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Football playoff resume with Level 2 match-ups for county teams

Ellsworth and Prescott’s high school football teams are just one step away from meeting up for the second time this season.

But both teams have to take that step in WIAA Division 4, Level 2 playoff match-ups this evening.

The No.3 ranked Panthers, the top seed of Group A bracket, is at No. 5 seeded Black River Falls while Prescott, the third seed, takes on second seeded and No. 4 ranked Somerset in Somerset. Both games begin at 7 p.m.

While Prescott and Somerset are familiar Middle Border Conference foes, Ellsworth takes on a BRF squad from what looks to be a strong Coulee Conference. The league still has three teams alive in the playoffs. While the Tigers, 6-4 overall, advanced with a comeback 29-28 win over fellow Coulee squad Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau in Level 1, Arcadia was edging Durand last week 20-14 in Division 5 and Westby upset No. 4 previously undefeated Mondovi 16-8, in Division 5.

The Tigers’ win over G-E-T was their first close win of the season. All four of their losses were heartbreakers to Arcadia, Westby, G-E-T and La Crosse Logan.

EHS head coach Clair Austin describes the Tigers as “big and bigger.”  BRF is not only big across the front but deep as well. They have sophomores like 6-2, 310-pound Zach Severson and 6-0, 280-pound Cole Casper in their two-deep.  BRF’s veterans up front include senior Kjell Bakken, 6-4, 275 lbs., junior Montanna Youngthunder, 6-3, 280 lbs.; junior Jonas Whitegull, 6-3, 255 lbs.; senior Tony Torkelson, 6-4, 235 lbs. and senior Dillan Bunde, 6-2, 235 lbs.

“We’ll have to use our quickness to overcome their size as we’ve done all season,” Austin said.

Yet with all this size BRF throws the ball more than they run led by senior quarterback Ethan Young. He’s thrown for over 2,000 yards this season and 30 touchdowns with only six interceptions. His average quarterback rating is 119.1. His favorite receiver is senior wide out Nate Slenczka, who has caught 49 passes for 922 yards and 10 TDs.  Another BRF receiver is junior Matt LaFaugne who has 40 catches and 745 yards from them to go with 16 touchdowns.  Young has also likes to throw to BRF’s running backs quite a bit too.

Ellsworth’s defensive backfield is going to get a stern test this evening and they’ll have to do so without senior defensive back Reese Sager, who is out with an ankle injury.

“Not having Reese will hurt with depth but we’ve got some very good players back there and we’re going to need them because (BRF) runs and throws the ball very well.” Austin said.

The Tigers top running back is junior fullback Ryan Millis, 6-0, 200 lbs. He has rushed for nearly a thousand yards on 172 carries and has scored 14 TDs.  Slenczka has rushed for 249 yards on 46 carries and senior halfback Jacob Gerzsik has 214 yards rushing on 41 carries and a touchdown. He’s also the team’s kicker.

Austin hopes the return of senior running back Brandon VanderMarliere from injury will add even more punch to the Panther offense, which knocked out St. Croix Central 51-0 last week in best output of the season led by senior running back Dennis Schutz’s five TDs and nearly 300 first-half yards.

“With Brandon back we hope to do more play-action passing because we can do more running between the tackles,” Austin said.  “It’s a dimension we bring back to our offense which forces defenses to have cover us all over the field and spreads them out.”

And to keep those multi-dimensions on offense Austin say EHS will not disrupt the quarterback rotation of junior Emery Whalen and senior Kyle Kurrelmeyer which has worked for them this season.

While it was a while go, no doubt underdog BRF can take solace in the fact that back in 1999 a 5-4 Tiger squad knocked off an unbeaten Ellsworth team in Ellsworth 14-7 the last time the two teams met on the football field.

Prescott, 7-3 overall, on the other hand, couldn’t take much solace from their 30-0 loss at Somerset, 9-1 overall, last month according to head coach Matt Smith.

“They were the more physical team and we have to play just as physical and probably even more so to beat them,” Smith said.

The Cardinals can certainly match-up on paper with the Spartans but their defense will  have to find a way to shutdown the Spartans wishbone led by running back Max Praschak, who has rushed for 1,153 yards and 22 touchdowns, and quarterback Adam Marty, who has rushed for over 500 yards. And if they do so, they also have to be prepared to stop Minnesota-bound tight end Gaelin Elmore, who has seven receptions for 129 yards. Since the Spartans' loss at Ellsworth, Somerset has been throwing more to Elmore.

“We have to play with discipline on defense, force turnovers and not give up big plays like we did the last time we played them,” Smith said “We can’t fall asleep in the defensive backfield because Elmore hurt if we do.” Smith said.

Prescott is also doing more passing since the middle of the season and it’s been quite effective. PHS quarterback Alex Helmer threw for 136 yards and touchdown passes to Danny Cobenais and Troy Urman last week. Wide receiver Payton Bartsch has also caught several TD passes as well.

“Alex has done a very good job throwing the ball and we have receiver who can make tough catches,” Smith said. “We need to be able sustain our drives on offense to beat Somerset and having a solid passing game will go a long way to doing just that.”

The winners of both games will match-up in a Level 3 contest next weekend.

Division 4 bracket:

Tonight's Prescott will be on the radio on KDWA AM 1460 out of Hastings.

Tonight's Ellsworth game will be on the radio on either Thunder Country 95.7 FM out of Baldwin or KWNG 105.9 out of Red Wing.