RACINE — Call it the Powerball of high school football matchups in Racine County.
It has never happened before. And odds are it will never happen again when one considers the entire package.
When Racine Lutheran hosts St. Catherine’s in an 11:30 a.m. Metro Classic Conference game Saturday at Horlick Field, this is how the stars will be aligned:
- Both teams, which played in state championship games at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison last November, are undefeated and ranked No. 1 in their respective divisions of the Associated Press state poll. St. Catherine’s has been atop the medium enrollment division for the last two weeks and Lutheran has been No. 1 in the small enrollment division all season.
- Lutheran senior running back Tyler Tenner is 18 yards from breaking Eric Oertel’s career county rushing total of 5,695 yards. Tenner, who ranks third in the state with 1,060 yards, has a career total of 5,678.
- The winner of Saturday’s game will earn their fourth conference victory of the season and clinch a playoff berth. It will also have the inside track for winning the MCC championship with three regular-season games remaining after Saturday.
- This is the final scheduled matchup of two county programs which are within three miles of each other with the realignment of the MCC coming after this season. St. Catherine’s has dominated the rivalry, winning 14-13 in 1952 and then winning 10 of 12 matchups after starting an annual MCC rivalry with Lutheran in 2008.
- At stake is St. Catherine’s regular-season winning streak of 28 games. Its last regular-season loss came Sept. 10, 2016, when Racine Lutheran beat St. Catherine’s 46-39 in double overtime.
The storylines are enticing. But the two head coaches — St. Catherine’s Dan Miller and Lutheran’s Scott Smith — have been careful to preach to their players that this game is nothing more than another step toward larger goals.
“This is just another game where we’re trying to get better for the ultimate goal, and that’s to make the playoffs,” said Miller, whose team won the WIAA Division 4 state championship last season. “Our No. 1 goal each and every year is to make the playoffs and get into bonus games.
“We’re the only sport where you have to qualify to get into the tournament, as far as team sports go. Doing that is extremely important and our No. 1 goal.”
Added St. Catherine’s linebacker Brian Sharp: “This is a very important game for us. We clinch a playoff berth if we win and that’s our main objective.”
Smith was more willing to concede the magnitude of this showdown, but also agreed with Miller that the bottom line is far more important.
“It’s a big game, there’s no doubt,” he said. “What are you going to tell kids? It doesn’t matter? It does matter. But do you know what? It’s another conference game to say, ‘Hey, who are we? Are we getting better each week?’ Really, what it comes down to is what do we do well and what do they do well and what team can shut the other one down?”
How will Saturday’s finale between the two schools play out? Good question.
Both teams have playmaking quarterbacks with St. Catherine’s Keenan Carter and Lutheran’s Nolan Krause. And both teams have a pair of exceptional running backs with Tenner and Jaylen Houston for Lutheran and Isaiah Dodd and Demarion Cobb for St. Catherine’s.
How comparable are these offenses? Lutheran averages 411.2 yards and 44.6 points per game. St. Catherine’s averages 404.6 yards and 46.4 points per game.
As far as obvious differences, St. Catherine’s appears to have the edge in two areas.
First, the Angels’ defense has statistically outperformed the Crusaders through five games. St. Catherine’s has allowed just 26 points and an average 136.6 yards per game. Lutheran has allowed 95 points and an average of 259.8 yards per game.
Second, St. Catherine’s has a statistically more established passing attack. Carter has passed for 664 yards, with 13 touchdowns and one interception. Kraus, who has been more adept at making plays with his feet so far, has passed for 269 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
But no player on the field Saturday will have more credentials than Tenner, who was second-team AP All-State last season and is 1,193 yards away from becoming the leading career rusher in state history. He will be running behind an offensive line comprised of tackles Tim Nelson and Sully Stanke, guards David Voss and Seth Hultman and center Henry Hoeft — five players with a combined 11 years of varsity experience.
In last year’s game, which St. Catherine’s won 40-28, Tenner rushed for 168 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
“He has great balance and he has that second, third and fourth effort,” Miller said of Tenner. “He’s shifty, he has very good vision ... I mean, he has everything that a back should have for the amount of yards he has rushed for.”
