Between 1985 through 1999 Northwest Wisconsin football teams dominated the WIAA Division 6 state title game. Other than in 1995 and 1997 when Hilbert won the titles schools from the Northwest took home the top trophy.
From 1972-76 Spring Valley had a great win streak of 43 games which was the second longest in state history up to that time. The Cardinals also won the Division 5 title in 1978. They were known as the 1970s small-school capitol of Wisconsin. After coach Bob Thomas left in 1986 to become an assistant at UW-Stout the program had its ups and downs. Coach Duane Jourdeans took over the program in 1998 and the team went 7-4, losing to Glenwood City 39-30 in the second round of the Division 5 playoffs. Spring Valley had also finished in second place to Glenwood City in the Small Dunn-St. Croix Conference. Tom Sauve, as a freshman, played wide receiver for Spring Valley. He scored a crucial touchdown in the Glenwood City game on a 45-yard reception to get his team closer to victory, but ultimately fell short even as the Spring Valley Cardinals scored 18 fourth-quarter points. They just ran out of time. The next season in 1999 produced a disappointing 3-5 record. This motivated the 2000 team to make a fresh start.
As 2000 rolled around many of the players were ashamed of the 1999 team’s performance and they dedicated themselves to the weight room. They worked on both strength and developing speed. It was a fresh start for the team. Josh Gokey was one of the players who wanted to wipe away the memories of the past season. Standing at 6’, 175-pounds, Gokey was intent on making his senior season the best he could especially now that he was one of the team captains. Gokey ran for 711 yards in 1999 while 6’2, 180-pound junior Tom Sauve, who had been switched to the quarterback spot, tossed for 536 yards. The team, as a whole, did not have many 200-pound plus players but they were for the most part tall and quick and that made the difference against larger opponents. When the coaches in the Dunn-St. Croix Conference voted in the summer as to who they thought would finish on top for the up-coming season, Glenwood City was picked as the #1 team followed by Elk Mound in the second spot with Spring Valley rated in the third position. In the August 24, 2000 edition of the Eau Claire Leader Telegram writers Ron Buckli and Kirk Holmes picked Boyceville to beat Spring Valley in the season opener. The Cardinals had a lot to prove to the rest of the conference and the writers up north. They became a team on a mission.
The season started well with a 26-13 “upset” win over Boyceville. As the defense held down the opponents touted passing attack of Dewey Mariette to Jesse Schmidt. Gokey led the way with 222 yards on 38 carries and two touchdowns with a two-point run. Sauve had a miserable night as he was only three of seven for 28 yards and two picks. Things would get better as the season progressed.
There were many good performances by the stars of the Spring Valley team. Among them were:
Against Colfax, Gokey had another good game, rushing 19 times for 165 yards and two scores and a two-point conversion.
In the first Elk Mound game Spring Valley scored 28 unanswered points to win 41-13 as the passing combination of Tom Sauve to tight end Troy Timm came into its own. Sauve passed 14 times with 11 completions, 220 yards and five touchdown passes. He also caught an interception that he returned 40-yards. Timm caught four passes for 89 yards and three touchdowns. You would have thought gaining 402 yards and holding Elk Mound to 13 points and 219 yards would make coach Jourdeans happy but he wasn’t satisfied and strove to make the team better.
The team was focused against Elmwood as the defense held them to 71 total yards and they rolled up 419 yards in the 40-0 win. Gokey was again very good, rushing for 184 yards on 20 attempts, scoring one touchdown and a two-point run.
With the Glenwood City win Spring Valley moved into the #2 spot in the AP Small School poll. It should be noted that once the WIAA started the playoff system in 1976 the polls only served as a guide for fans and others to get a feel for who might make the playoffs and did not “crown” a mythical champion.
In the 40-0 shutout of Plum City. Gokey and Sauve were great. Gokey picked up 106 yards on the ground with two scores as well as catching a touchdown pass. Sauve passed for 160 yards, three touchdowns as well as returning a missed field goal 91-yards. Timm caught two passes and turned both into td’s. The following week the Cardinals cruised to a 49-12 victory over Pepin. Tom Sauve had a big game, throwing 19 passes for 16 completions, one interception, 251 yards and four more touchdowns. Gokey gained 160 yards on 13 carries and two scores on the ground and one through the air.
