The Spring Valley Cardinals haven’t relied on flashy offense and Sports Center-esque highlights to get to a seven-win season this year.
Instead, Ryan Kapping’s Cardinals have continuously played patient, disciplined football and it’s earned them a 7-3 record and a bid for the second round of the WIAA Division 6 playoffs.
The No. 4-seeded Cardinals (7-3) began their playoff run on Friday, Oct. 19, with a 19-14 victory over the No. 5-seeded Mondovi Buffaloes (7-3) and had their composure tested right from the get-go.
The Cardinals struck first with an 11-play, 89-yard drive that ended with a Nate Fesenmaier 1-yard carry into the end zone on fourth-and-goal and began with two energized carries from senior co-captain Dylan Bosshart who collected 53 rushing yards right away. The Cardinals’ point after kick attempt was no good, and the home team took a 6-0 lead with five minutes, 50 seconds to go in the first quarter.
Then the Mondovi fans got involved.
Mondovi’s Carter Johnson was ejected from the game in the final minute of the first quarter after being called for his second helmet-to-helmet penalty. Johnson’s fans roared with rage as he walked off the field, and the Mondovi sideline earned itself an unsportsmanlike penalty to set them back in their eventual punting drive.
The Cardinals received their own penalties that caused some questioning by their fans, but remained composed when the tightly-called game with 17 penalties didn’t always go in their favor. And their calm and collected demeanor paid off.
“We just stayed together as a team,” Bosshart said when asked about his team’s composure. “Coach Kapping is really big on staying out of any controversy on the field, and I think we’re really good at doing that.”
“We talked about how it was going to be a physical game and how Mondovi was going to come out basically on fire,” Kapping said. “When they got a little chippy, we just gave our guys reminders to just stay under control, which they did.”
Spring Valley added to its lead in the final two minutes of the first half when junior quarterback Aaron Borgerding shook off two Mondovi defenders who grabbed at his ankles and ran in a 38-yard touchdown to give his team a 12-0 lead before the break. Borgerding recorded 103 rushing yards on 23 carries to lead the Spring Valley offense. He also added 33 passing yards on a 2-for-4 completion rate.
The Buffaloes came out hungry in the second half and earned themselves a short field advantage by recovering a fumble at their own 19. Mondovi relied on Tanner Marsh who had five carries in the red zone and eventually scored his team’s first touchdown of the night with a 5-yard carry that set the score at 12-7 with 8:32 to go in the third quarter.
When their lead was cut to five points, the Cardinals leaned on their patient offense and used another 15-yard drive that ran 7:27 off the clock before Fesenmaier found the end zone again on a 3-yard run. The PAK gave the Cardinals a 19-7 lead before Mondovi’s quarterback Brennen Christopherson found Owen Schultz for a 6-yard touchdown pass, closing the gap at 19-14 with 8:15 to go.
Despite starting at their own 4-yard line and even fumbling on a loose snap in their final drive of the night, the Cardinals never became rattled and never gave the ball back to the Buffaloes.
“The biggest thing for us this season is that we’ve never lost faith, and we’ve always stuck together,” Bosshart said. “We never panicked even when we were down at the 4-yard line, and we just knew everyone had to do their job.”
The Cardinals’ possessed the ball for 32:19 of the 48-minute game and averaged 5.1 yards per rush while holding Mondovi to just 15:41 total possession time and 149 yards of offense. Senior Santana Schlegel carried out his season-long tradition of leading his team’s defense with 7.5 tackles.
The Cardinals’ disciplined play has earned them a late-October playoff game and will be a crucial factor in their second-round game against the No. 1-seeded Regis Ramblers (10-0). The Ramblers ended the Cardinals’ season last year in the same round of the playoffs, but 2017 isn’t on the Cardinals’ radar as they prepare for their next challenge.
“When we lost to Elk Mound, it felt like we were looking in the rearview mirror for too many plays,” Kapping said, “but since then we’ve just been focused on looking forward. We understand the challenge in front of us and know where we want to get to eventually. To be the kind of program that we want to be, we have to beat really good programs. Regis is as good as it gets in our part of the state, we’re going to prepare and give them our best shot.”
“Last year we didn’t really know how things were going to go,” Bosshart said, “but this year we’re just going to continue to stick together.” The senior co-captain finished his time on his home field with 77 rushing yards on 11 carries and one 25-yard reception.
Bosshart is a member of the Cardinals’ six-member senior class who Kapping said has stuck together and provided needed leadership for their team. “They’re great guys, they make plays, they’re good students,” Kapping said. “To give them one more game next week is huge and to get them a win on our home field is something they’ll remember forever.”
The Cardinals and Ramblers will begin their second-round game at 7 p.m. on the Ramblers’ home field in Eau Claire on Friday, Oct. 26.
OTHER AREA SCORES
Division 2 playoffs: Northwestern 42, Ellsworth 8
Division 7 playoffs: Gilman 52, Elmwood/Plum City 24