This was the scene after Burlington's 42-35 4-OT victory at Wilmot Oct. 10. The Panthers will seek revenge Friday night at Don Dalton Stadium. (Earlene Frederick/Standard Press)

This was the scene after Burlington’s 42-35 4-OT victory at Wilmot Oct. 10. The Panthers will seek revenge Friday night at Don Dalton Stadium. (Earlene Frederick/Standard Press)

 

By Mike Ramczyk

Sports Editor

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, or WIAA, the state’s high school sports governing body, knocked it out of the park regarding the Southern Lakes Conference when it determined playoff brackets Saturday.

Burlington (5-4), Wilmot (6-3), Waterford (6-3) and Elkhorn all finished 5-2 in conference play, creating a four-way tie for the conference title in only an eight-team league.

Despite all sharing a claim to the SLC’s best team, there are differences.

Burlington knocked off two co-conference champs during the regular season, Waterford and Wilmot. So did Wilmot, which beat Elkhorn and Waterford, but the Demons beat the Panthers head to head, the most important criteria.

Elkhorn is only a Division 3-sized school that competes in a D2 conference, so the WIAA got it right when rewarding the Demons and Elks with home playoff games this Friday but made the Panthers and Wolverines travel.

Burlington and Elkhorn both have the most impressive resumes, and both deserve home games.

Waterford and Wilmot both wound up with road games, but both are winnable and fair matchups.

Lake Geneva Badger (4-5) must start on the road at fourth-seeded Indian Trail.

It’s the first time in recent history, possibly ever, that the SLC has had five playoff qualifiers. Never before has the league, which was consistently dominated by Burlington in the 1980s and 90s, had this much balance. It’s the first time since the league reformed in 2009 that this many teams have been at such a high level. And this is the first four-way tie in the “new” conference.

On any given Friday, with the exception of Westosha Central, a young team still building, anyone was capable of beating anyone. This was evidenced by the Grove’s victory over Delavan-Darien, Delavan’s upset win at Wilmot, Lake Geneva’s upset at Burlington and minor road victory upsets for Wilmot (at Elkhorn) and Burlington (at Wilmot).

In Division 7, Catholic Central got a deserved No. 3 seed based on their two losses (7-2). However, they weren’t your average losses. The Toppers only fell to two very good, bigger schools, Lake Country Lutheran (No. 6 in D6) and Racine St. Cat’s (No. 9 in D5). Quite frankly, these are teams the Toppers weren’t supposed to beat, but Central was at least competitive against the Angels.

Their D7 bracket is a doozy. If CC can knock off Schullsburg Friday night in Burlington at the Topper Bowl, they would have to travel to D7 No. 5 Potosi.

Eventually, they would have to play D7’s No. 3 team, Bangor (8-0) to make it to Madison.

While it seems unlikely to upset two higher-ranked teams, the Toppers traditionally play much tougher competition than most D7 squads in the Metro Classic Conference. Also, Catholic Central has a state pedigree, and coach Tom Aldrich knows how to win not only playoff games but state championships, as the Toppers won state in 2008 and ’09 and were runners-up in ’04 and ’10.

Burlington’s road to state will be much more difficult. Wilmot is a very strong club and will have revenge on its mind Friday night. If the Demons can get past the Panthers, Greendale, the state’s No. 1 team in Division 2, will be waiting.

Greendale features quarterback Josh Ringelberg, a 6-foot-1, 192-pound senior who was an all-state selection and led the Panthers to a Division 2 runner-up finish last season. Ringelberg, who has drawn interest from Iowa State, Northern Illinois and North Dakota State among other D1 schools, has completed nearly 65 percent of his passes for 1,868 yards, 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He’s added 573 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground.

After all, it was Wilmot that fell to the Demons at home on Homecoming in a four-overtime instant classic. The epic victory also gave Burlington it’s first SLC title in nearly 20 years, so Burlington’s post-game celebration is sure to be fresh on the Panthers’ minds. Burlington is coming off a loss where a more physical Elkhorn team overpowered them. Wilmot serves up a similar type of run-first, smash-mouth style.

Burlington quarterback Brad Burling (1,691 passing yards, 892 rushing, 31 total TD) leads the Demons, while running backs Ethan Scott (628 yards) is the biggest threat for Wilmot. Ty Mulcahy, who racked up 147 rushing yards and two touchdowns last week in a 35-0 win at Westosha, is another option.

 

Waterford, Badger thinking upset

Waterford (No. 6 seed, D2) also faces a former foe, No. 3 South Milwaukee, on Lake Michigan Friday night. The Wolverines beat the Rockets, 14-7, last October. South Milwaukee is 8-1 and shared the Woodland East title with Brown Deer (5-1).

South Milwaukee is coming off its only loss, a 42-7 drubbing at the hands of Greendale.

The Wolverines are hot, with four straight wins including a shutout victory over an explosive Delavan squad and a 45-7 beat-down of SLC co-champ Elkhorn.

Big Foot (No. 5, D3) got the short end of the stick with a Division 3 placement. Normally a Division 4 powerhouse with a state title in 2009 and a runner-up finish in ’12, it’s only the second D3 bracket for the Chiefs in school history. They open with a team they beat in overtime this season, conference foe Jefferson.

Don’t be surprised if Lake Geneva Badger (No. 5, D1) goes into Kenosha and knocks off Indian Trail. The SLC is a more balanced conference top to bottom than the Southeast Conference, and Badger coach Matt Hensler builds his team for postseason play. It’s Badger’s ninth straight postseason appearance.

In Division 3, the Elks could make some major noise. Not only did Elkhorn beat Burlington and Wilmot, two strong D2 teams this season, the Elks blew out D1 perennial power Badger.

Tom Lee’s boys have a lot of size with the best and largest offensive line in the area. But Elkhorn’s journey to Madison will be no easy task. If the Elks beat Reedsburg Friday, they must travel to No. 2 seed Monona Grove, Division 2’s No. 8 team that slipped to D3 playoffs. The Elks would have to upset Mt. Horeb/Barneveld (D3, No. 6) and D3’s top-ranked Wisconsin Lutheran to reach state.

Crazier things have happened, and with talented running backs Keenan Leahy, the SLC’s leading rusher with 859 yards and nine touchdowns, and Keaton Verhoeven (669, 8 TD), Elkhorn will be able to move the ball on anybody.

In Division 7, Williams Bay (N0. 7) must travel to Potosi. The Bulldogs are making their first playoff trip since 2002. Quarterback John Higgins (1,327 yards passing, 704 rushing, 19 total TD) is garnering Division 1 interest from Iowa, Oregon and Boise State, and two Division 2 schools have already made offers.

Here’s the area playoff schedule, which kicks off Friday night:

 

WIAA FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS
Friday, Oct. 24

(all games start at 7)

Division 1
(5) Lake Geneva Badger (4-5) at (4) Kenosha Indian Trail (6-3)

(6) Kenosha Bradford (3-6) at (3) Franklin (7-2)

(7) Manitowoc Lincoln (5-4) at (2) Muskego (7-2)

(6) Hartford (4-5) at (3) Mukwonago (6-3)

Division 2
(5) Wilmot at (4) Burlington

(6) Waterford at (3) South Milwaukee

Division 3
(6) Reedsburg at (3) Elkhorn

(5) Big Foot at (4) Jefferson

Division 7
(7) Williams Bay at (2) Potosi

(6) Schullsburg at (3) Catholic Central

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