Will it be an old-school old school, or an old-school new school?
That's just one of the confusing, exhilarating questions heading into the semifinal round of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association state football playoffs.
This Friday and Saturday, berths in the state finals at Camp Randall Stadium will be on the line when the 28 surviving teams -- four per division -- meet at neutral sites.
For many area football followers, the most exciting game will be the one described by the confusing question: The Division 1 semifinal between 12-0 Milwaukee Marquette and 10-1 Arrowhead, set for 6 p.m. Saturday at Kettle Moraine High School in Wales.
The old-school old school is Arrowhead, which has played in the state championship game nine times, winning four, since 1993. Coach Tom Taraska has been there for all of them -- he's in his 28th year as Arrowhead's coach, and the school recently renamed its football stadium in Taraska's honor.
The old-school new school, on the other hand, is hard-charging Milwaukee Marquette. Now, Marquette can only be described as "new school" due to the technicality that it has never played in a WIAA state championship game -- as a private school, Marquette did not join the WIAA until 2000. But it must be noted that Dick Basham, who has been Marquette's head coach for 38 years, led the Hilltoppers to 10 appearances in the Wisconsin Independent Schools Athletic Association state finals, with eight championships.
Marquette turned in a performance that was nothing short of spectacular on Saturday, ralling from two touchdowns back to beat Kenosha Bradford, 35-28, before a crowd of more than 6,000 in Kenosha.
After Marquette's Brock LeFace returned the opening kickoff 83 yards for a touchdown, several things went wrong for the Hilltoppers -- not the least of which was the loss of LeFace to a broken collarbone early in the second quarter.
Bradford, with a multifaceted rushing attack that was as tough as advertised, controlled play for much of the first three quarters. Coach Jed Kennedy's Red Devils produced 414 yards of offense, with junior speedster Melvin Gordon, a University of Wisconsin recruit, gaining 127 yards and his backfield mate, Cody Brady, adding 96 yards rushing.
Bradford also got a boost from quarterback Gino DeBartolo, who passed for 114 yards and a touchdown and ran for 45 yards and a score. The Red Devils also kept things interesting with a successful fake punt, a halfback option pass, a break when Marquette mishandled a punt snap, and a successful hook-and-lateral pass play. Kennedy even made a what-was-he-thinking decision to go for it on fourth and one from his own 20 work with less than 5 minutes to go.
So, how did Marquette rally from a 28-14 deficit to win this game? By simply plugging away, turning a couple of breaks in their favor -- and by counting on John LeCoco to get them to the finish line.
LoCoco scored Marquette's final three touchdowns, including one that would have tied the game at 28-28 with 10:20 to play. But Bradford's Michael Mayfield blocked the point-after attempt to keep the Red Devils ahead, 28-27.
Three big plays worked in Marquette's favor late: DeBartolo lost a fumble to snuff a drive at the Marquette 28 in the third quarter, the Hilltoppers recovered an onside kick after the blocked extra-point try, and they stopped Bradford near midfield with 2:53 left to play.
The Hilltoppers took a punt at their own 11 and marched 89 yards in 10 plays to win. Bradford helped again, as a defender hit Marquette's Kevin Fink late after a first-down catch, moving the ball to the Bradford 36. Eventually, LoCoco ran the ball in from 8 yards out with 1:02 left, and Marquette made a two-point conversion.
Bradford didn't quit, marching to the Marquette 27 with 11 seconds left before two passes to the end zone fell incomplete.
All told, it was the sort of experience that carves out a spot in the memory banks -- perfect night, huge crowd, terrific game -- and the beauty of it is that those who didn't travel to Kenosha have one, or maybe two, more chances to see the Hilltoppers in action.
To get to the state championship game in Madison, though, Marquette will have to do away with an Arrowhead team that seems to have found itself, especially on offense. In its 36-21 victory over Verona on Saturday, Arrowhead rushed for 273 yards and got field goals of 36, 27 and 50 yards from junior Drew Meyer -- who also sent all seven of his kickoffs out of the end zone.
Like Bradford, the Warhawks will have plenty of weapons to try out against the vaunted Marquette defense. Brian Crook rushed for 132 yards against Verona, the speedy Colton Sweitzer had an amazing 32-yard touchdown run, quarterback Joe Parish (a Minnesota recruit) was solid and receiver Russ Finco is a constant threat.
The fact that Arrowhead allowed a less-than-tremendous Verona team to put up 21 points might have Basham burning the midnight oil - but then, he has to revamp the offense anyway, to adjust for the loss of LeFace. What'll happen? That's why they play the games.
On the other side of the Division 1 bracket, Menomonee Falls continues to impress. The Indians -- who last won a championship in 1976, the very first year of the WIAA playoffs -- moved one step closer to Madison with an impressive 34-17 victory at Sun Prairie on Saturday.
