Previewing Friday's prep football playoff games featuring Northwestern and Ashland
ELLSWORTH (3-6) AT NORTHWESTERN (9-0) What: Wisconsin Division 4 Level 1 playoff game When: 7 p.m. Outlook: Despite its spotless record and No. 2 seed, Northwestern won't be overlooking any opponent from here on out. That's because the Tigers wer...
ELLSWORTH (3-6) AT NORTHWESTERN (9-0)
What: Wisconsin Division 4 Level 1 playoff game
When: 7 p.m.
Outlook: Despite its spotless record and No. 2 seed, Northwestern won't be overlooking any opponent from here on out. That's because the Tigers were on the other side a year ago, when they were seeded sixth and opened the postseason with a road upset of No. 3 Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau, which also was ranked third in the state. The Tigers come in ranked fourth in Division 4. Aside from running sensation Reagan Ruffi (144 carries, 1,424 yards, 28 touchdowns), offensive weapons include Trevor Janowicz (84-547, nine TDs) and quarterback Jake Brill, who has passed for 464 yards and rushed for another 276. Brody Payton has caught 12 passes for 342 yards. "I don't think they'll be able to stop our run game or even our passing game," Ruffi said of tonight's foe. Northwestern has hardly been tested this fall, but coach Jovin Kroll isn't worried about how his club will respond if challenged for 48 minutes. The intensity of the Tigers' practices, plus a roster full of experienced seniors, has them well-equipped to deal with playoff pressure. Tonight's winner faces either No. 3 West Salem or No. 6 Baldwin-Woodville next week. ... No. 7 Ellsworth qualified for the postseason despite a 3-4 record in the daunting Middle Border Conference. The Panthers aren't averse to throwing the football, averaging more than 18 pass attempts per game, but quarterbacks Mason Anderson and Cole Woodland have been intercepted 14 times while tossing just eight touchdowns. Running backs Logan Melstrom (117-641, five TDs) and Sawyer Hamilton (100-540, eight TDs) get the bulk of the touches out of the backfield.
SPARTA (4-5) AT ASHLAND (8-1)
What: Wisconsin Division 3 Level 1 playoff game
When: 7 p.m.
Outlook: Not only did Ashland reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009, but the Oredockers secured a No. 2 seed in the process. Winners of eight straight after a season-opening loss at Northwestern, the Oredockers roll offensively with quarterback Jordan Brennan and running back Justin Miller. Brennan has connected on 32 of 73 attempts for 747 yards and eight TDs, while adding 762 yards and 13 more scores on the ground. Miller, meanwhile, has 904 rushing yards and eight TDs. Zach Lindenberg is a big-play specialist at wide receiver, with 12 receptions for 426 yards (35.5 average) and five TDs. Ashland, champion of the Great Northern Conference, has limited its past four opponents to a combined 30 points. ... Seventh-seeded Sparta has won three of four following a four-game losing streak. Incidentally, the Spartans lost those four games by a combined 14 points. Similar to Brennan, the Spartans' Cole Wisniewski is a dual-threat QB. He's completed 59 of 104 passes for 808 yards and eight TDs, adding 636 rushing yards and another 14 TDs. The winner of tonight's game at Northland College plays either No. 3 New Richmond or No. 6 La Crosse Logan a week from today.