In the second Elk Mound game Sauve completed seven passes in 11 attempts for 146 yards and three touchdowns and rushing only three times for 74. He had a 64-yard td run to start the games scoring. He also returned an interception33-yards for a touchdown. Gokey rushed for 92 yards on nine attempts and caught two passes for 100 yards. He didn’t score a touchdown but his play set up most of the other scores.
The second Elmwood win and regular season ending game led Spring Valley to the #1 spot in the final AP poll but somehow the WIAA ranked them #2 in the region for the playoff berths. The Cardinals opened the playoffs with a 69-0 crushing pf Clayton. Junior receiver Casey Kannel scored on a 53-yard pass play, a 67-yard run and tossed 31-yard td. Sauve was five of seven for 113 yards and two touchdowns plus rushing six times for 76 yards and three touchdowns. Josh Gokey chipped in with 110 yards on six carries and one rushing touchdown plus scoring on a 67-yard interception.
For the Level 3 it was a match-up between two unbeaten teams as Spring Valley went to play Prairie Farm and the Cards came out as a 35-16 winner. It was another dominating performance as It wasn’t until the last 2 ½ minutes of the fourth quarter that Prairie farm was able to score. Suave went 6-9-1-134-4 passing and Gokey ran 19-185 and a 90-yard score with only 3 ¼ minutes into the game. Kannel was on the short and the long end of catching two passes as he hauled in a one-yard touchdown in the second period and a 61-yard reception in the third quarter.
With their next win, a shutout over Necedah, the Cardinals had swept through 13 games and a date on Thursday, November 16 at 10AM in Camp Randall Stadium against 13-0 Highland, another team on a mission.
Tyler Laufenberg passed away in the spring after suffering a lifelong battle with heart and lung diseases. As a 13- year-old, Tyler was a friend, manager and long-time fan of Highland football and the team dedicated the season to Tyler’s memory. The team also played on a new football field during the season, named Tyler Field after the young boy. Because of WIAA requirements they wouldn’t have been able to host a playoff game so they were blessed with replacing the 50-year-old stadium with the new facility. On the Friday before the title game, a 12-6 win over Black Hawk was very emotional for the team. The victory came on what would have been Tyler’s 14th birthday.
The battle began and even though Spring Valley would gain 299 yards in total offense they turned the ball over seven times, five on interceptions. They still were able to pull the victory out in a 8-0 win. Yes, the high scoring offense was nearly shut out but they did that to the Highland Cardinals. Highland was held to a total of 35 yards…41yards on the ground and -6 yards passing. The key to the game was an interception by Sauve on a halfback option that Highland coach Joel Oleson said was a bad call on his part. That play would help set up Sauve’s 31st touchdown pass of the season as he hit Troy Timm with a 57-yard pass for the only score of the game in the second period. Seven times Spring Valley had the ball inside the Highland 20-yard line but they came up empty. It was the defense that came to the rescue as they took the title.
For the year Junior quarterback Tom Sauve passed 166 times with 95 completions with 14 interceptions, 1,788 yards and 31 touchdowns. He picked up 601 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. He was named to the first team all-conference and his passing yards led the Northwest. Senior running back Josh Gokey rushed 262 times for 1,886 yards, tops in the Northwest, with a total of 22 touchdowns and 154 points. Gokey earned first team all-conference. Senior tight End Troy Timm another first team all-conference member caught 32 passes for 672 yards and 12 scores. Junior receiver Casey Kannel caught 17 passes for 480 yards and nine td’s while making all-conference second team as a defensive back. Junior defensive lineman Cyrus Anderson led the team with 145 tackles and 26 sacks. Junior linebacker Tyler Turner made first team all-conference and junior offensive linemen Travis Miller and Ben Rudesill along with senior kicker/punter Jon Gokey (twin brother of Josh) were named to the second team. Seven other spots on the honorable mention list had Cardinals names on it.
Before the season started the members of the Spring Valley football team made a pledge and put it on paper. Most signed it. Their mission for the season was two things: Win the Small Dunn-St. Croix Conference title and to win the state title.