I am going to start this article by saying that I don’t think there has been a more successful year in the history of Hodag football. Although we didn’t have the perfect record, the perfect roster or the perfect ending, this season will be remembered for years to come.
The most obvious accomplishment of the season was the playoff berth. For 23 long years, Hodag athletics have toiled away trying to get back to the high school football promised land, and this year we finally accomplished that goal. With the help of WIAA, when they lifted our postseason ban to our contribution of being .500 in conference, we were able to do something that hadn’t been seen in generations. And although it ultimately ended in a defeat to state-ranked Waupaca, most players, fans and coaches alike couldn’t be more satisfied with this year as a whole.
The season opened up with heartbreaking losses to Superior, Mosinee and out-of-state rival Kingsford, Mich. Despite being expected to be severely overmatched, the Hodags gave these ranked teams all they could handle. The scores 20-7, 21-14 and 34-12 respectively don’t reflect the intensity and competitiveness of the games. And little did the Hodags know that each one of these teams was bound for the postseason. But following the game against Kingsford, the team buckled down and knew it was their time to turn things around.
The Hodags traveled to Ashland and picked up their first win of the year, and this was when the team started to change. The practice environment just seemed to be brighter, and every single day we grew more and more confident knowing that we had the talent and the drive to do something special. Tailback Richard Klaver blew up with several monster games, and the Hodag defense was absolutely rigid, allowing only 30 points over the two ensuing victories. The team headed into the vaunted Bell game with a 2-3 record, the same as the rival Robins, and we knew we belonged on that field.
But everything changed on that Friday night. Klaver went down with a season ending injury, along with receiver Mitchell Reinthaler. At the time, it appeared Dylon Wilmot would also miss the remainder of the year. The team was shaken to its core. In one game we had lost two of our leaders, two of our role models, and many didn’t expect the team to recover.
Despite the injuries, the coaches had confidence. We reinvented the offense in just a week, and trusted some talented key players to go both ways on the field to keep pursuing our playoff goal. And it showed on the field on homecoming night. Taking on the Merrill Blue Jays, who had the Great Northern Conference’s second-highest scoring offense, it was set to be an absolute brawl. During the game, the Hodag defense swarmed the Blue Jay offense, and the wing-T style offense did enough to take home the 14-13 win. Standing at 3-2, the Hodags had a winning conference record.
This led us to the final regular competition of the year, when we challenged the Medford Raiders. From the very start, this matchup had the makings of a classic. The Hodags were fighting for a guaranteed playoff spot with help from the WIAA, and the Raiders were competing for a conference championship. Unfortunately for the Hodags, they were outplayed that Friday night, and fell to 3-3 in conference play. With this record, the Hodags had to cross their fingers and hope. And that hope came through twice, not only when the ban was lifted, but the Hodags were selected as a playoff extra qualifier. Hodag football was back. We took on Waupaca, and senior Dylon Wilmot returned from injury to play in the game. Despite not winning the final game, the memories and accomplishments we made this season will live on forever.
Showing resilience, toughness and pride in harsh situations, this year Hodag football etched their names in the record books. Continue to support our program, and we will continue to turn things around. Although this is my last year suiting up in that varsity uniform, I trust our boys to continue to make Hodag football something to be proud of in the future. And in hindsight, I sure will miss those lights.