/ Articles / Media sees Mosinee, Medford as GNC football favorites
When it comes to Great Northern Conference football in 2019, two things seem certain — Mosinee and Medford. Behind them, expect the highest level of parity the conference has seen in its 11 years of existence.
That’s at least how those who cover the GNC see it. Mosinee was a unanimous pick to win this year’s conference football title, according to the sixth annual GNC Football Media Poll — a joint-effort of The Northwoods River News and The Lakeland Times that canvasses those who cover the conference on a regular basis.
The seven-voter panel agreed that Mosinee, the conference runner-up each of the last two seasons, is the team to beat in the conference. There was also a consensus that Medford would be the runner-up, with the Raiders earning all seven second-place votes.
Known commodities are the main reasons those two teams stood out above the rest in the eyes of the panel.
Mosinee returns several key pieces from the top scoring offense in the GNC last year including senior quarterback Trey Fitzgerald and junior tailback William Kennedy. They also return three all-conference honorees on defense. Medford has holes to fill, however senior Ean Wilson returns after finishing second in the conference in rushing last year.
After the top two, things become less certain. With the exception of Merrill, every other team received at least two top four votes. Four different teams received sixth-place votes.
Antigo shook out third in the media survey, followed by Ashland, Lakeland, Rhinelander and Merrill.
The Red Robins squeaked in to the playoffs last year for the 11th-straight season and return a number of offensive linemen and quarterback Nevin Cornelius from that squad.
Ashland was the Cinderella of the GNC last year. Picked to finish sixth by the media a year ago, the Oredockers ran the table in the conference, won their first GNC title and qualified for the playoffs for the first time in nine years. The question is what third-year coach Travis Larson and the Oredockers can do for an encore given that they graduated 16 seniors — virtually all of whom were major contributors for last year’s team.
Lakeland returns a dual-threat quarterback in senior Michael Ouimette, who threw for 1,037 yards and 13 touchdowns in only five conference games. Rhinelander returns the GNC’s top rusher from a year ago, senior tailback Drake Martin, and welcomes a new head coach as Aaron Kraemer takes over for Chris Ferge, who was only 2-28 against the GNC during his five-year tenure. Merrill underachieved last year, going 2-7 for first-year head coach Rob Klug. Offensive lineman Dawson Dengel is the only returning all-conference recipient for the Bluejays.
This year’s panel consisted of Northwoods River News sports editor Jeremy Mayo, Lakeland Times sports writer Brett LaBore, Antigo Daily Journal sports editor Scott Walbeck, Ashland Daily Press sports writer Jake Brown, Star News (Medford) sports editor Matt Frey, Great Northern Conference statistician Gregg Scott, and Ben Meyer of WJFW-TV.
Overall, the conference is trying to regain more respect statewide after all four of its playoff teams were bounced in Level 1 of the WIAA tournament last year. That included Ashland, which was upended 36-8 at home by seventh-seeded Sparta in the Division 3 draw.
The GNC slate kicks off Sept. 6. featuring a rematch between Ashland and Medford at Raider Field. The Oredockers knocked off the Raiders 28-12 in the final week of the regular season last year to win the GNC outright and deny Medford a three-way split of the conference crown. Rhinelander will christen a new artificial turf surface at Mike Webster Stadium on Sept. 6, while Antigo hosts Merrill.
2019 will be the final year of the GNC in its current structure for football. The conference will add Hayward/Lac Courte Oreilles as an eighth member in 2020 as part of a statewide football conference realignment plan.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at [email protected]