Spring Grove's foe has rolled recently
Spring Grove's opponent in Saturday's Nine-Man football state playoff quarterfinals has played some tough opponents and appears to be playing its best ball of the season.
The Lions, 11-0 and ranked fifth in the state nine-man poll, meet Wheaton/Herman-Norcross (10-1) in a 1 p.m. game Saturday at Spring Lake Park High School.
W/HN's only loss was to Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley, which ended the season ranked No. 2 in the state nine-man poll.
C-G-B didn't make it to the state playoffs though; it lost 30-8 to No. 1-ranked Ellsworth-Edgerton in the Section 3 championship game.
After losing that game 20-16 in the season's third week, W/HN dropped from fourth to 11th in the state poll but worked its way up to eighth by the end of the regular season. One of its wins was 36-0 over LeCenter, an 11-man team. Another was a forfeit.
They faced Eagle Valley, No. 6 in the poll, in the Section 4 title game and won with ease, 50-16. Add that its previous three wins were by scores of 54-8, 44-8 and 50-12, and this looks like a team on a roll.
"Wheaton is a physical team with a big line," Spring Grove coach Zach Hauser said. "Offensively both teams rely heavily on the run and defensively haven't allowed many points on the season.
"I think it will be a classic matchup of size versus speed."
The Warriors have some speed. Against Eagle Valley, Nick Stafford and Patrick Conroy returned interceptions 68 and 69 yards for touchdowns. That helps explain the lopsided score in a game in which Wheaton/H-N outgained Eagle Valley just 309-241 in scrimmage yards.
Spring Grove presents the W/H-N defense with a powerful ground game that has amassed more than 400 yards seven times.
Sam Ellingson leads the way for the Lions with 1,530 yards and 18 touchdowns on the season. Aric Elton has 1,103 yards with 20 touchdowns and Josh Olerud has rushed for 999 yards and scored 15 touchdowns.
The Lions defeated Grand Meadow 28-0 in the Section 1 championship game last Friday. They still had snow on their field Thursday so they practiced on artificial turf in Winona.
Wheaton hosted another Southeast Conference team, Lanesboro, in the 2006 quarterfinals, a drive of over 300 miles for the Burros, who lost 26-7 on a bitterly cold Friday night after hanging out in Wheaton all day after making the bus trip the day before.
Wheaton went on to place second in its seventh state playoffs appearance. It also qualified in 2007 but not again until this year. Herman reached the state playoffs in 1977.
Spring Grove has been to state once before, in 2003, when it lost a 19-16 heartbreaker to Hillcrest Academy of Fergus Falls in the semifinals at the Metrodome.