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Starting in 1952 the Eau Claire Leader and later the Leader-Telegram newspaper began naming an annual All-Northwest Football team. The team consisted of players from the newspaper’s coverage and largely defines the "Northwest" area of the state.

When the WIAA playoffs started in 1976 the title games were played around the state at different venues until 1984 when all the games were moved to one location, Camp Randall Stadium. Between 1977 and 2000, a team from Northwest Wisconsin took home a title in all except one year, 1983. There were just three seasons, 1983, 1994 and 1996, that a team from the Northwest did not take home the Division 6 title. In 1983 Osseo-Fairchild finished second to Peshtigo, losing 7-0 in the title game. In 1994 Thorp (11-2) lost to Hilbert 34-6 and in 1996 Greenwood (11-3) lost to Hilbert 35-15.

Before all the state title games were moved to Madison only one championship game was played in the Northwest region and that was in 1977, a game between Division 4 squads Osseo-Fairchild and Stanley-Boyd. The site was in Eau Claire at Carson Park, the main high school football stadium in the area. At that time only four teams in each Class were allowed in the playoffs. There were four playoff divisions…AA, A, B and C. In Class C there were three teams from the region that went 9-0…Osseo-Fairchild, Stanley-Boyd and Fall Creek. The convoluted selection process eliminated Fall Creek from playoff consideration. The two 1977 teams battled and Osseo-Fairchild came out on top, 14-0 and the team was able to extend their winning streak to 26-games.

Overall, there were 144 championship games played between 1976 and 2000. In the first 25-years of the playoffs the region produced 40 champions across all divisions (27.7% of all the title trophy’s that were handed out). No Northwest team took home a Division 1 trophy so if you take out the 25 D1 teams from the total championships won the percentage of title holders jumps to 33.6%. No team from the Northwest has advanced to the Division 1 title game in the history of the playoffs. This, of course, has a lot to do with the relatively few Division 1 schools in the area. Eau Claire Memorial, Eau Claire North, Hudson and Chippewa Falls have yet to make it to Madison. Superior (about as north and west as you can get in the state) made it to the title game twice in 1988 (11-2) as the runner-up and in 1990 (12-1) as the champion, but they are not in the Leader- Telegram Northwest coverage area.

The region produced the following champions between 1977 and 2000:

In the past 19-seasons (2001-2019) the number and percentage of Northwest teams has dropped. 20 teams won the title out of 132 trophies, a 15.5% and no team made it to the finals. There were 25 other teams that placed second in the championship games during the 1976-2000 timeframe and 15 teams in the period of 2001-2019. The first 25-years earned the Northwest region the nickname of the “Area of Football Champions”.

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.

Mission accomplished.

I was asked the above question a few months ago by a reporter. It took me a few moments to think of the answer but I had to name three games.

When I was a freshman at Arizona State in 1970 I drove with three friends to Tucson, about 110 miles, to see Mesa Westwood play the best team EVER in Arizona high school history, Tucson High School. Tucson won 39-34. Maybe I will write about that game someday but of course this blog, right now, is about Wisconsin high school football. Another great game was the 2015 D1 championship between Kimberly and Hartland Arrowhead. Kimberly won 49-42. That game will be a future story.

I briefly mentioned the third game in my book but there is so much more to say that I couldn't fit in. In 2006, Franklin played Brookfield Central in the D2 Championship Game. I saw more of Franklin's games that season than any other team in any other season. I had a personal interest in the team. My nephew, Eric Kossoris played for Franklin as an end and linebacker. I saw him play nine times out of the 17 games I attended that year. I was working for Max Preps.com back then so I was seeing a lot of games each year.

Lee Severson, Brookfield’s star defensive back, kicked off with the ball going to Eric Kossoris on the 10 who returned to the 25. On first down Franklin’s Honorable Mention an All-State quarterback Rob Evans tossed an 11-yard pass to Geoff Stuhr. On the next play Evans dropped back and hit Kossoris for a D2 championship game record tying 65-yard touchdown. Brandon Helt kicked the extra point and Franklin was up 7-0 with 33-seconds gone in the game.

The two teams then traded possessions via interceptions when Brookfield started an 8-play/73-yard scoring drive with Drew Herma rushing from 20-yards out for the touchdown. Severson kicked the point after and the game was tied 7-7 with six minutes left in the first quarter.

Franklin went nowhere on the next possession when Evans was again intercepted by Severson and returned eight yards. With the ball on the Franklin 22. It took Brookfield four plays to score again as Herma again took it over the goal. Severson again kicked the extra point as Brookfield took the lead 14-7. Ryan Lawrence returned the kickoff to the Franklin 21 where they started a 10-play/79-yard drive highlighted by several key Evans passes. The team drove to the one-yard line where Evans took it over for the score. Helt’s kick was good and the game was tied 14-14. The game was moving quickly and there was a big buzz in the crowd.

