The Spring Valley Cardinals defeated all but two of their regular-season opponents by 20 points or more.
Their blow-out wins typically ended with their starters enjoying the game from the sideline in the fourth quarter, cracking jokes and giving their junior varsity teammates extra applause and encouragement.
The Cardinals (10-1) were able to earn decisive wins in all of their regular-season games aside from their Week 1, 7-point win against the Unity Eagles (9-2) and their lone, Week 6 loss to the Mondovi Buffaloes. So when the No. 2-seeded Cardinals hosted the No. 3-seeded Eagles for their WIAA Division 6 level 3 playoff game, they turned to the old adage of respecting their opponents and expected a competitive fight.
“Honestly, not really,” senior co-captain Aaron Borgerding said when asked if he anticipated the blowout win.
But more so, Borgerding and co-captain Nate Fesenmaier trusted their team’s abilities.
“I just knew if we executed our stuff we’d find success,” Borgerding said.
“Coach told us right away that if we play like last week, we win the game,” Fesenmaier said. “We played better.
Instead, what they got was a 47-20 victory that allowed their starters to take a breather for the final seven minutes of the game.
“It feels really good (to sit the fourth quarter),” Borgerding said, “because when we get our young guys on in the playoffs, that helps us for future years to come, and that’s how we stay successful as a program.”
The Cardinals began their offensive dominance from the start after Brayden Wolf concluded the Cardinals’ first drive with a 15-yard touchdown. Wolf struck again in the Cardinals’ following drive with a 9-yard score to put Spring Valley up 14-0 with 2 minutes, 49 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Meanwhile, the Cardinal defense held the Eagles to 15 yards of total offense in their first two drives of the night.
But the Eagles refused to let the game be decided in the first 12 minutes of play.
After a pass from quarterback Jake Bloom got the Eagles past third-and-7, the Cardinals’ guests completed their third drive of the first quarter with a 40-yard touchdown reception from Jack Nelson.
The Cardinals shook off the Eagles’ touchdown and responded with a 47-yard touchdown reception from Brenden Williams.
“That’s how you respond,” Fesenmaier yelled to the sideline in an attempt to fire up his teammates.
They’d need the encouragement for the Cardinals’ following drive.
The Eagles closed the deficit to nine points with 1:56 to go in the first half after Borgerding attempted a screen pass to Williams at the Cardinals’ own 36-yard line, Williams dropped the pass, it was ruled a fumble, and Heath Foeller ran it back for an uncontested 36-yard touchdown.
Fesenmaier refused to settle for a single-digit halftime lead and punched in a 2-yard touchdown before the end of the second quarter. He led the Cardinals with 93 rushing yards on 19 carries while Borgerding added 79 rushing yards and 96 passing yards.
“We have that short-term memory that we remind each other of,” Borgerding said. “We just have to move on and play the game. We enforced that early on in the summer. Like, if you don’t get a squat rack, you’re going to get it next time. Now everyone knows that once the play is over, you just move on.”
Borgerding’s second-half play matched his halftime sentiments by scoring three touchdowns in the third quarter. The first came after he faked a hand-off to Fesenmaier and ran in a 49-yard touchdown on the weak side. Less than two minutes later, Borgerding ran a 51-yard punt return into the end zone. His third and final came after Carter Deppa chased down a Cardinal punt to Unity’s 5-yard line, Unity fumbled and Borgerding ran in a 7-yard touchdown on the Cardinals’ first play of their short-field drive.
“I don’t think we were ever real panicky,” Spring Valley’s head coach Ryan Kapping said. “I felt like we lost some energy, but I don’t think we were ever in a panic mode.”
Kapping credits this to his players’ bond and trust for one another.
“There is a tremendous closeness within this group,” Kapping said. “They’re a fun, close-knit group and they love being around each other. It makes this team really fun to be around.”
Response to adversity was admirable, but the Cardinals’ margin for error will dramatically slim next week when they face the No. 1-seeded Regis Ramblers at 7 p.m. in Eau Claire for their WIAA Division 6 level four matchup.
“We just have to trust our stuff,” Borgerding said. “They’re not going to beat themselves, so we have to go take it from them.”
“We just can’t turn the ball over,” Kapping said. “We have to play a clean football game in terms of executing, we have to do our jobs because they typically don’t make mistakes.
The Cardinals have been eliminated in their level 2 playoff games by the
Ramblers the last two years, but Kapping trusts that this is his team’s year to break their losing streak against the Ramblers.
“It’s a game I don’t think the kids will have trouble preparing for,” Kapping said. “They’ve knocked us out the last two years, but at some point we have to get over the hump and beat them. These guys are ready for that challenge.