Not even the coaches in the conference knew what to expect from a deep, talented, and wide-open Rock Valley Conference in 2017, with senior-laden Clinton taking home the conference crown last season, amidst a season with scoreboard-busting classics nearly every week across the league.
Clinton has amounted for all of the playoff victories by the conference's teams in the past two seasons, picking up five wins in Division 5 while advancing to Level 4 in 2016 and Level 3 in 2017. No other Rock Valley team has won a playoff game since 2015. The Cougars will have to replace 10 graduating all-conference first- or second-team players, but their new head coach, Jake Standiford, has been the offensive coordinator for four seasons, so it's not as though the program is starting out with a blank slate for the future.
Like many of the Rock Valley teams, Jefferson starred several multi-sport athletes in 2017. As one of the larger schools in the conference, that athleticism resulted in some high-scoring games, as the Eagles scored 40 or more points in six of their 10 games last year. However, their only two losses, to Clinton and Pewaukee (in the playoffs) came when Jefferson allowed more than 30 points.
It was a big bounce-back year for Beloit Turner, as the Trojans dealt with injuries for most of 2016 en route to a 3-6 record, sandwiched by 7-3 seasons. While some of their most notable stars, such as Brandon Malkow and Juan Reyes, have graduated, the Trojans are bringing back a core of nearly a half-dozen all-conference picks from last season. Turner played in some exciting games, including their playoff loss to Platteville, as the Trojans averaged over 30 points per game.
One team that had plenty to replace coming into 2017 was Evansville/Albany, as the Blue Devils graduated over a dozen players who received some form of all-conference recognition in 2016, including seven first-teamers. All the Blue Devils did was win six games after rounding into form during a brutal 0-3 stretch against the teams that finished higher than Evansville/Albany in the conference, and lost those games by a combined 27 points, two of them one-score games. The Blue Devils will lose another handful of all-conference types, but bring back plenty of defensive help and four total all-conference honorees.
Somewhat quietly, East Troy put together a very successful season, scoring at will and using a strong front line to pave the way for some impressive yardage totals, rushing for 331 yards per contest and scoring over 33 points per game. While some stars graduate from the line, East Troy has the most returning all-conference honors of any team in the Rock Valley (eight total), primarily at skill positions.
The line between the playoff teams in the Rock Valley and those that missed the playoffs is a pretty narrow one, and Big Foot's season was in part derailed due to some injuries to their top players. For a ten-team conference like the Rock Valley, it's difficult for underclassmen to crack the all-conference list, so some key contributors on offense and defense, including their leading tackler, will be back for 2018.
Of the trio of teams in the Rock Valley at 2-7, Brodhead/Juda was perhaps the most surprising, given their long run of playoff appearances being snapped by the time the Cardinals took the field in the final week of the season. While the Cardinals did win over Edgerton and McFarland, they suffered a loss to previously-winless Whitewater in Week 7 that effectively put them out of the running for the postseason.
McFarland and Edgerton round out the 2-7 group, but there's plenty of reason for optimism in both programs. For starters, both squads were competitive in games against some of the playoff contenders, particularly McFarland, as the Spartans dropped some difficult games during the season by only a score or two. Both teams will also be featuring strong junior and senior classes heading into the fall, with both coaches touting last year the strength of some of their younger classes and groups moving up to high school as signs that their respective programs are headed in the right direction.
Rounding out the Rock Valley is Whitewater, who earned their first win in the past couple of seasons with a one-point victory over Brodhead/Juda. Much like McFarland and Edgerton, the Whippets appear to have some talent on the way from the younger classes, as both Whitewater players returning with all-conference honors are in the 2020 class. The table sets up nicely for the coach who succeeds Jim Pease, who will transition into an AD role with the district following the football season.
LISTEN: All Seven WIAA State Football Championship Games!
2017 Conference Standings: Clinton won the conference outright with a perfect 9-0 record. Jefferson finished at 8-1, good for second place. Beloit Turner (7-2), Evansville/Albany (6-3), and East Troy (5-4) round out the playoff teams from the Rock Valley. Big Foot narrowly missed the postseason at 3-6. Edgerton, McFarland, and Brodhead/Juda all ended up at 2-7, and Whitewater got a win to finish 1-8.
2017's Top Games: Clinton squared off with eventual state runner-up Lake Country Lutheran in the D5 playoffs in Level 3, but lost 17-14 when LCL hit a long 41-yard field goal in the final seconds to win to cap off an impressive rally by scoring 17 unanswered points in the final two quarters... The first round of the playoffs can get silly, as evidenced by Turner's barnburner with Platteville. The Trojans led 35-34 early in the fourth quarter, but Platteville reeled off three touchdown drives to eventually win 54-42... Whitewater's only win in the past two seasons came as the Whippets edged Brodhead/Juda 28-27 in Week 7... Another Week 7 contest saw Edgerton score the final 14 points to rally and beat Big Foot, after Big Foot rallied themselves from a 20-8 hole in the second quarter. Edgerton won 40-36... In late September, Turner gave Clinton their biggest scare of the regular season, but the Cougars held on to win 7-6 after stopping the Trojans on a two-point conversion try in the third quarter... Another example of McFarland's difficult season of tough losses was in Week 6, when they led Big Foot 22-8, but then the rally came for Big Foot en route to a 28-22 overtime victory... Not to pile on McFarland, but the week prior to the Big Foot game, the Spartans fell to Brodhead/Juda as the Cardinals won on a fourth-quarter touchdown and two-point conversion, 28-27... Turner's season got a big jolt when they beat Evansville/Albany by rallying from down 14-0 to win in overtime 21-14 in Week 3... Also in Week 3, a stat-busting 64-52 game was won by East Troy over Edgerton, in a game that featured 17 touchdowns, 660 rushing yards, and 399 passing yards... In case you thought that game was a fluke, East Troy was in a similarly fast-paced game the week prior, scoring in the final minute to give the Trojans a 48-47 win over Big Foot. That game featured 777 combined rushing yards, 351 combined passing yards, and "only" 14 touchdowns... The opening week of the season involved two of our favorites from this section, East Troy and McFarland. East Troy scored a bunch of points, McFarland lost in heartbreaking fashion, and the final score was 47-42 as the Trojans got the final score of the game on a 27-yard touchdown pass. East Troy piled up 562 yards vs. 429 for McFarland, although 397 of the Spartans' yards came through the air.
