Playoff spots are up for grabs as the high school football regular season enters its final third. Week 7 is full of Homecoming games, rivalries, and match-ups that will help decide conference championships.
With the playoffs in view, 224 spots in the field are on the line, and after this week, almost three-quarters of those spots could be claimed as over 100 teams enter the week statewide able to clinch or become eligible with a win, and several dozen more have already clinched. While in past years a couple dozen spots are left over for teams that finish sub-.500 in conference, there's no guarantees under the current setup, so those squads that are in danger of falling out of the playoff race entirely need to start picking up wins as the season winds to a close.
With the setting of the playoff field comes an important dynamic: where the divisional cut-lines will fall. Closed conferences around the state have begun sending multiple teams into the playoff pool, so early looks at the current playoff field are skewed towards those leagues that have already played 5 or 6 conference games. Plus, those early projections fail to encapsulate whether or not top teams in the conferences have faced each other, or whether an upstart program has already faced most of the top programs in its league, further muddying the field.
Week 7's results begin to offer clarity as with only three weeks left to play (and two after this week), the possible outcomes drastically reduce, making the projection for the final field of 224 more palatable. In particular, trying to determine what the ranges are for divisional cutlines will be under the most scrutiny, as that won't be set for good until the final field is set after Week 9.
This week, we'll be on hand for Verona's Homecoming against Madison La Follette, as the Wildcats try to clinch a playoff spot against the upstart Lancers. Coverage starts at 6pm on The Big 1070 and continues through 11pm with Football Friday Night.
Area Teams Clinched: Madison Memorial (Big 8, Division 1), Madison La Follette (Big 8, Division 1), Waunakee (Badger North, Division 2), Milton (Badger South, Division 2), DeForest (Badger North, Division 2/3), Evansville (Rock Valley, Division 3)
Area Teams Eligible: None
Area Teams that can clinch with a win: Verona (Big 8, Division 1), Sun Prairie (Big 8, Division 1), Middleton (Big 8, Division 1), Reedsburg (Badger North, Division 3), Stoughton (Badger South, Division 2/3), Watertown (Badger South, Division 2), Edgerton (Rock Valley, Division 4)
Area Teams that can become eligible with a win: Belleville (Capitol South, Division 5/6), New Glarus/Monticello (Capitol South, Division 5/6)
D1 #9 Madison La Follette (5-1) at Verona (4-2): (The Big 1070 Game of the Week): In back-to-back weeks, the Verona Wildcats have lost heartbreakers, allowing a late touchdown to fall to Sun Prairie two weeks ago, and then losing to Madison Memorial last week on a walk-off winner as time expired when the Spartans rallied from down 24-7 at the start of the fourth quarter to win. As Coach Dave Richardson said last week, how his team responds now to adversity again will be tested, as Verona will see newly-ranked La Follette for Homecoming. La Follette, meanwhile, is starting to see some of the youth movement of the past two years pay off in a big way this year, with Ben Probst at quarterback and Jaylend Brown at running back among the conference's leaders in yardage. The Lancers have seen their schedule take a tick upwards in competition, with their remaining three games against teams that are .500 or better. Verona can clinch a playoff spot with a win.
Sun Prairie (4-2) at Madison East (3-3): Sun Prairie's loss to La Follette last week is certainly understandable, given that the Lancers have so many multi-year starters on varsity. For the Cardinals, the focus now turns on to making the playoffs, and with a win, they're in. Their solid defense will get a test in the form of Madison East and a dynamic passing attack led by another multi-year starter at quarterback, Phil Roh, who throws to several members of East's defending Big 8 conference championship basketball team. Speaking of the Purgolders, East has won as many games this year as the last three years combined. A win by East would mark a big leap up in their rebuild under coach Jeremy Thornton.
D1 #5 Madison Memorial (6-0) at Beloit Memorial (1-5): Madison Memorial's Homecoming walk-off win over Verona was certainly electric, capped off by a rally from down 24-7 in the fourth quarter to take the lead for the first time as time expired. Now, the Spartans get to finish up against teams with a combined 2-16 record as they chase their 11th Big 8 Conference championship and a repeat from last year. For Beloit Memorial, a sixth loss would officially remove the Purple Knights from playoff contention.
Middleton (4-2) at Janesville Craig (1-5): Middleton can clinch a playoff spot with a win, as the Cardinals still have two big games to close out the year after this one and can't afford any setbacks. With four wins, it's likely Middleton is already in. For the Cougars, a sixth loss, like with Beloit Memorial, would eliminate Janesville Craig from playoff contention.