Senior Cole Myhra was the stud, rushing for 215 yards on 31 carries and scoring four touchdowns. However, Myhra did lose a fumble that helped Sun Prairie cut the margin to 24-17 with 11:09 to play, and it took a forced fumble by the Falls defense to quell the Cardinals' comeback hopes.
Menomonee Falls' -- and Myhra's -- opponent on Saturday (a 7:30 p.m. game at UW-Oshkosh) will be an Appleton North squad that might be the most underrated team in the state tournament field, regardless of division. The 12-0 Lightning stymied Stevens Point, 14-0, on Saturday. North has allowed only 9 points per game and held Point to 40 yards of offense in the first half.
Franklin advanced to the semifinal round with a thrilling 27-26 victory over Lake Geneva Badger on Friday night in Greendale. The Sabers (10-2) gave up a Badger touchdown with 3:43 to play, but Levon Myers blocked the extra point to preserve a one-point lead and Franklin's Marcus Schlemm recovered a Badger onside kick. Then, quarterback Lance Baretz completed a fourth-down pass to Brady Oates for a first down that allowed the Sabers to run most of the block out.
Jeff Klemp's Sabers face a tall order in the semifinal round, taking on powerful Waunakee (11-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Middleton. This is Waunakee's fifth trip to the state semifinals in the last 13 years, all helmed by coach Pat Rice. Waunakee's 35-20 victory over previously unbeaten Monona Grove on Saturday was the first time all year the Warriors had allowed three touchdowns in a game. The Warriors produced 296 rushing yards behind a huge line and 1,000-yard running backs Kyle Acker (152 yards against Monona Grove) and Leo Musso (112 against the Silver Eagles).
And how's this for a twist: Kassy McCarthy, the sister of Waunakee fullback Bryan McCarthy, is the Warriors' kicker. She is far from just a novelty: Kassy has made all 57 of her extra-point attempts (how many other kickers around the state can say that?) and has converted two of three field goals on the year.
Sure enough, after taking its lumps against Division 1 schools during the Classic 8 Conference season, coach Bill Young's Catholic Memorial Crusaders are again a playoff force. Catholic Memorial (9-3) rolled to a 31-7 victory over an overmatched Union Grove team on Saturday, getting 155 yards rushing and two touchdowns from Peter Karczewski. The Crusaders' defense held Union Grove to 226 yards.
Up next for Catholic Memorial will be a difficult test against Reedsburg (9-3), a team that comes from similar circumstances. After struggling in the Badger Conference during the regular season, Reedsburg has been all but unstoppable in the playoffs. What's more, the Beavers have experience after making it to the state championship game last year, dropping a 21-20 final to Waupaca.
Eric Oertel and Racine Lutheran continued their strong post-season run, as the 10-2 Crusaders defeated Algoma, 26-21. Oertel, a Washington State recruit, ran for 150 yards and had 12 tackles and an interception on defense. Another interception, by Neko Graf with 3:30 to play, clinched Lutheran's victory.
Coach Scott Smith's Crusaders, in the WIAA semifinals for the first time, take on annual powerhouse Eau Claire Regis (11-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Baraboo. Regis advanced with a convincing 57-27 victory over Fennimore on Saturday.
Regis' double-wing offense produced 473 yards on 65 carries against Fennimore, and the Ramblers' defense allowed just 24 rushing yards. Dan Sailer, Bobby Mickelson and Joe Lorenz ran for two touchdowns apiece for Regis.
Defending state champion Burlington Catholic Central (12-0) returned to the semifinals with a 35-21 victory over Shullsburg on Friday night, getting three touchdown passes and one touchdown run from Brian Fliess. The Hilltoppers produced 373 yards of offense.
On Friday, Catholic Central will face De Soto (12-0) in a semifinal game. DeSoto is making its 25th appearance in the post-season and is seeking its sixth appearance in the title game -- though its first since 1990. DeSoto earned its first semifinal berth since 1999 with a 21-7 victory over Potosi on Saturday.
DeSoto has made hay with a solid defense this year, allowing less than 150 yards per game during the regular season. Dylan Tully rushed for 1,500 regular-season yards and scored 17 touchdowns, with a 10.7 per-carry average.
Burlington Catholic Central (12-0) vs. De Soto (12-0) at Middleton, 7 p.m.
Milwaukee Marquette (12-0) vs. Arrowhead (10-1) at Kettle Moraine, 6 p.m.
Menomonee Falls (11-1) vs. Appleton North (12-0) at UW-Oshkosh, 7:30 p.m.
Franklin (10-2) vs. Waunakee (11-1) at Kettle Moraine, 1 p.m.
Catholic Memorial (9-3) vs. Reedsburg (9-3) at Middleton, 1 p.m.
Racine Lutheran (10-2) vs. Eau Claire Regis (11-1) at Baraboo, 1 p.m.
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.