Inside the Helmet
Just about everything that possibly could be said about Friday’s upset Hodag victory over Merrill has been stated. The flair of the victory, as trick plays and clutch runs put the points on the board, while gritty hardnosed defense stifled the second highest scoring offense in the GNC. The dramatic finish, where a fake field goal attempt fell harmlessly to the grass as the stands erupting in cheers for the homecoming win, or the implications of what that victory might hold. At least a .500 conference record was earned by the Hodags on that night, something that under normal circumstances would make the Rhinelander team an extra qualifier.
But that pesky postseason ban was hanging over our heads. Early in the season, athletic director Charlie LaHam promised us football players at a pep rally that if we did our end of the bargain and achieved at least those three conference victories, he would do everything within his power to get us that spot in the playoffs. Because of some wording within the ban, it was possible for the sentence to be lifted in the final year and let the school become eligible with an appeal to the WIAA. The same situation occurred and Mesmer-Shorewood was permitted just a season ago, and as the clock struck zero following our homecoming win, fingers were crossed regarding what could be our first playoff berth in 23 long years.
The coaches spoke of how we battled, our backs against the wall in a game many expected us to lose. How the confidence in ourselves and motivation for our injured teammates fueled the much-needed victory. This was the first victory against Merrill under head coach Jim Moore, and emotions were riding high on and off the field. For the first time in a long time, “We can” was a statement hand in hand with the Hodag football team.
And then the wait began, anxiously analyzing every aspect of what the WIAA could decide regarding our appeal. Every player seemed to have a different opinion or viewpoint, and Wednesday was the day where we finally learned the result.
The day began as any other, stretching out and performing the traditional drills of walkthroughs of offense and defense. But slowly, whispers began to travel from one helmet to another, and smiles cracked across the faces of players watching drills. Finally Coach Moore sat the team down in the middle of our practice field, and as the entire team held their breath, revealed the news.
The Rhinelander football team was eligible for the playoffs. Waves of relief washed over the field, as every player realized this was an opportunity to etch our names into the history books. Twenty-three years is far too long for the playoffs to be graced with a little kelly green, and a win against Medford this Friday would guarantee us that playoff slot. A loss would mean a .500 record in conference, where we would enter a pool as an extra qualifier. Things such as strength of non-conference schedule and first half points allowed factor into this equation, areas the Hodags are not too shabby in themselves.
With a realistic shot at making this year’s postseason, the hope and excitement surrounding the Rhinelander football program can only continue to grow. Since January the players have been training in both strength and quickness, and while the season got off to a slow start, going 3-1 over our last four contests has revived hope and optimism regarding our program. The playoffs are where you want to be, and this is Rhinelander’s first realistic opportunity in many years. The coaches, players and fans alike could be in for a year to remember. Continue to follow our story throughout this process. We appreciate all the support we receive.