Janesville Parker (0-6) at Madison West (2-4): Don't look now, but the Madison West Regents are making a playoff push in the back half of the year. With wins this week and next over teams that are a combined 1-11, West can realistically make the playoffs with four wins, so the next two weeks are very important to the Regents. Meanwhile, Parker will end the season with two home games after this week, but have already been eliminated from postseason consideration.
D2 #1 Waunakee (6-0, 4-0) at D3 #7 Reedsburg (5-1, 3-1): The only conference game between teams with a winning record (only three teams in the conference are over .500), these old rivals square off with plenty at stake for both. Reedsburg is the de facto "third place" team in the conference after defeating Sauk Prairie a few weeks ago, but falling to DeForest. Waunakee has been absolutely dominant so far in six games, out-scoring opponents by over 35 points per conference game. Waunakee's read-option attack will meet Reedsburg's triple-option ground-and-pound style, so expect perhaps a slow start in this one. Reedsburg clinches a playoff spot with a win.
D2 #8 DeForest (6-0, 4-0) at Baraboo (1-5, 1-3): As impressive as Waunakee has been in conference play, how about DeForest out-scoring league opponents by over 40 points per game thus far? Next up for the Norskies, they'll see a 2018 playoff team that just picked up their first win of the season last week. For Baraboo, and the five Badger North teams (as mentioned below), a fourth conference loss puts the team squarely on the bubble, as only a couple 3-4 teams made it in last year.
Sauk Prairie (3-3, 1-3) at Portage (2-4, 1-3): A very interesting match-up between two first-year head coaches at their respective schools. A win keeps hope alive for a playoff spot while a loss eliminates any margin for error, as only a few 3-4 teams made it in last year. Especially with Sauk Prairie having already beaten two other non-conference opponents, tiebreakers would favor these teams perhaps, but why leave it to math when a win will move you a step closer. Portage still sees Waunakee and Reedsburg on their schedule, so a loss here definitely puts them in a tough position.
Beaver Dam (1-5, 1-3) at Mount Horeb/Barneveld (1-5, 1-3): Like the Sauk-Portage game, the winner keeps playoff hopes alive for one more week. Beaver Dam will host DeForest next week, so perhaps more onus on the side of the Golden Beavers to get a win here and keep those postseason dreams alive. Mount Horeb/Barneveld's injury situation is well-known, but having played both DeForest and Waunakee already, the Vikings have a ton to play for the rest of the way.
Monroe (3-3, 2-2) at Milton (6-0, 4-0): Milton's ascension this year is reminiscent of Monroe's 11-1 run in 2016, when the Cheesemakers had three 1,000-yard rushers en route to a conference title and a Level 3 trip. Now, Monroe is in the spoiler role as they will see both Milton and Stoughton in back-to-back games, so to clinch a playoff spot, Monroe will have to win over one of those two teams at least to make a postseason appearance. For Milton, what a run it's been this year under coach Rodney Wedig, after pulling out an overtime win over Stoughton to clinch a playoff spot and take over first place in the Badger South. The Red Hawks will face Watertown in Week 9, so this will be another important game as they chase a conference title.
Stoughton (4-2, 3-1) at Watertown (5-1, 3-1): The winning team clinches a playoff spot, the losing team will almost certainly be out of the conference title race, so plenty on the line here. Watertown still controls their conference title destiny, as by winning out they would force a tie (at least) with Milton for a league crown. Stoughton, meanwhile, will try to shake off an overtime loss to Milton and regroup to clinch another playoff appearance and stay in range of a conference title.
Monona Grove (2-4, 2-2) at Oregon (3-3, 2-2): TVW/Channel 3000 Game of the Week: Each team faces winless Fort Atkinson down the stretch, which bolsters the playoff chances for both squads should they win here. However, both teams also have a tough remaining game against one of the top Badger South contenders, so a loss would put them into a precarious situation in which they'd have to hope enough 3-4 teams get into the playoffs that their record would be just enough to sneak in.
Edgewood (0-6, 0-4) at Fort Atkinson (0-6, 0-4): It's been a tough stretch for both teams, but one of them will get up off the mat and try to make a run to the playoffs in the last three weeks. The losing team will be eliminated from playoff contention. Better things await both programs, as each plays a number of underclassmen that will help in future years as these teams work through a rebuild.