For Tenner, winning Saturday’s game is what matters most. But he will admit to taking a second to cherish becoming the county’s new all-time leading rusher once it happens.
“I guess it’s like my own little mark in history,” Tenner said when asked about breaking the record. “So I guess it’s special to have it for that reason. But I don’t want to take away from the mindset of our team.”
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City showdown, Part 2
The annual renewal of the historic Park-Horlick showdown Friday night at Horlick Field will have a significance of its own. Both teams are 1-2 in the Southeast Conference and must win three of the remaining four games to qualify for the playoffs.
Horlick, which has been shut out two of its previous three games after featuring one of the state’s most dominant rushing attacks from 2016-18, will be out to salvage its season. The Rebels’ offense is led by senior quarterback Spencer Schick.
As for Park, it will try to continue re-establishing itself in what has been a comeback season after going 5-59 the previous seven years.
With two talented seniors — quarterback Ricky Canady and end Raishein Thomas setting the tone on both sides of the ball. The Panthers have outscored their opponents 122-87. Through five games last season, they had been outscored 165-54.
Perhaps the biggest testament to how much the Panthers have progressed came in their most lopsided loss so far — 35-18 to Franklin Sept. 13. One year earlier, Franklin defeated Park 45-0. In the rematch this season, Park trailed 21-18 with seven minutes to play and had possession of the ball before things unraveled.
At this rate, the Panthers could be looking at their first winning record since 2008, when they went 10-2. And maybe even their first playoff appearance since 2009.
“We’re senior driven for one,” second-year Park coach Danny Hernandez said. “Our best players are seniors. We have two outstanding players on both sides of the ball. Obviously there’s Raishein Thomas and Ricky Canady and, when you have exceptional players who lead on both sides of the ball, you never really worry. You know those guys are going to make plays.”
Thomas, who will be enrolling at Northern Illinois after this semester, is tied with Franklin’s Gavin Meyer for the lead in sacks in the state with 10.
And Canady has had a breakthrough season as a senior, passing for 747 yards and six touchdowns — he had 429 yards last season — and rushing for 324 yards and nine TDs.
“He’s been throwing footballs since last season ended,” Hernandez said. “The kid’s got a big arm. He can throw the ball 55, 60 yards downfield and we have some weapons for him. I think that’s the biggest thing.
“Trey Carothers, Trey Kelley, Terry Gamble, Corey Cottingham, all four of those guys have great speed and deep-play abilities.”
How much are the players beginning to believe in this team? Just ask seniors Aiyonta Willis, a defensive tackle who didn’t come out until his sophomore season, and Antonio Diaz, a middle linebacker.
“Football is like the greatest thing that ever happened to me, honestly,” Willis said. “I wish I would have played when I was younger.
“We’re coming real close in these games. We’ve just got to execute. We’re not thinking about the playoffs because we’re just taking it one game at a time.”
Said Diaz: “Everyone’s not selfish. Everyone is more of a leader and everyone’s playing with each other and for each other.”
This week’s honors
TEAM: Case revived its season with a 21-0 victory over Horlick, breaking an eight-game losing streak against its city rivals. Myles Guyton continued his hot streak with 157 yards and two touchdowns and an Eagles defense led by linebacker Chris Fish just 143 yards. Especially effective was a run defense that allowed an average of just 1.8 yards per game.
OFFENSE: Burlington is off to a 5-0 behind a spectacular offense led by multi-talented quarterback Dalton Damon. The senior was at his best in a 40-37 victory over longtime Southern Lakes Conference power Lake Geneva Badger, completing 13 of 18 passes for 264 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 63 yards and another score.
DEFENSE: St. Catherine’s defensive back Daniel Sanchez was a force in a 41-7 Metro Classic Conference victory Whitefish Bay Dominican with five solo tackles, one assist, one interception and two passes defensed.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Waterford has been scoring touchdowns in bunches this season and senior Michael Durand has been there to punctuate those TDs. He converted all eight of his extra-point kicks in the Wolverines’ 56-7 victory over Westosha Central.