Conference Championship Showdown

November 16, 2019

When the quarterfinals kickoff Saturday afternoon at the Le-Win Athletic Bowl, it will feature the conference champions from each division of the NUIC, Aquin and Lena-Winslow. In essence, it will put to rest for the 2019 season who the real conference champion is, but more than that, the winner will move onto the semifinals as the remaining representative for a shot at state in DeKalb on November 29th.  It is the first time that both conference champions have entered the quarterfinals with undefeated records, but not the first time that the conference champions have met in the quarterfinals.

 

This game will also feature two of the most storied programs in conference history, as both teams have a combined 53 playoff appearances, 79 playoff wins, and 6 state titles. The two teams also are the two highest scoring teams in the conference, with Aquin averaging 39.0 points per game, and Le-Win is averaing 47.6 points per game, in what could be a high scoring affair. Both teams have different offenses, but have no lack of playmakers, and both feature some big boys on the line. It is going to be a great atmosphere when the clock strikes 1:00.

 

Aquin and Lena-Winslow are meeting up for the 3rd time in the playoffs. Each of the last 2 meetings came in championship years for the Panthers, as they met up in Round 2 in 2013 where Le-Win won 48-20, and in 2017 they met in the quarterfinals where Le-Win won 67-28. There is a lot of excitement surrounding today's game.

 

I caught up with both Aquin coach Broc Kundert and Le-Win coach Ric Arand to get their thoughts on this match-up.

 

Q: Aquin and Le-Win are in separate divisions now, but have a long history dating back to the NWIC days. How cool is it that these two storied programs are meeting in the quarterfinals as the first 2 undefeated regular season conference champions?

 

Broc: It is pretty cool that the two undefeated teams from the north and south divisions will get a chance to play in the playoffs. Both programs are extremely successful and have had a lot of postseason success. Its pretty cool that in the first season of the new conference format we will get to see a conference championship with a lot more on the line that just bragging rights.

 

Ric: I think 2 undefeated teams playing for a chance to play in the Semi's is great! The bracket is playing out just as it should without upsets.

 

Q: This is your first quarterfinals appearance. Have you taken a step back to think about the moment you are in?

 

Broc: This whole season has been an awesome ride. I do not think about the moment to much mostly because until we are finished I think everyone in our program feels we have a job to do. When the season is over, I think everyone associated with Aquin football will be able to look back and truly appreciate what has been accomplished. I will think about the moment after we are finished as well but right now, I am living in the moment as much as I can.

 

Q: Everyone knows Le-Win is the top dog. What do you see as key points to help Aquin be successful Saturday?

 

Broc: Lena-Winslow is a very talented team. We will need to play a really good game to be successful

against them. It sounds repetitive and obvious but not having turnovers and forcing some on defense will be very important this weekend. Lena is not going to do much to hurt themselves in terms of taking many chances on offense so we will need to force them. When we have an opportunity to make a play it needs to be made. We cannot have any lapses in effort and will need to get 11 helmets to the ball on every play.

 

Q: The targets have been on your backs all year. What do you guys do to not get caught up in the pressure that can bring?

 

Ric: We have had targets on our backs many times in the past. We try to keep our kids humble and focusing on the task at hand. We work extremely hard each week on improving things that we maybe didn't do so well the previous couple of weeks.

 

Q: You went 4-5 last season, but turned it around to 11-0 thus far. While many felt you'd be more successful in 2019, did you expect this?

 

Broc: Of course, we have told the kids from day one if we all are not preparing to win a state title, coaches and players, let’s not even play football. It has been an amazing season and we have played some really good football. I would say I believed we could have a season like this, but more to the question we have had some kids step up and play much better than expected so I think that has been the more exciting thing to see those kids elevate their play so much and put us in this position.

 

Q: Le-Win is making their 9th quarterfinals appearance over the past 11 seasons, and 4th in a row. When you look at that recent history, what do you pull from it to get your kids focused on the game?

 

Broc: We try to compete with ourselves as much as possible. Our entire winter off season weight program was based on competing with ourselves and always getting better. I truly believe that has turned our team and kids into some serious competitors. We our focused because this is a quarterfinal playoff game and view Lena-Winslow as a challenge to compete with one of the more storied programs in recent small school football history. Our guys want the challenges.

 

Q: You're making your 9th trip in 11 seasons, and 4th consecutive trip to the quarters. How do you keep the players focused on the goal?

 

Ric: The playoffs are not really anything they we even talk about until it is upon us, and we never look back at how many times we have made the quarters, etc., we just look at every season being a new season and set new goals with that team. Our kids know that they have to work their tails off to compete at the highest level. We just control what we are capable of controlling.

 

Q: This is your first quarterfinals appearance. Have you taken a step back to think about the moment you are in?

 

Broc: This whole season has been an awesome ride. I do not think about the moment to much mostly because until we are finished I think everyone in our program feels we have a job to do. When the season is over, I think everyone associated with Aquin football will be able to look back and truly appreciate what has been accomplished. I will think about the moment after we are finished as well, but right now, I am living in the moment as much as I can.

 

It was acknowledged a couple weeks ago that Coach Arand achieved his 200th career win - a big milestone. A win in Saturday's quarterfinal game would also be a milestone, his 40th career playoff win. When you talk to Coach Arand, he always deflects personal accomplishments to his staff and players, a trait of a true leader.

 

Q: You just eclipsed 200 career wins in round 1, and now you're on the verge of your 40th playoff win. Do those numbers surprise you, especially if they were to happen in the same year?

 

Ric: To be honest with you, I had no idea that either one of those things were possibly going to happen this year. We work together as a staff each week to try and do our best to win a football game, and improve from the previous week. I really don't think my win loss record is news worthy. Our entire staff and players work extremely hard each any every day!

 

To add to that, I asked Coach Arand what his thoughts were on Lena-Winslow being recognized in MaxPreps as a top 25 team in the nation for small school football. For those that don't know, MaxPreps ranks teams nationally simply on what team's overall rating is based on the Freeman Ratings. Small Schools are established with teams with an enrollment of 1,000 or less, or for a better idea in the state of Illinois, that would be class 1A-4A.

 

Ric: Oh man let's be serious, I would love to know how they figure we are better than IC, Rochester, Stratford, Wi... Please! Dumbest ranking I have seen.

 

I would like to thank both Broc Kundert and Ric Arand for taking the time to answer these questions as they get prepared for this Quarterfinal match-up. This game will kickoff at 1:00 pm in Lena, and will be aired on 102.1 or at bigradio.fm. We wish both teams good luck, and Go NUIC!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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