Less than a minute into the second quarter, first year Franklin coach, Jesse Miller, called for an onside kick and Franklin recovered on the Brookfield 43. The Sabers made a short drive and had to settle for a 36-yard field goal by Helt to go up by 3. Severson returned the ensuing kickoff 29-yards to the Brookfield 34. Eight plays later, on a fourth and four play, Brookfield quarterback Mike Bogard was sacked by Kossoris and Franklin took over on the 45. Evans went to work quickly on the next play as he hit Lawrence with a perfect strike for 55-yards and a touchdown. The extra point was blocked but Franklin held the lead 23-14 and it stayed that way as the first half ended.

Franklin kicked off to start the second half and the two teams traded possessions until Franklin started a nine-play/ 80-yard drive keyed by Rob Evans with 24-yard passes to Kossoris and the final 22-yards to Nate Soddy. Evans tried a two-point extra point run but was stopped short. Franklin tried again with an onside kick but this time Brookfield recovered. On a fourth and seven play, Brookfield gained four yards and Franklin took over. Evans took a breather and backup quarterback Jared Ciche came in with two minutes, one second left in the third quarter. Under pressure on first down Ciche's pass was intercepted and the ball was returned 12-yards for a touchdown and Lancers were now down 29-21 after Severson’s extra point kick.

Again after trading possessions several times, Brookfield tied things up with 6:16 left in the fourth quarter on two remarkable plays. On first down Mike Bogard hit tight end Rob Korslin who blew by two defenders, ran down the sidelines, in front of the Franklin crowd, toward the south endzone and scored 81-yards later. It was a new D2 record. Going for the two-point conversion Bogard rolled right and was about to be sacked by the Sabers Mike Norman. Spun around, with his back to the end zone, Bogard tossed the ball over his shoulder and Korslin picked the pass out of a crowd for the two-point conversion and the game was tied. You had to see this amazing turn of events. The toss and catch were simply wild to see. I, as well as the other Franklin fans and the team, were stunned. In the next six minutes Franklin would have the ball three times and Brookfield two times with both failing to score. The Lancers would miss on a 48-yard field goal attempt on their second possession. The game ended in regulation tied 29-29.

Franklin lost the coin toss and Brookfield chose to play defense. With the ball on the Lancers 10-yard line Evans threw an incomplete pass on first and goal. He ran on second down for three yards. With it being third and seven, Evans passed to Geoff Stuhr for the touchdown. Heldt kicked the extra point and Franklin was up 36-29. With the ball in their hands, Brookfield tried a pass on first and goal but it went incomplete. On the next play Herma was given the ball and the Franklin defensive backfield converged on him. Herma was hit hard by defensive back John Zaganczyk. As Herma fumbled, defensive back Joey Cook batted the ball away from him and defensive back D.J. Nogalski recovered for Franklin and the game was over. To say that the Saber fans exploded with loud cheering would be an understatement.

For the game Evans was 17 of 34 with 2 interceptions, 264 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also carried the ball 14 times for 115 yards and 1 score. The 379 total offensive yards were a championship record as were his four touchdown passes. Stuhr caught 6 passes for 57 yards and a score. Lawrence hauled in 4 balls for 65 yards and a touchdown. Nate Soddy caught 3 passes for 41 yards and one touchdown. Kossoris caught 2 passes and gained 89 yards and a touchdown as well as having 8 tackles plus a sack and a tackle for loss. Zaganczyk had 10 tackles and an interception while Cook totaled 9 stops and the forced fumble.

Franklin had a lot of stars and the All-Southeast Conference First Team was full of Sabers:

  • Rob Evans…quarterback…Honorable Mention All-State and Conference Player-of-the-Year

  • Jerad Buck…Offensive Line…Honorable Mention All-State

  • Eric Kossoris…Receiver and Linebacker (The only player to make the first team both ways

  • Jeff Comp…Offensive Line

  • Ryan Lawrence…Running Back

  • Geoff Stuhr…Receiver

  • Andy Cabrel…Defensive Line

  • Matt Pearson…Linebacker

  • D.J.Nogalski…Defensive Back

On the second team:

  • Andrew Maikke…Offensive Line

  • Ryan Smars…Defensive Line

  • Joey Cook…Defensive Back

This was a great team and there is more on them in my book!

Both Franklin and Brookfield played a terrific and exciting game. You had to be there to believe it.