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Wildcats face tough Humphrey St. Francis team in playoff battle

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HUMPHREY - The Wildcats are still alive in the playoffs, advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the merger.

Hartington-Newcastle will be challenged, traveling to top seed Humphrey St. Francis on Halloween night looking to upset a D2 powerhouse on their home field. It is a place that Uldrich has plenty of experience coaching, even if his players have not played there before.

Uldrich spent time coaching at the public school in Humphrey before moving to Hartington.

“When I coached in Humphrey for the 5 years I was there, we played St. Francis every year in the regular season, and we matched up with them one year in the second round of the playoffs.  So, they are a very familiar team, and the field in Humphrey is a very familiar field.”

It is a new turf field as well, something Hartington-Newcastle has not played on yet this year. Running back Ethan Koch seemed excited to play on the turf though after HNS defeated Clarkson-Leigh on Thursday.

“I think we are ready to play Humphrey St. Francis,” said the senior. “I think it is going to be a good contest. We like playing on turf so we have fast grass out there.”

With the crisp new field comes a sharp team that has dominated its way through the first nine games of the season. Humphrey St. Francis brings size that is hard to beat for an 8-man team, starting off with all-state lineman Dylan Wemhoff.

The junior lineman tops the Flyer’s six players listed over 200 pounds, at 255. That line blocks an electric offense that has six players with over 100 rushing yards, led by Taylor Wemhoff’s 981 yards and 19 touchdowns on 125 carries. 

“They have a really good running back, a good quarterback, and an all-state lineman who form the core of their attack,” said Uldrich. “They are a traditionally strong power running team, and they are much the same this year. Their quarterback is a running threat on bootlegs and rollout passes.”

The quarterback Trevor Pfeifer follows Wemhoff on the stat sheet with 50 carries for 414 yards and 13 touchdowns. He can also be dangerous through the air, despite the Flyer’s lack of passing during the season. The junior quarterback is 40-62 on the season, a 65 percent completion percentage, for 733 yards, 13 touchdowns, and one interception.

Uldrich knows how potent of an offense Humphrey St. Francis possesses, and he has plenty of familiar film from common opponents. Both HSF and HNS have played Wynot, Wausa, and Clarkson-Leigh. Uldrich’s familiarity with those teams helps to conceptualize what formations might work best for the Wildcats.

“It's nice to see your opponent against someone you've played because it helps you understand the speed and strength with which the other team plays.  Seeing them on film with Wynot and Clarkson/Leigh is helpful, and we'll even be able to get an idea of their personnel from their Plainview game, who we played the last couple of years.”

After the win over Clarkson-Leigh, Uldrich said he will initially look at his opponent similar to how he did Bloomfield. In that game, Hartington-Newcastle lost 24-21 but had a chance late in the game to score a go-ahead touchdown.

“We've got to be able to establish a running and passing game on Wednesday.  St. Francis is so good defensively that we cannot become one dimensional, or it will be too easy for them to defend us.  We have to take care of the ball, and we need to make 3 or 4 big plays to help us move drives and get scores.”

With the game being on Wednesday, it has added some changes to how the Wildcats prepare. Most of the HNS games have been on Friday, but the past two weeks the team has played on Thursday. It is normal for the football postseason so it is a good problem to adjust to.

“We have moved everything up this week to coincide with the Wednesday game.  We had practice Sunday in the early evening, and we'll practice Monday and Tuesday, which gives us our typical three days of practice prior to a game.  As the season progresses, we continue to keep practices shorter than they were early in the year to help keep guys fresh and healthy.”

The 8 seed Wildcats prepare to take on 1 seed Humphrey St. Francis on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in Humphrey. The early start time hopefully will add warmth to the playoff atmosphere. Current forecasts predict mostly sunny weather with a high of 59 degrees and a low of 34 into the night.

“I know our fans will travel, and St. Francis has a very good following of their own,” said Uldrich. “I expect a large, noisy crowd, and we'll try to use that energy to play a really solid football game.”