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Undefeated Redbirds face tough test; Cards-Knights big rematch
Times file photos ABOVE: Pecatonica-Argyles Kyle Zwicker has laid some big hits this season. The Vikings will need to slow down Mineral Points powerful running back Brady Tibbits Saturday. RIGHT: Brodhead-Judas Jesse DeLorme is averaging nearly 8.5 yards per carry.
The Darlington Redbirds have had a target on their back all season. From the opening week, a 40-7 win over Platteville, to a 58-0 thumping at Riverdale in the regular season finale, teams gave the Redbirds their best, only to lose by an average score of nearly 48-7.

"All year we exceeded expectations with the way they prepared and performed," Darlington head coach Scott Zywicki said. "I knew we would be good, but not necessarily run the table."

Outside of a 42-28 win on the road at Fennimore in Week 3, the only other opponent that took Darlington's starters deep into the fourth quarter was Lancaster on Tuesday. The Flying Arrows fell behind 30-6 in the first half before making it close in the second half.

"You have to have intensity in the second half too, and we just didn't have it. It was a gut check game," Zywicki said. "We were able to make some plays at the end that allowed us to play one more game.

"There's something about those long trips that it's hard for those kids to stay focused. It maybe makes them sleepy and tougher to get kids ready."

Now 10-0 on the season, the Redbirds face an even more challenging opponent - Stratford. Sitting with 8 wins, the Tigers found themselves losing at home to Osseo-Fairchild (9-1) by a point and on the road at Edgar (10-0), which makes the case as being the best small school team in the state. Edgar has allowed just three touchdowns all season and has a 37-1 record the last three seasons, the only loss was to Stratford in the 2008 state championship game.

"(Stratford) is big and physical and they don't make a whole lot of mistakes. Their defensive front line averages about 250 pounds," Zywicki said. "They are extremely well coached, disciplined and run well. They will pound the ball against you."

The Tigers are averaging 7.2 yards per carry and have rushed for more than 1,400 yards as a team this year. When Stratford isn't running the ball down team's throats with Mark Marquardt (5-feet, 11-inches, 163 pounds) and Jamie Aschebrock (5-8, 172), senior quarterback Nick Veigut has also thrown for over 400 yards on just 16 of 36 pass completions.

Darlington counters with senior QB Alex Erickson, an all-around athlete who has rushed for nearly 800 yards and thrown for nearly another 1,000. Erickson has been apart of 28 touchdowns (17 running, 11 passing), and has connected with seven different receivers.

Tucker Wiegel leads all receivers with eight catches and 356 yards, a startling average of 44.5 yards per reception. Wiegel has six receiving TDs and another 10 rushing scores on the ground (38 carries, 395 yards). Weigel also has taken back a handful of kicks for scores. When Wiegel or Erickson aren't touching the ball, bruising fullback Seth Rowe likely is. Rowe has averaged 5.8 yards per carry on over 70 touches this year with 12 scores.

Brodhead-Juda (8-2) at New Glarus-Monticello (8-2)

A year ago the Cardinals took it to the Glarner Knights in New Glarus, winning 47-0. Neither team looks the same as they did a year ago, and that has both teams feeling good about themselves.

"We knew coming in that we had lost a lot of guys but we also knew that there were capable guys to step in," New Glarus-Monticello head coach Jeff Eichelkraut said. "Probably the biggest thing that emerged is the leadership and character of our guys."

Eichelkraut said his program's first-round win over previously unbeaten and No. 1 seeded River Valley was a character win for his team, which started the year 6-0 but lost two of its final three regular season game.

"I think the guys that are seniors just wanted the season to keep going as long as it could. They were pretty much locked in against River Valley," said Eichelkraut, who added that hosting a playoff game is a big deal. "It's phenomenal. I don't remember playing a day game in New Glarus. It will be neat."

Tyler Dorn is the Knights' top weapon, having run for 1,200 yards and 16 TDs this year. First-year QB Lukas Kolasch has managed the offense well and has complimented Dorn with nearly 500 passing yards.

Brodhead-Juda has opened up its offense as the year progressed. Twelve different players had rushing attempts for the Cardinals in the regular season with Jesse DeLorme and Alex Wallace leading the way with 756 and 567 yards each through the first nine games. As a team, Brodhead-Juda has rushed for over 2,950 yards in just 10 games, and have added 1,000 yards through the air.

Junior QB David Earleywine completed 56 of 90 passing attempts (62 percent) for 1,004 yards in the regular season, including 15 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Michael Peterson and Wallace have caught 39 balls combined for nearly 800 yards and 11 touchdowns.

The Cardinals opened up the postseason with a 42-12 win over Prairie du Chien and have scored more than 41 points in their last six games.

"They are all tough (in the postseason)," Brodhead-Juda head coach Jim Matthys said. "Once you get into the playoffs, it doesn't matter if it's Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 - a playoff win is a big win. It's a quality win because you're playing against someone that's a darn good team.

"We play whoever comes at us and New Glarus is a pretty good team if they beat River Valley. I saw River Valley on film against Prairie du Chien and they looked dynamite - better than they were when we played them in Week 1. It's a great win for Jeff (Eichelkraut) and his kids and we'll be ready for a great game on Saturday."

River Valley knocked off the Cardinals 28-14 in the first game of the season in Brodhead.

Mineral Point (8-2) at Pecatonica-Argyle (6-4)

If the Vikings are going to advance to Level 3, they have big target to stop - Mineral Point running back Brady Tibbits. Tibbits, a 5-10, 197 pound junior, has rushed for over 1,200 yards this year, an average of more than 9 yards a carry.

"We're going to have to gang tackle him," said Pecatonica-Argyle head coach Larry Green. "One guy isn't going to bring him down - we're going to need multiple players flowing to the football."

The Vikings entered the postseason with a 5-4 record, which was achieved in the regular season finale with a win over Benton-Scales Mound. A first round upset of Necedah is allowing the Vikings to host Saturday's game in Argyle - the same location the Vikings knocked off then-ranked Shullsburg.

"It will be kind of exciting," Green said. "We've got to play our best. They (Mineral Point) have a good defense and bring a lot of pressure."

Pecatonica-Argyle's Jared Johnson leads the team with more than 860 rushing yards and seven scores. Sophomore QB Jon Hendrickson has also thrown for over 800 yards and owns a 56 percent completion rate this season. A second upset for the Vikings would move them to Level 3, just two wins to state.

"It will be a lot of fun Saturday," Green said.