Just because something is simple doesn’t mean it is easy.
The Chi-Hi football team hits the final week of the regular season with a straightforward scenario — a win this week sends the Cardinals to the playoffs. A loss means their season is over.
But that uncomplicated situation doesn’t make it any easier as the Cardinals host unbeaten Menomonie this Friday at Dorais Field.
The Mustangs (8-0, 6-0) are ranked fifth in the latest Division 2 state coaches poll and 10th in the latest Associated Press Large Division state poll. Menomonie clinched at least a share of the Big Rivers Conference championship last Friday with a 26-7 win over Eau Claire Memorial. A win this week would give Menomonie its second consecutive outright title with a perfect conference record. The Mustangs advanced to the Division 2 semifinals last postseason and are strong as ever this year with many new faces on both sides of the ball for longtime coach Joe LaBuda.
“They’re another senior dominated team,” Chi-Hi coach Chuck Raykovich said of Menomonie. They’re very experienced, very athletic and very well coached.”
One familiar face from last year that is back for the Mustangs is running back Justin Evans. The 5-foot-10, 203-pound Evans has run for 1,297 yards and 21 touchdowns on 183 carries so far this season to lead a potent ground game. Quarterback Jake Ebert has been efficient through the air (656 passing yards, eight TDs) for a multidimensional Mustangs attack.
Defensively, 6-foot-5 outside linebacker Mason Platter, a University of Wisconsin commit, anchors a defense that has held five of eight opponents to 16 points or fewer, including Rice Lake and Eau Claire Memorial in Menomonie’s last two victories.
Chi-Hi had a three-game winning streak snapped last Friday in Hudson in a 43-13 loss to the Raiders. A 28-point second quarter broke open a game that started well for the Cardinals. The Chi-Hi defense forced a three-and-out and a turnover in its first two possessions while the offense had success moving the ball into Raiders territory. If the Cardinals are going to keep pace with the high-powered Mustangs, Raykovich said a successful ground game and defense will be key.
“We’ve got to play like we have at times this year,” Raykovich said. “We can’t have a letdown in what we do well. We’re not good enough to play sub-par, we have to play at our best the entire game.”
Chi-Hi (4-4, 3-3) has dug itself out of an early hole, starting the season 1-3 with a pair of conference losses before wins over Superior, River Falls and Eau Claire North put the Cardinals one win away from the program’s third consecutive trip to the postseason.
This Friday represents the Cardinals’ last chance at that opportunity and Raykovich said the team knows it.
“It’s up to the boys. If they want to play another week then they’ve got to win, otherwise they’ll put equipment away next week,” Raykovich said.
Menomonie leads the all-time series with Chi-Hi by a 52-47-2 margin based on Herald records with a few early results unknown. The Mustangs have won eight of the last nine meetings over the Cardinals with a 28-6 win in the regular season finale last season the most recent matchup. Chi-Hi’s lone win during that stretch was an important one, a 17-6 victory in the Division 2 quarterfinals on Nov. 6, 2015 at Dorais Field.