Athens at Hurley
Run, Run, Run: Ground-based teams square off in battle of 9-1 teams
HURLEY - Come playoff time, Hurley is used to seeing teams with different styles – those that pass a lot (Pittsville, last year) or run the option (Spring Valley, last week).
But that's not Athens, which typically passes the ball less than Hurley.
"That's pretty uncommon, I guess," Hurley coach Scott Erickson said. "I think it's the kind of game we like to play."
No. 3 seed Athens (9-1) travels to No. 2 Hurley (9-1) for a 7 p.m. Friday WIAA Division 6 Level 2 playoff game.
The Midgets have been solid against the run this season, including holding unbeaten Crystal Falls Forest Park to 212 yards and last week holding Spring Valley to 149 yards on the ground. That forced the Cardinals to pass more often than they are used to; the result was some big plays on offense but also several overthrows that killed drives.
If Athens passes more than a few times Friday, Hurley's rush defense is probably thriving once again.
While Hurley's offense relies on faking, Athens' run game heads north-south with little deception. Think Crystal Falls Forest Park in the 2000s. Other than that, there aren't drastic differences between Hurley and Athens.
"They're very similar to us," Erickson said. "They run a very similar offense to us. They have some really, good big linebackers on defense and some really big defensive linemen."
With a win, Hurley will make its first state quarterfinal appearance since 2009. Athens, though, has never made it past Level 2. In fact, the Bluejays are 3-7 all-time in playoff games with two wins coming over the last two years under new coach Ryan Bargender, who was Edgar's best player when Hurley went to the state final in 1995. Hurley beat Edgar in Level 2 that year.
Athens knocked off No. 6 Eau Claire Regis (5-5) 34-10 Friday night. Regis moved into Athens territory on the first possession of the second half with the Bluejays up 14-10. But Athens linebacker Lane Tessmer picked off a Regis pass and the Bluejays outscored Regis 20-0 in the second half.
"I am just proud of our kids," Bargender told the Wausau Daily Herald. "Regis is a good football team. Our kids had their backs against the wall a couple of times and responded each time. These kids set high goals and hold themselves accountable. In the second half, we dominated the line of scrimmage."
Erickson said Athens is really good.
"They're looking for playoff respectability," he said. "Anytime you can get a signature win against a team like Eau Claire Regis is big. Hopefully they can't put Hurley down on their wall mounts."
For Hurley, the best part of Athens winning that the game is that this week's contest is at Hurley. If lower seed Regis had won, Hurley would have been traveling to Eau Claire this week despite being four seeds higher.
"The 2 seed really meant something now," Erickson said. "That rule needs to change. I'm all for giving everybody chances, but if you've earned the higher seed. Michigan hosts no matter what. That's how it should be."
"I think being at home always helps," Erickson said. "We have a pretty significant home-field advantage with the crowds we get and the routine."
Daltan Lavicka led Athens with 137 yards on 18 carries Friday night. Tessmer rushed for 110 yards on 19 carries. Tessmer is the leading rusher at 1,088 yards on 152 carries, a 108.8 yard per game average, according to wissports.net. Lavicka rushed for 827 yards in eight games, a 103.4 per game average.
Quarterback Collin Ellenbecker is 27 of 46 for 533 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions.
Both teams seem able to hold onto the ball and keep the other dangerous offense off the field. Hurley did a stellar job of that in the second half of Friday's win over Spring Valley. The Midgets scored what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown on a 10-minute drive, keeping the pass offense it struggled stopping off the field.
Erickson doesn't expect Athens to pass to take advantage of the situation.
"You never try to go out of character," he said. "Typically when teams have to go to plan B, the results aren't very good. We gave up some things in the passing game. When you look back at what Spring Valley did, I think we held them to (149) yards rushing. That's been their game. If Athens holds us to 104 yards of rushing and makes us pass other than when we want to, they're probably going to have a good chance to win the game."
Owen-Withee and Athens tied for first in the Cloverwood Conference with 8-1 records. Athens beat O-W 30-20 in week nine but lost at Loyal 26-7 in week two.