By Art Kabelowsky Special to Published Nov 15, 2009 at 3:17 PM
We've got the two biggest hitters and one of the smallest -- but nothing in between.

After a rough and tumble Saturday, that's where Milwaukee area high school football teams stand as the state playoffs head to Madison for the seven divisional championship games, set for Thursday and Friday.

In Division 1, the championship game qualifiers are both from the area. More than that, they're members of the same conference. Milwaukee Marquette (13-0) will take on Menomonee Falls (12-1) at 4 p.m. Friday at Camp Randall Stadium.

All seven state championship games (four on Thursday, three on Friday) will be televised live on Fox Sports Net.

Marquette played a nearly perfect game on Saturday night, dispatching Arrowhead, 35-0, at Kettle Moraine High School in Wales.

In a pairing of two of the area's most veteran coaches, Marquette's Dick Basham prevented Arrowhead's Tom Taraska from marching to the state final for what would have been the fourth consecutive year. Marquette, on the other hand, had never made it past the playoff quarterfinals since joining the WIAA in 2000.

And on Saturday, the Hilltoppers moved on with style.

The defense - called into question after giving up 28 points against Kenosha Bradford the week before - held Arrowhead to three first downs and 92 total yards in the first half.

And senior John LoCoco took care of the rest. Stepping into the feature back role when No. 1 Brock LaFace was injured last week, LoCoco scored three touchdowns and gained 240 yards on 37 carries. LoCoco gained 154 of those yards in the first half, including a 54-yard scoring run that gave Marquette a 21-0 halftime lead.

An Arrowhead comeback never materialized, and the Warhawks faced the indignity of playing with a "mercy rule" running clock for the final 9 ½ minutes. (In high school football, when one team builds a lead of 35 or more points in the second half, the clock is not stopped for first downs, incomplete passes or runs that go out of bounds.)

It was the sort of performance that makes it logical to imagine that Marquette is a shoo-in to win the state final, regardless of opponent. And that feeling becomes even stronger when considering the teams' regular-season meeting, a 27-7 Marquette victory in Week 8.

In that game, Marquette took a 14-0 halftime lead, then rebounded from a Falls score in the third quarter with another pair of touchdowns, including one on a 45-yard interception return late in the third quarter.

But Menomonee Falls played mistake-free football on Saturday, taking a 10-0 semifinal victory over Appleton North at UW-Oshkosh. The Indians turned two North turnovers into scores, a 1-yard TD run by Cole Myhra to end a 42-yard drive in the first quarter, and a 22-yard field goal by Kyle French late in the fourth.

Myhra rushed for 101 yards on 31 yarries, and quarterback Max Poeske completed eight of 16 passes for 106 more yards. Menomonee Falls' defense held North's Steve Lichtfuss, a 2,300-yard rusher on the season, to a passable 104 yards on 26 carries, and forced North quarterback Andrew Giamo through a 2-for-9 passing performance, with one interception.

In the Indians' Week 8 loss to Marquette, Myhra rushed for 144 yards on 26 carries, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. But it was a nightmare performance for Poeske, who completed only two of 18 passes for 42 yards and an interception that was returned for a score.
Logic would seem to indicate that the things Marquette used to dominate the first game - most notably, the Hilltoppers' huge offensive and defensive lines - would again be pivotal factors in the rematch. While it's impossible to account for wild-card plays like special teams eruptions, fumbles and interceptions, a good line has historically taken high school teams a long way on the Camp Randall turf.

While fans statewide will be treated to the best the area has to offer in the Division 1 final on Friday, only one other area team will play on the Camp Randall turf this fall.

That would be 12-1 Catholic Central of Burlington, which earned a chance to defend its Division 7 championship with a convincing 44-25 victory over previously unbeaten De Soto at Middleton on Friday.

Despite losing several key skill position players from its state championship team of 2008, the Hilltoppers - there's that nickname again - have built a terrific squad that makes the most of its big-game experience.

That was evident after Catholic Central botched the opening kickoff against DeSoto, fumbling it away to help set up a De Soto touchdown just 93 seconds into the game.

But Catholic Central bounced right back, blocking a punt to set up its first touchdown and rolling to a 23-7 halftime lead.

Quarterback Brian Fliess, a threat both running and passing in coach Tom Aldrich's offense, threw for 186 yards and two touchdowns against De Soto, and Sam Wagner - who missed the first half of the season with a broken thumb - scored four touchdowns and gained 256 yards (145 rushing, 111 receiving).

Catholic Central will be a favorite when it takes on Chippewa Falls McDonell (10-3) at 10 a.m. Thursday in the Division 7 final. McDonell beat Gilman, 27-8, on Friday night to advance.

Other area teams had a chance to punch their tickets to Madison, but things just didn't work out on Saturday:

  • In Division 2, perennially strong Waunakee (12-1) put it to Franklin (10-3), holding the normally potent Sabers offense to 161 total yards in a 42-14 rout at Kettle Moraine. Waunakee raced to a 28-7 halftime lead, and the game finished under a running clock.
  • Pure heartbreak struck Catholic Memorial of Waukesha (9-4) in Division 3, as the Crusaders gave up a touchdown with 1 second remaining to lose to Reedsburg, 16-13, at Middleton. Reedsburg (10-3) drove 90 yards in eight plays, with no timeouts, to produce the winning score, which came on a 13-yard pass from Chad Mazure to Matt Lennon. Catholic Memorial didn't help its own cause after taking a 13-3 halftime lead. The Crusaders managed just 70 yards in the second half and lost two turnovers.
  • In Division 6, the strength of Washington State-bound Eric Oertel was not enough to carry Racine Lutheran to the state final, as Eau Claire Regis (12-1) stormed to a 49-16 victory over the Crusaders (10-3). Regis scored on its first six possessions and gained 328 yards on its way to a 42-0 halftime lead, forcing the entire second half to be played with a running clock. Oertel, who finished with 2,695 rushing yards on the season, ran for one touchdown and threw for another in the late going.
Art Kabelowsky Special to

Art Kabelowsky has spent 33 years in the sports writing business, the last 12 with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Art was named the Journal Sentinel's Prep Editor in July, 2000, directing its high school sports coverage until he accepted the paper's offer of a voluntary buyout last August.

A graduate of Sussex Hamilton High School and UW-Whitewater, Art has also worked for daily papers in Fort Atkinson, Racine, La Crosse and Decatur, Ill. He has been sports editor in Fort Atkinson and La Crosse.

Art spent five years as a beat reporter covering the La Crosse Catbirds of the Continental Basketball Association and has also covered a Rose Bowl, countless Green Bay Packers games and more than 25 years' worth of state high school basketball tournaments and football finals.

He lives on the northwest side and has spent the last few months volunteering as an assistant football coach at Milwaukee Riverside High School.