East finished 5th in the Classic Eight, while OHS won the Wisconsin Little Ten with a perfect 7-0 record
No. 1 seed Oconomowoc opens WIAA D1 play Friday night at home against No. 8 seed Madison East in a game that should be exciting, fun to watch, and high-scoring.
How OHS got to the playoffs is no mystery. A 9-0 overall record and an undisputed Wisconsin Little Ten conference title will do that.
East, however, is a bit of a mystery. The Purgolders finished only 4-5 in the Big East conference, good for sixth place. It also lost its last two games, badly, losing last Friday to Sun Prairie, the conference’s fifth place team, 55-36. The week before, Madison La Follette hammered East, 48-19.Typically, a team needs to finish with a .500 conference record to be considered for the playoffs. East, obviously, did not, but the coaches who create the playoffs pairing apparently saw enough to reward the Purgolders for its season.
Perhaps, what impressed the coaches was East can and does score points, averaging almost 30 points a game. As a team, it also racked up some impressive figures, stats, rushing (174 yards a game) and passing (236 yards a game). That’s a nice 410 yards a game, on average, of total offense.
But East has not been able to stop anyone on defense, surrendering an average of 37 points a game to its opponents.
What does all this mean for OHS? Perhaps nothing. It is the playoffs, after all, and nothing is guaranteed in the playoffs. Plus, on average, the Big Eight, with Middleton and Sun Prairie as it leaders, has been stronger than the Wisconsin Little Ten.
OHS, however, is not a weak sister. While the WLT may not have been as strong across the board as it has been in the past, OHS is ranked as the No.5 team in the area by the Journal Sentinel and in the top 10, for the first time, by the Associated Press. East is not ranked by anyone, anywhere.
Powering the Raccoons may be the state’s best D1 passing attack. Air Nienhuis has massed 2,374 yards in the air this season, an average of 264 a game. Junior quarterback Ben Nienhuis has thrown for 30 touchdowns. The Cooney game game, almost non-existent early in the season, has come on strong behind the running of junior Jake Rams and an offensive line that has been getting stronger with every game. Currently, OHS averages 136 yards a game rushing for a total offense of 411 yards a game.
All this suggests that the scoreboard at Rux Field Friday night will be blazing. It also suggests that the team with the best defense, not offense, will decide who wins. Here you have to give the edge to Oconomowoc’s bend-but-not break defense. Undersized, but big with a huge collective heart, the Cooney defense is disruptive, aggressive, and opportunistic. It will give up yardage and points, but in the end, with Air Nienhuis now complemented by Mighty Mite Jake Rams, OHS will score enough points to offset whatever East does.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Respect for OHS still not there
While undefeated OHS is ranked as the No. 5 team in the area by the Journal Sentinel, three of the teams ranked ahead of it have each lost a game this season: No. Muskego, No. 3 Arrowhead, and No. 4 Catholic Memorial. All three of those teams play in the Classic Eight conference while OHS, despite beating the two Classic Eight teams it faced this season, plays in the Wisconsin Little Ten, a conference that also doesn’t seem to get much respect. Four WLT teams, however, are in the playoffs, headed by defending D2 state champ, Wisconsin Lutheran. Also making the playoffs are Slinger and Watertown, two teams that were defeated by OHS this season.
On a more positive note
Cooney running back Jake Rams is this week’s Journal Sentinel player of the week. Quarterback Ben Nienhuis, a sure bet to be the WLT player of the year on offense and a first-team pick, was a previous winner of the award. Nienhuis threw for more than 2,374 yards through the team’s first nine games, and for 30 TDs, both high marks for the area’s quarterbacks. Cooney’s Zach Clayton, Nienhuis’ favorite target is listed as the No.2 receiver in the area in terms of yards. He also is the top receiver in the WLT with 900 yards, a figure more than 325 yards ahead of the second place receiver. Clayton has 14 touchdown catches this season. These marks came in eight games as Clayton missed the season opener against Kettle Moraine. All three are juniors. Cooney senior Ethan Wegner is second in the conference in touchdown catches with nine.
Other D1 top seeds
D1 is split into four groups of eight teams each. As referenced above, OHS is the No. 1 seed in Group C. Other top seeds include Kimberly (Group A), Franklin (Group D), and Fond du Lac (Group B). Click here view the complete list of 32 D1 seeded teams.