What a difference a couple of inches makes in the game of football.

An inch or two can literally change your season.

That’s exactly what happened to the Wilmot Panther football team last Friday night.

Down 31-24 in overtime and in desperate need of a touchdown to extend the game with a 4th-and-2 at the Badger 1, a high snap turned into a fumble that popped a good 10 feet into the air before a Panther recovered it at the goal line.

He wasn’t touched and the ball appeared to be in for the touchdown.

Touchdown, right? 31-30. The instant classic keeps going.

Wrong.

The referee said the Panther player was down just inches shy of the goal line when he gained control, and he reached over the goal line after the ball was down and dead.

It was a gut-wrenching way to lose a ball game, and being 10 yards away behind the end zone with the play right in my face really put things into perspective – these kids put their blood, sweat and tears on the line for football and losing is tough.

Wilmot players dropped to the turf in agony while Badger players charged the field in celebration.

Those few inches mean Wilmot now has two conference losses, and the Badgers are still undefeated.

A chance to tie Lake Geneva and Waterford with one loss at the top of the SLC and perhaps share the SLC title was most likely dashed, by only the slimmest of margins.

It was one of the craziest plays I’ve ever seen, and definitely one of the most significant.

It means the Badgers, perfect in SLC, have a clear path to a 7-0 league record for the second straight season, and Waterford is pretty safe to take second at 6-1.

This Friday night offers a few key matchups to help determine the playoff picture, as Wilmot, Burlington, Union Grove and Westosha Central still have a shot to clinch a postseason berth.

Congrats to the Wolverines and Badgers for already securing playoff berths, and the SLC should be able to add two more playoff teams.

As for college and the professional ranks, I predict the Wisconsin Badgers will win at Nebraska, and the Green Bay Packers will lose at Dallas, a traditional house of horrors for the Green and Gold.

The high school football picks won’t be easy this week, but ladies and gentlemen, let’s get on with the show.

 

FOOTBALL PREDICTIONS

Last week: 3-1

Season: 24-9

 

GAME OF THE WEEK

(all games 7 p.m. Friday)

Wilmot (3-4, 3-2 SLC) at Burlington (4-3, 3-2)

Don Dalton Stadium will be rocking for the annual Homecoming game.

And recent Demon graduates will be champing at the bit to knock off the Panthers, who have beaten Burlington the past two seasons.

While the Demons are flying high with a two-game win streak where the offense has scored 91 total points, Wilmot is coming into this super-motivated, as it tries to get the bitter taste of last week’s overtime loss out of its mouth.

Burlington has had trouble with the physicality of run-first, athletic squads like Lake Geneva Badger and Waterford, and Wilmot is right there with them talent-wise.

Wilmot quarterback A.J. Frisby, who left with an injury last week, is out with an ACL injury, but running back Robert Brent, last year’s SLC rushing leader, is back and healthy from a knee injury.

Brent and Austin Norton (670 rushing yards) provide a potent 1-2 punch, and Wilmot needs to win either Friday or next Friday against rival Westosha Central to clinch a playoff spot.

Burlington must win one of its two final games to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2014, and while the Demons are certainly capable of beating Wilmot, another good opportunity arises next week against Elkhorn.

While Nick Klug is tearing it up at quarterback for the Demons, and Grant Tully, Joe Tully and Nick Webley provide explosive weapons, Burlington will keep it close and could score plenty of points.

An electric home crowd will give some advantage to the Demons, and they are playing their best football of the season right now.

I just think Wilmot is due for a big win.

PREDICTION: Wilmot 35, Burlington 30

 

Waterford (5-2, 4-1) at Union Grove (3-4, 2-3)

The Wolverines are rolling and have owned the rival Broncos in recent memory.

Waterford is hitting opponents with quick, home run-hitting running backs at every angle, and nobody has seemed to figure out how to stop it.

Tanner Keller has ran for 150 or more yards during Waterford’s four-game winning streak, and the sophomore sensation now leads the SLC with 876 yards, more than 100 more than Lake Geneva standout Will Keller, no relation.

That’s impressive.

As for the Broncos, quarterback Alec Spang dazzled last week at Elkhorn with four touchdown passes and has thrown for 1,189 yards this season.

Coach Craig McClelland said Spang can make all the throws on the field, and he has talented receivers in Jack Pettit, Carson LaPointe, Jacob Ross and Luke Nelson.

As good as the Grove offense has been of late, the Waterford defense has been even better. The Wolverines have only allowed 44 points in the last four games, including big wins over dynamic offenses like Burlington and Wilmot.

Waterford is getting healthy, and the run game is on fire right now. I don’t see them slowing down.

PREDICTION: Waterford 35, Union Grove 20

 

Delavan-Darien (2-5, 1-4) at Westosha Central (4-3, 2-3)

The Falcons are in desperation mode after a three-game losing streak has them in jeopardy of missing the playoffs.

Westosha must win its final two games to make the postseason for the first time since 2010, and a get-right game against the Comets is exactly what the Falcons need.

Look for some more open holes in the run game for Niko Lemke and Adam Simmons, which should open up things for the league’s leading passer, Jaden Jackson (1,412 yards), to connect with Nic Frederick, who leads the SLC with 489 receiving yards.

Westosha will enjoy some home cooking, and it will set up a must-win in the final week against Wilmot, a rivarlry game where anything can happen.

PREDICTION: Westosha Central 35, Delavan-Darien 17

 

Lake Geneva Badger 55, Elkhorn 7

 

 

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