LA CROSSE -- Elmwood/Plum City starts its playoff run this evening at 7 p.m. with a matchup against De Soto.
The Wolves (7-2) will travel through Minnesota to get to their WIAA Division 7 Level 1 playoff game, but head coach Jerry Hannack, in his 40th year of coaching, is not complaining because he knows it could be worse.
"We've played (De Soto) twice before (in his career) and we had to go through Wisconsin into Minnesota into Iowa and back into Wisconsin," Hannack said. "I thought that was a distinct advantage (for them)."
This year's game will be played at La Crosse Logan high school, about a two-hour drive for the Wolves and a 35-minute trip for De Soto.
Senior wide receiver Anthony Ebensperger said there weren't any plans to do anything different on the trip to La Crosse, but he said he would be all ears to anyone willing to bring a movie or something to pass the time.
"This is probably our longest trip, but we've had long trips (for games) in conference," Ebensperger said.
Senior Collin Weix said it’s definitely the longest trip.
Hannack emphasized that the neutral site is to his team’s advantage because De Soto’s home field, The Pit is an intimidating place to play.
"The Pit is a unique field. There's only one Pit," Hannack said.
The Pit is a picturesque location on a hillside behind De Soto high school. With the rains last month, the field was washed out.
Hannack had nothing but sympathy for the seniors of De Soto, who didn’t get to play their senior season at the legendary field.
"I feel sorry for those kids, especially the seniors," Hannack said. "They never had a chance to play a game in the Pit."
Though he was also sensitive to the unfortunate circumstances, Ebensperger isn't going to be thinking about The Pit tonight.
"It's tough for them. It's not really our job to feel bad for them (from a football stand point)," Ebensperger said.
And the Wolves shouldn’t feel bad, because they have had to deal with unfortunate circumstances on the field as well.
Elmwood/Plum City lost its best player and senior quarterback Wyatt Holt to an ACL tear against Frederic on Sept. 9.
“He had done everything right. ... He was the epitome of why (the co-op) works,” Hannack said. “Now, Wyatt has worked (hard) and has been unbelievable as a leader as an athlete, going to camps, doing everything right, one of the most coachable kids I've ever had.
“The impact that it's had on him and his teammates is dramatic, and rightfully so.”
Elmwood/Plum City has put itself in a position where the Wolves still have their goals in front of them.
Replacing Holt has been freshman Dalton Binkowski. Binkowski has been more than serviceable and he has gained respect from his top receiver, Ebensperger, and his senior offensive lineman.
"He gets it. He's a good one," Hannack said. "It's going to be fun to watch (his career)."
Center Tristan Linse mentioned that Linse's favorite play is the quarterback sneak, so the freshman must be doing alright in the senior's eyes.
"I think he's a quick learner. He's more than prepared," Linse said.
Ebensperger had more positive things to say about Binkowski: "He has a lot to learn, but for how old he is and the experience that he has, he's doing a great job."
There is one difference between the play of Holt and the play of Binkowski.
"He definitely runs more," said Weix.
And from senior Austin Turner: "He's daring, but he's figuring it out."
For the Wolves to earn a victory tonight, the team will need to utilize its athleticism to overcome De Soto's size.
Weix, Linse and Turner all pointed out the size advantage that De Soto had.
Linse, 6-foot-5 in the program, believes that the team's success hinges on the performance of the offensive lineman.
"What it comes down to is that our line has to play our best game," Linse said.
Hannack can't help but be proud of the way this team has overcome obstacles and greeted adversity with strength.
"These kids have rallied and got them in a situation to keep playing. In another situation, maybe at a different school, a lot of kids would say it's the end of the season. They'd end," Hannack said. "Instead, we're 7-2 and we're going to the playoffs."