CLINTON, Wis. - The Clinton Cougars have already clinched a share of their third straight Rock Valley Conference title. However, the Cougars have bigger fish to fry.
Clinton should be able to wrap up a top seed in the WIAA Division 5 playoff field with a win over an over-matched Whitewater team looking for its second win of the season Friday in Clinton.
The Cougars would also no doubt like to post the first undefeated season in school history, as well as set themselves up with some momentum, heading in to Level One of the playoffs, set to begin next weekend.
Clinton also has some record to uphold, not that these marks are on the mind of Clinton coach Jeff Spiwak. The Cougars are running away with the state's rushing title as a team with an incredible 428.9 yards per game. Racine Horlick is a distant second at 370.9.
Senior Zach Krause has racked up 1,859 yards, meaning he needs 141 for the magical 2,000-yard mark. He carries a 175-yard lead on Elk Mound's Brady Redwine entering the final week of the regular season.
Finally, the Cougars are set to welcome back starting quarterback Tyler Halsted, who has missed the last 2 1-2 games due to an ankle injury. Sophomore Jack Henschler has filled in nicely for Halsted, rushing for 53 yards against Whitewater then following it up with 130 yards against Edgerton.
"Jack has earned the respect of everyone in the program," Spiwak said. "His growth in two weeks has been pretty phenomenal. With the game reps he's been able to get, you've got to be excited about what he's going to bring to us for the next two years. The game was never too big for him, and he really impressed everyone. That said, when he came to practice Sunday, we told him 'Congratulations, you played great. You are now the backup quarterback.'"
One constant regardless of who the quarterback has been is the play of Clinton's veteran offensive line, which has created holes consistently for the talented skill position players.
"We have incredibly high expectations for those guys," Spiwak said. "We've had really quality play at that position for the past two years. You can't run the ball the way we have without really quality line play. We don't have a star on that line. We probably don't even have a kid who's going to play college football on the line. It's just five guys, working together and doing what they are asked. We truly appreciate their effort."
While Spiwak would like to see another big day from Krause and the offense, he understands the need to be fully prepared for the playoffs as well. "If everything goes well, we'll certainly get Zach his touches, but hopefully no more than 20," Spiwak said. "Then we can get some other guys some opportunity and also easing Ty back into the game."
• MCFARLAND (2-6) at BELOIT TURNER (6-2): The last time these two teams met, it was in McFarland in the final game of the 2016 season. Decimated by injuries to several players, the Trojans went down hard, losing to the 3-6 Spartans 34-6 to close the year.
Turner coach Derek Diehl said his players remember the game well.
"It's something they've talked about a little bit this week," Diehl said. "This game has been on our mind for a while. We just didn't play very well last year against them. We had nothing to play for, and I think the kids realized they missed out on some opportunities. This year, they want to do it right."
The Spartans feature a pass-happy attack that has allowed them to score over 26 points per game. However, McFarland is giving up an average of 37 points per game in its current five-game losing streak.
"I actually don't think they are poor defensively," Diehl said. "The offense that they run leads to a lot of short fields, turnovers and short drives. That puts the defense in a tough situation. They get after it a little bit. They made Clinton punt a few times, which is more than most of their opponents can say. They get off the ball very well."
The Trojans are coming off an impressive win last week at East Troy and are looking to solidify their WIAA Division 4 playoff seed. Diehl wants them geared up starting right away Friday.
"We are treating this as though the playoff season began this Monday," Diehl said. "We didn't want to be in this situation where all of a sudden next week you turn up the hype for the second season. In my first year here (2015), I think I made that mistake and we were just kind of surprised to be where we were and we didn't play well at Columbus. The hype got to us. This week we want to play well and head into the playoffs with momentum and just keep it going from there."
• HONONEGAH (7-0) at JEFFERSON (0-7): A true mismatch on paper, these two teams will get together Friday as the Indians look to grab at least a share of the NIC-10 title.
Hononegah has played just one close game so far, a 26-21 win over Belvidere North. Jefferson has some close losses but is struggling mightily after their coach was let go shortly before the season began.
The Indians made their debut in the IHSA AP Class 7A poll, ranking eighth.
• NORTH BOONE (5-2) at MENDOTA (1-6): The Vikings clinched a playoff berth last week with a win over Harvard, and should continue to improve their postseason positioning with a victory at struggling Mendota.
Junior quarterback Britton Morris continues to shine for the Vikings, racking up a Big Northern-best 1.581 yards and 18 touchdowns. Morris also leads the team with 570 yards rushing and eight touchdowns.
• SOUTH BELOIT (1-6) at WARREN (0-7): The SoBos have been blown out in six straight games after starting the season with a win, while Warren is still looking for its first taste of success this season.
The SoBos have scored just 50 total points during their six-game losing streak.
• EVANSVILLE-ALBANY (5-3) at BIG FOOT (3-5) : The Chiefs are out of playoff contention, but have won two of their past three games, including a 44-27 triumph over Whitewater Friday.
Logan Eischeid has done an admirable job filling in for Jackson Enz at quarterback. The Blue Devils qualified for the playoffs with a 35-7 win over Brodhed-Juda last week.
• EAST TROY (4-4) at BRODHEAD-JUDA (2-6): The visiting Trojans must win to get in the playoffs, while Brodhead-Juda has lost two straight after winning its only two games of the season. The Cardinals have struggled defensively, allowing at least 21 points in every game including 63 in its previous two losses. East Troy struggles on defense as well but carries an explosive offense into Brodhead Friday.
• PARKVIEW (0-8) at FENNIMORE (6-2): If the Vikings want to avoid a winless season, they'll have to pull a stunning upset at Fennimore, which is coming off a 42-13 defeat at the hands of Mineral Point Friday.
Fennimore has won four of its six games by at least 20 points, while the Vikings have scored over 20 points just once all season.