State football championship games kickoff Thursday - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

State football championship games kickoff Thursday


MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Mequon Homestead and Hartland Arrowhead face off again this season for the WIAA Division 1 state football championship at Camp Randall Stadium.

  Last year, when Hartland coach Tom Taraska was on his way out of the stadium, he passed Homestead coach Dave Keel.

  Taraska said -- hey, let's do this again next year.

  So here they are.

  The Warhawks and Highlanders match up for the third consecutive season on Friday.

  Homestead won in 2006, while Arrowhead turned the tables last year.

  Keel remembers the postgame encounter with Taraska, but he's more mindful of what the Arrowhead coach said before last year's rematch. Keel said it's awfully tough to win two in a row.

  Quarterback Casey Barnes has led the way for North Shore Conference champion Homestead, throwing for 1,980 yards and 20 touchdowns.

  The Verona Wildcats (12-1) have pushed their season deeper than they ever have, making the team's first appearance at the WIAA Championships at Camp Randall Stadium Friday.

  Awaiting the Wildcats are defending champion Kimberly, a team that has steamrolled its way through the postseason to reach the title game with a pristine 13-0 record.

  The Papermakers have scored at least 40 points in their four playoff games, while never giving up more than 13.

  Verona (12-1) was the co-champion of the Big Eight Conference in its first season in the league, which is comprised of all Division 1 teams.

  The Wildcats previously played in the Badger South.

  Reedsburg (10-3) enters the state finals with as many losses as the rest of the 14-team field combined, but the Beavers do have some prestige after defeating perennial power and defending state champion Wisconsin Lutheran in the state semifinals.

  It doesn't get any easier for Reedsburg, because they'll face 2006 champion Waupaca on Friday at Camp Randall Stadium.

  The Comets only have one starter left from that title team, but this year's squad returns a wealth of experience, especially on offense.

  Waupaca (13-0), winner of the Eastern Valley Conference, boasts a 1,000-yard rusher in Michael Solberg and a 1,000-yard receiver in Nate Nelson.

  The Comets have pitched three shutouts in their four postseason games, but may have their hands full with the Beavers.

  Reedsburg has averaged better than 48 points per game in the playoffs behind fullback Justin Huinker and quarterback Tyler Mazur, who have both rushed for more than 1,000 yards.

  Big Foot and Wautoma/Faith Christian are squaring off for the Division 4 championship, the only title game featuring two teams making their first appearance at Camp Randall.

  Wautoma/Faith Christian quarterback Jared Abbrederis is a dual threat for the Hornets (12-1).

  The senior has rushed for 1,454 yards and 25 touchdowns, and thrown for 1,584 yards and 19 TDs to carry the Hornets to the South Central Conference championship.

  The Chiefs (13-0), champions of the Rock Valley South Conference, have a pair of 1,000-yard running backs in Michael Walker and T.J. Schaid.

  They run behind an offensive line anchored by University of Wisconsin recruit Travis Frederick.

  2 of the most prolific running backs in the state will be suiting up on opposite sides of the field when Colby faces Cedar Grove-Belgium in the Division 5 state championship game.

  No tailback among the state finalists has found the end zone more often than Colby's Adam Esselman, who has 28 touchdowns to go with 1,435 yards on the ground to lead the Hornets (13-0) to the Cloverbelt Conference title.

  And no back comes into Camp Randall with more rushing yards than Cedar Grove-Belgium senior Brandon Garcia, whose gaudy numbers include 1,969 yards and 24 TDs and helped the Rockets (13-0) claim the Central Lakeshore Conference crown.

  Garcia was an all-conference soccer player as a freshman before switching to the gridiron.

  Stratford coach Cal Tackes probably has a better appreciation for his team's rivalry with Edgar than anyone connected to the two communities just 15 miles apart in northern Wisconsin.

  Before taking over at Stratford 20 years ago, Tackes spent 10 seasons as an assistant coach in Edgar, long enough to "marry into the community" where he still lives today.

  The rivals' annual Marawood Conference showdown always has both towns buzzing.

  Tackes' Tigers have been on top of the state for the past five years, as a year ago they became the first program in WIAA history to win five consecutive state championships.

  But hard as it may be to believe, the 5-time defending champs may be an underdog going into Thursday's title game.

  That's because Stratford is facing Edgar, which defeated the Tigers 16-8 on Oct. 17 to end Stratford's 76-game winning streak against Wisconsin schools, and 29-game overall winning streak.

  The victory propelled Edgar to the Marawood title and a top seed in the Division 6 bracket.

  Catholic Central, winner of 5 private school championships, takes another stab at its first WIAA crown after a runner-up finish in 2004.

  The Hilltoppers (13-0) will face Hilbert (13-0), which is no stranger to Camp Randall.

  The Wolves have won three state titles, but the last came in 1996 when the team's current seniors were in kindergarten.

  Catholic Central rolled through the Midwest Classic South Conference with a potent offense that has averaged better than 43 points per game, led by quarterback Reese Hartlage and tailback Max Vos.

  Hilbert claimed the Olympian-Packerland Small Conference championship behind quarterback Luke Patterman and tailback Nick Sweere.

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