Here we are at Level 4, and before the playoffs, state media was asked to pick their projected Final Four. Here's how I did... and some blatant late-course revisions because I can.
My picks before the playoffs: Kimberly over Franklin; Bay Port, Sun Prairie (2 for 4)
While nobody on this panel picked more than two correctly for the final four, I missed out on the Muskego experience this season. They're up against Sun Prairie in the Level 4 game, and I feel like it's a coin-flip game. Muskego has been streaky on the season, both in games and week-to-week, while Sun Prairie scores in bunches and has overcome a few slow starts to roll to victory in the second half. The middle quarters belong to the Cardinals, where until last week they hadn't even allowed a third-quarter point. Sun Prairie is absolutely loaded this year, but it's hard to pick against a team that took down Racine Horlick and Franklin on the road after beating Oak Creek to open up the playoffs. On the other side, the Kimberly-Appleton North rematch should be absolutely insane. I think the entertainment value of the D1 match-ups on either side rival anything any of the other groupings in the state can offer. There's compelling arguments to be made for all four teams to advance to state, and attached are some huge storylines, the type of stuff that goes down in state history.
I'm going with Sun Prairie and Kimberly to advance to the championship game. I'm biased here because I've seen Sun Prairie nearly a half-dozen times in 2017, but they're the best team I've called in a game so far in 2017 as well.
My picks before the playoffs: Brookfield Central over Waunakee; Waukesha West, Menomonie (3 for 4; 5 for 8 total)
Division 2 was top-heavy, loaded with contenders, particularly in the southern part of the state. So to get even half of these right was kind of a mild upset for me. A few panelists picked the four correct teams to advance to Level 4; I missed on Menomonie vs Green Bay Southwest, where some Mustangs turnovers led to their demise in that round. I like Waunakee on paper against anyone, but outside of Slinger and a half-plus against Mount Horeb/Barneveld, they haven't really been pushed yet. They'll get a good opponent this week, but nothing like the colossal match-up on the other side of D2. Waukesha West vs Brookfield Central is as entertaining as anything you'll find in Wisconsin on Friday night. It would be my personal preference for a game to attend this week if I got to go to one. Brookfield Central's stout defense against the speed and vision of Peter MacCudden. What's not to like?
I don't think my championship participants are changing. I think Brookfield Central has an incredible defense and that will propel them to yet another clash of titans if Waunakee gets in. Waunakee has dominated every single team they've played, outside of some early bumps against a large, physical Slinger squad in D2. So, I'm going with that Brookfield Central vs Waunakee state title game prediction still.
My picks before the playoffs: New Berlin Eisenhower over Notre Dame; Rice Lake, Greendale (3 for 4; 8 of 12)
Even a broken clock is right twice a day. I had the least amount of faith in my D3 picks (I felt more confident about my D4 picks although that division is seriously crazy most years). Our local team, Mount Horeb/Barneveld (and Evansville/Albany too) were stuck in the same bracket as some of the better teams in the state, like New Berlin Eisenhower and Catholic Memorial. The pick I missed on was Greendale over Whitefish Bay; I had lost some faith in Whitefish Bay after a late-season loss, but clearly that was misplaced. I really like the New Berlin Eisenhower vs Whitefish Bay game to be an entertaining, low-scoring affair. Rice Lake vs Notre Dame should be fun too. I called dozens of Rice Lake games up north and that veer option is nothing to mess with, but neither is Notre Dame and their defense.
My state picks aren't changing here either. I'm sticking by the defenses of New Berlin Eisenhower and Notre Dame. I think like D1, any of the four remaining teams could easily be here however.
My picks before the playoffs: Lodi over Osceola; Freedom, Sheboygan Falls (2 for 4; 10 for 16)
D4 is notoriously insane for upsets as of late. As a result, nobody had the defending champions in St. Croix Central making it this far, and only Travis Wilson had Martin Luther advancing to Level 4. In fact, nobody on the panel got more than two, so I don't feel that stupid for missing out on St. Croix Central or Martin Luther. I figured Lodi would be the team to beat coming into the playoffs. After a "down year" (by Lodi standards, anyways) in 2016, the Blue Devils trampled almost everyone this year, including a very good Lake Mills squad (twice) that had taken apart a previously-undefeated Racine St. Catherine's squad the week prior. Full disclosure: I liked Freedom only because it seemed like they had a favorable bracket; I sort of picked them blindly not knowing much about that quadrant of Level 4. Martin Luther is the lowest seed remaining of anyone in the state.
