By Craig Marx, Editor
To say the Antigo Red Robins football team has a difficult road ahead this Friday would probably be putting it mildly; but, the young men in maroon and white are jelling at the right time, coming off of a 56-20 win over the Fox Valley Lutheran Foxes.
The Robins move on to Level 2 of the WIAA Playoffs to take on the reigning Division III state champions in the Notre Dame de la Baie Academy Tritons in Green Bay later this week. Notre Dame is coached by John Nowak, a longtime assistant with the program who eventually became head coach. Nowak is in his final season as the headman of the Tritons, leading his team to an 8-1 record in the regular season and a second place finish in the Fox River Classic Conference.
Notre Dame lost out on a chance to go undefeated in the FRCC after dropping its only loss of the year to Bay Port 20-17 in Week 7. After back-to-back wins over Green bay Preble and Green Bay Southwest to round out the regular season, the No. 1 seeded Tritons defeated No. 8 Shawano 45-13 last week in the Level 1 playoff round.
The Tritons are no strangers to the postseason, having come away with the grand prize in D3 Wisconsin high school football last season. The 2015 Notre Dame team, then a No. 3 seed to begin the playoffs, defeated Catholic Memorial (Waukesha) 19-17 at Camp Randall Stadium for the state championship. The Tritons playoff run included a 21-20 win over then No. 1 Xavier to reach the four-team finale in Madison.
Notre Dame lost its starting quarterback from the 2015 season, Robert Petitjean, but still retained its best rusher this year in Nate Ihlenfledt. The senior running back racked up 1,763 yards in all 14 games last year, and is on the cusp of breaking his single-season record in ’16 with 1,704 thus far (10 games). Ihlenfeldt has rushed for 21 touchdowns this year and is averaging 7.1 yards per attempt.
The Robins will also face senior Johnny Santaga as the Tritons’ signal caller. Santaga was utilized more so as a wide receiver in four games last season, but has taken the position under center in 2016 with 1,329 passing yards, 15 TDs, and two interceptions (371 rushing yards, six TDs). Notre Dame likes to keep the ball on the ground first and foremost, as evident of their 224 rushing yards per game average as opposed to 136 passing.
Last week against Shawano, Ihlenfeldt rushed 23 times for 274 yards and three touchdowns. Santaga was 4 of 6 passing for 115 yards and two TDs as Notre Dame cruised past the Level 1 round where they will now face Antigo.
The Robins themselves are coming off of an impressive win and are demonstrating an offensive fury unlike any other point this season. Adam Schmidt had an extremely productive evening, scoring four touchdowns while rushing for 111 yards, only to be complimented by backfield companions Will Dixon (100 yards) and Jericho Kelly (81).
Antigo has momentum and confidence after defeating the Foxes. While some games did not necessarily go the Robins’ way in the regular season, the boys have reached the second level of postseason – when it really counts. If lightening could strike upon request, now is the best time for the Robins to be white hot.
The game kicks off at 7 p.m. on Friday from Notre Dame de la Baie Academy. Check the antigotimes.com site immediately afterwards for coverage, stats, and recaps.