their belt is huge."
Third-ranked Moose Lake-Willow River stretched its regular-
season win streak to 38 and nearly five full years by going 8-0 again. Due to that continued success, the Rebels are able to maintain their focus.
"Not that these kids don't show emotion, but they really do take it as business as usual," said coach Dave Louzek, whose team was Class AA runners-up in 2009. "Year after year we've been in this position, so these kids are experienced at having to play these teams a second time in the playoffs. Really what we focus on -- and not that we're looking by anybody -- but we're trying to get ourselves prepared for state playoffs."
The Rebels, led by running back Chris Gassert's 939 yards rushing, host winless Rush City in the Section 7AA playoffs tonight and are seeking a fifth consecutive section title.
"I think that's a huge advantage, having these kids that have so much playoff experience," Louzek said. "Teams that have success for the first time don't have experience dealing with all the distractions, so they get caught up in the limelight. These kids know there are bigger and better things down the road that they're preparing for."
Virginia's last state tournament appearance came in 2004, when it lost 77-7 to East Grand Forks in the Class AAA quarterfinals. That started a 19-game losing streak that didn't end until the 2007 season opener. This year's seniors were freshmen on that team and didn't want to endure the same heartache as their predecessors.
"They took it upon themselves to get us out of that funk," coach Ed Cremers said. "They hit the weights hard for three years and always supported each other. Because of where we were as a program, it was never about wins and losses but about getting better and doing it right. The wins just came with that."
The seventh-ranked Blue Devils (8-0) open the 7AAA playoffs at home against International Falls, but have to get past either fellow unbeaten Pine City or Milaca (6-2) to qualify for state.
Quarterback Nate Anderson (72-for-111, 1,210 yards, 17 TDs), wide receiver Drew Norri (31 receptions, 742 yards, 13 TDs) and running back Cavan Stackpool (727 yards rushing, 90 points) are multi-sport athletes.
"They've had success in hockey, basketball and tennis," Cremers said. "They've had success in those other areas and they wanted to bring that success to football, too."
-- The Northland's other unbeaten team, second-ranked Northwestern (9-0), begins play in the Wisconsin Division 4 playoffs at 7 tonight against Saint Croix Falls in Maple.