My state picks are Lodi taking on defending champion St. Croix Central for the title game. I really liked covering the Panthers up north when I worked in Eau Claire, and you could tell that they were building something great in Hammond. The Middle Border is no joke. Lodi has an incredible player in Jacob Heyroth (and others, but he's getting the most notice) to go with an outstanding defense. So, my pick only changes from one Middle Border team to another here.
My picks before the playoffs: Grantsburg over Clinton; Stanley-Boyd, Cedar Grove-Belgium (2 for 4; 12 for 20)
Some on the panel got this division perfect. I whiffed big on one pick: leaving Amherst home for Level 4. To be fair: I grew up on the Cadott/Stanley-Boyd school district line, and I had family playing at Stanley-Boyd while I toiled on special teams in Cadott while I was in high school. The Orioles, who have an incredible program (and a shiny new stadium, although I will greatly miss Chapman Park and the memories I have of the place), where a total homer pick based on what I perceived to be the toughest eight-team pod in the state. So, in that context, it's not as egregious, but objectively it's hard to be picking against Amherst for any game. Clinton lost on a late field goal to Lake Country Lutheran in a battle of unbeatens, so that's not nearly as much of a miss on my part. I thought the Cougars' powerful running attack would carry them on a deep playoff run, which it really did since they made it to Level 3. I saw Cedar Grove-Belgium in the state title game last year, and they were seriously impressive. Josh Weiss and Reid Hilbelink (cousins, by the way) set all sorts of passing records last season. Both are gone now, but that was a solid program in a relatively wide-open bracket. So here we are, with Grantsburg (a personal nemesis courtesy of my time at Flambeau) in the midst of a historic run at the school also in the mix.
At state, I personally will pick a rematch of last year's D5 title game between Amherst and Cedar Grove-Belgium. I really like Grantsburg and the talent they have, and I'm sure Pirates fans will be thrilled to know a Flambeau graduate is picking against them (Red Rage, baby!). I also figure Lake Country Lutheran is perfectly capable of getting to state too. Hey, there's no wrong picks at this stage of the playoffs! So, neither of the teams I picked before the playoffs are in my final selection here.
My picks before the playoffs: St Mary's Springs over Spring Valley; Markesan, Iola-Scandinavia (3 for 4; 15 for 24 total)
A couple got all four right. Of all things, I took a big swing and a miss at leaving the Regis Ramblers, a team I have called three title games for, out of the Level 4 picture. So how come I didn't go homer here? Well, first of all, I sort of did: I had Spring Valley coming out of that group. I figured the Cardinals had seen some really good teams this year and Regis had lost so much from last year, that Spring Valley could make the run. Spring Valley is a team I saw plenty of as a squeaky-voiced broadcaster in the early 2000's. The rest of the field? Markesan and Iola-Scandinavia seemed in better shape than the rest of their brackets, and seemed like defensively-minded teams with good running games, the sort that make those deep runs. I think everyone is picking St. Mary's Springs to win this division going away.
For the state match-up, let me make up for it now, Eau Claire: St Mary's Springs vs Regis for the state title game, as it was in 2012. Regis played the Ledgers even outside of two early turnovers deep in their own territory, leading to a 14-0 deficit and a loss for the Ramblers. I called that game. I would love to call the rematch five years later. All four teams can run and play defense. Don't expect much passing here.
My picks before the playoffs: Edgar/Bangor over Black Hawk; Fall River, Loyal (2 for 4; 17 for 28 total)
First off, I submitted my state champion pick as the Level 3 winner between Edgar and Bangor. I did my own personal coin toss on the game, opting for the home team in that 16-8 classic. Now that we're clear of that. I saw Black Hawk in Week 1, when they were scored upon first by Owen-Withee, then blew them off the field. It reminded of my freshman year at Cadott: we gave up the opening kickoff return for a touchdown to Amery, before the Hornets won 14 straight for the only state football title in school history. Black Hawk is the smallest school in the entire playoffs, but this is a big, fast team, and in D7, that spells trouble for their opponents. Fall River played well in the games I read about for them, so they were kind of a homer pick from the southern part of the state; their win over Johnson Creek sort of solidified how I felt about them going in. Abbotsford is another one of those, can they run? and can they play defense? picks I made at the start. It's also in the vicinity of some of the best fish fry eating in the entire state.
I'm fully expecting a Bangor vs Black Hawk title game (no offense to Abbotsford and Fall River), and I can't pick a favorite. Really liked seeing Bangor a couple years back in the finals, and their win over Edgar is as good as anything anyone else in the state has done regardless of division. Black Hawk is a fun program to follow and I've already seen them in person this year, which is hard to do considering my role as a Madison-based broadcaster.
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So there you have it. One person's picks. I got a little over half of my picks right, sort of in line with the experts around the state but certainly not the best. I'll take it.
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