All-Conference Honors: Clinton led the way with a dozen first-team honors, as well as a trio of second-team honors, but only one player comes back: senior lineman Sam Duggan. The Cougars graduate Rock Valley Offensive Player of the Year Zach Krause and Defensive Player of the Year Connor Mullooly, as well as coach Jeff Spiwak, who is moving into an administrative role with the district. Turner returns a trio of first-team all-conference honorees while getting eight total first-team honors last year. Jefferson finished second in the conference, but third in first-team honors with six. Only running back Nolan Klawitter returns from the RVC first team, with the biggest losses to graduation coming on defense. Evansville/Albany will have to replace all-everything quarterback Zach Mielke, an outstanding multi-sport athlete who ended up with some form of all-conference award after all four of his varsity seasons under his grandfather and WFCA Hall of Fame coach Ron Grovesteen. Of their five 2017 first-team honorees, the Blue Devils return two, defensive end Evan Blumer and linebacker Malcolm Johnson. Two on the second team, Sullivan Geske and Branden Lange, are impact players as well. East Troy had an impressive season, especially on offense, and while it didn't necessarily show up in the all-conference lists, the Trojans will have a plethora of talented returning players back in the fold, including eight who were at least honorable mention all-Rock Valley. That group includes senior quarterback Jacob Dessart, who made the first team. Some of the Trojans' most productive players who are returning didn't make the senior-dominated all-conference team. Edgerton will bring back first-team running back/receiver/linebacker Mason Simmons, who had some outstanding performances during the season, and their do-everything players like quarterback Jaden Johnson and Sklyer Gullickson, who got honorable mention. Big Foot, Brodhead/Juda, McFarland, and Whitewater will not have any returning first-team all-conference players back, but McFarland will have four players who earned honors last season back in the fold, including dynamic defensive back Tysen White, while Whitewater will have a pair of honorable mention all-conference linebackers (both juniors) in the fold for 2018. Big Foot has only two returning all-conference players, but will bring back a surprising amount of production from 2017, including at quarterback, two of their top receivers, and their leading tackler. Brodhead/Juda may have had a down season, and will be losing the talents of outstanding two-way star Brekan Day, but running back Jeffrey Williams has made the all-conference list the past two seasons, and will be back after making the second team as a junior in 2017.
All-Region Honors: Turner's Brandon Malkow was one of the more highly-touted linemen in the entire state, as he moves on to play at Western Illinois next season. Big Foot's Jackson Enz had some injuries mid-season but still contributed and will play at North Dakota State in 2018. Enz's teammate Pedro Sierra was also WFCA All-Region in 2017. Clinton sent three players to the all-region list, including conference players of the year Zach Krause and Connor Mullooly, as well as lineman Eric Paschke, all seniors.
All-State Honors: Jackson Enz (utility) of Big Foot and Zach Krause (running back) of Clinton both made first-team all-state in 2017.
A Quick Look Ahead: We'll have a full preview of each team, and the conference, coming up as we get closer to the start of the season on August 17. With so many excellent games in 2017, it'll be interesting to see some of the rematches this upcoming season (the Rock Valley is a closed conference so all nine games are conference games). Some of the top conference match-ups occur right away in Week 1, with East Troy visiting Clinton, McFarland heading to Edgerton, and Big Foot matching up with Jefferson. Clinton and Jefferson get together on September 21, while Jefferson at Turner for homecoming a week later could be a very important conference game. Turner's hosting Clinton in Week 8, the week after. Turner at East Troy and Evansville/Albany at Clinton could be outstanding endcaps to the 2018 regular season. Look for individual team previews to roll out in July, with full conference previews to come in August.
2018 High School Football Preview Schedule
Late June/Early July: 2017 In Review (by conference)
Mid-July: Team-by-team previews
Early August: Conference previews
Coming Next: July 6: Greater Madison Area 2017 In Review
Daily High School Sports Content Schedule
June 28: Throwback Thursday - Top 2017 Games #5: Waunakee 14, Brookfield Central 13
June 29: Capitol South 2017 In Review
July 2: Capitol North 2017 In Review
July 3: Rock Valley 2017 In Review
July 5: Throwback Thursday - Top 2017 Games #4: Stoughton 30, Oregon 27
July 6: Greater Madison Area 2017 In Review *Trailways, 8-player, and southwestern Wisconsin schools
July 9: Badger South 2017 In Review
July 10: Badger North 2017 In Review
July 11: Big Eight 2017 In Review
July 12: Throwback Thursday - Top 2017 Games #3: Cambridge 25, Belleville 19
July 13: 2017 High School Football In Review
July 16: Start of Team-by-Team Previews
Julu 19: Throwback Thursday - Top 2017 Games #2: Madison West 30, Middleton 27
July 26: Throwback Thursday - Top 2017 Games #1: Lodi 17, St. Croix Central 10
August 6: Start of Conference Previews
August 13: Prep Report and Game of the Week content begins