At the conclusion of his high school football career, Aaron Borgerding shared an admission about the Spring Valley Cardinals’ class of 2020.
“Our sophomore year, we weren’t really sure how we were going to impact the game,” Borgerding said.
But two years after Borgerding and the class of 2020 stepped up to change the course of their Cardinal team, their impact couldn’t be questioned.
“Our senior class helped change the culture of our team,” Borgerding said. “Our comradery and what we did together. … This group of guys is just so fun to be with. We just play for each other. We don’t really play against the other team. We play to better ourselves and just have fun with one another.”
That was the mentality the Cardinals (10-2) held onto in their WIAA Division 6 Level 3 playoff game against the undefeated, No. 1-seeded Regis Ramblers (12-0) on Friday, Nov. 8.
The Cardinals knew their history with the Ramblers, who had eliminated them from the playoffs prior, and they knew the odds stacked against them at UW-Eau Claire’s Carson Field on Friday night.
But as underdogs, the Cardinals’ belief in their program never faltered — even in the final minutes of their 29-8 loss to the Ramblers.
“That all just starts with believing and you just gotta believe that you can beat anyone,” Borgerding said. “They’ve had our number the last couple of years, but we truly believed that we could come in here and take them down. We played a really good first half but just didn’t make quite as many plays as they did.”
The Cardinals and Ramblers were tied 8-8 at halftime after Regis’ punter gave Spring Valley an easy two points on a safety and Borgerding matched a first-quarter Rambler touchdown carry with a 28-yard carry of his own.
Both teams took advantage of long possessions and showed patience as they attempted to march down the field in the first half, but the second half began with chaos for both teams.
The Cardinals fumbled 49 seconds into the third quarter and gave the Ramblers the ball on their own 17-yard line. However, the Ramblers gave the Cardinals the ball back less than a minute later on a fumble of their own.
The Cardinals responded by turning to Borgerding who converted on fourth-and-1 and added a 20-yard keeper to enter Regis’ territory, but a second Cardinal fumble gave Regis the ball back near midfield with 6:55 remaining in the third quarter. The Ramblers used an 11-play, 6:39 drive to retake the lead on a 7-yard touchdown carry.
But the belief was still there.
“It was 15-8, and they had the ball at midfield with about 4 minutes to go in the game,” Borgerding said. “We were all believing and we knew what we had to do to hold them up. We just kept playing.”
The Cardinals went for it on fourth-and-5 in the following drive but were held off by the Ramblers who took over at their own 47-yard line. Six plays later, the Ramblers were facing fourth-and-3 at Spring Valley’s 36-yard line and completed a 35-yard pass from their halfback, which brought them to an easy 1-yard punch-in to take a 22-8 lead.
With the clock winding down, the Cardinals turned to their passing game, which failed to narrow the deficit before the Ramblers added their fourth and final touchdown of the night.
“(Regis) is very athletic, and they have a lot of kids who can make plays,” Spring Valley head coach Ryan Kapping said. “In a tight ball game it’s always going to come down to one or two mistakes, but we were right there. I don’t like talking about moral victories either, but I’m proud of this team and what we’ve done. Outside of Spring Valley, there probably weren’t a lot of people who believed in us tonight, but I told the guys we were going to be back again, and we’ll see how it plays out next year.”
The 2020 team will be without three-year starting quarterback Borgerding and six other seniors who’ve made their mark on the Cardinal team. But there is no doubt this year’s seniors class’ impact will be felt on Cardinal teams of the future.
“I felt like we did some things well when this senior group was younger, but I feel like this senior group really took control of the culture and took it to another level that we weren’t at before,” Kapping said. “Putting in the weight room as well as just supporting each other and hanging out with each other and really having that genuine love for each other, they’ve set a really good year for next year’s seniors.”
“I’m really going to miss these guys,” Borgerding said. “We played for each other, and we left it all on the field.”