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October 3, 2013This contest won't get much, if any, media attention outside of Langlade and Oneida counties. And most would question why it's included in an article about games of the week, nonetheless the lead item.
However, the annual Antigo versus Rhinelander football showdown is one of the Badger State's oldest and most storied rivalries, even though much of its attraction revolves around a fictitious beast from the late 19th century.
As for the facts, it's been a lopsided affair in recent years. Rhinelander last won in 2006, a 22-18 decision, its only victory in the teams' last 10 meetings.
And Friday night's encounter doesn't mean much in the Great Northern Conference standings as the visiting and once proud Red Robins sit at 2-4 and cling to playoff hopes while the host Hodags are mired in last place.
Still, it's the history that is most intriguing about this matchup.
Much of the tradition surrounding Rhinelander grew out of a mythical beast supposedly discovered in the north woods. The hodag became part of local culture as tales became legend in those parts.
The high school and its athletic teams have worn that badge of honor proudly, but there's nothing mythical about their storied rivalry against Antigo. Although records only are available since 1908, football games between the communities were played off and on from 1895 through 1921.
That's when the Hodags and Red Robins started hooking up regularly, and then in 1935 the series took on added significance as they began playing for the Gene Shepard's Bell Trophy.
Named for the man who "discovered" the hideous creature and the bell he donated from his steamboat called the U.S.S. Hodag, the foes have played for the traveling prize ever since, with the initial contest ending in a 19-13 Rhinelander victory in front of 3,000 spectators.
They renew that annual grudge match at Mike Webster Stadium in Rhinelander, named for the late Pittsburgh as the Red Robins try to increase their 49-27-2 advantage. That includes a 34-14 triumph last season as they gladly ruined the Hodags' homecoming festivities at Mike Webster Stadium, named for the late Wisconsin Badgers and Pittsburgh Steelers great, NFL Hall of Famer and Rhinelander alumnus.
Here is a look at the other top games on this week's schedule as the final third of the season kicks off:
Waupaca (6-0) at Little Chute (4-2)
These current Easter Valley foes have squared off annually since 1974. The Mustangs won the first 13 meetings, but the Comets have dominated since in winning 25 of the last 26 contests.
This matchup is important for playoff-bound Waupaca as it tries to keep pace with Xavier atop the league standings, while Little Chute is seeking an upset to clinch a postseason berth.
Arcadia (6-0) at Westby (6-0)
The Raiders and Norsemen are playing for a playoff spot and control of the Coulee Conference lead.
Arcadia has won six of the last seven meetings, with Westby's lone victory coming in 2011.
The Raiders also face G-E-T in their home and regular-season finale. Meanwhile, the Norsemen sneaked past the Redmen last week, 17-14, on sophomore German exchange student Julius Fassbinder's 25-yard field goal as time expired and finish their slate with two road games.
Bay Port (6-0) at Ashwaubenon (6-0)
This donnybrook between the Pirates and Jaguars arguably is THE game of the week as control of the Fox River Classic goes to the victor in this battle of playoff qualifiers.
Bay Port, ranked third in Division 1 in this week's WisconsinHigh.com team poll, is in the middle of a three-game road swing before ending the campaign at home against Green Bay Southwest. It is seeking its first league crown since 2009.
Ashwaubenon is rated No. 6 in D-2 and looking for its first title since 2010.
West De Pere (6-0) at Seymour (5-1)
The Phantoms secured a postseason berth last week but are hoping to extend their 35-game league winning streak - they have not lost since a 27-20 setback at Seymour to open the 2009 campaign.
West De Pere has allowed only 22 points this fall and is chasing its eighth consecutive Bay Conference title as a home showdown against current Bay leader Hortonville looms next week.
Seymour can become playoff eligible with an upset win as memories of last year's 12-7 defeat to the Phantoms linger.
Middleton (5-1) at Sun Prairie (6-0)
Second-ranked Sun Prairie continued to do what good teams do; they found a way to win.
The hosts, who earned a playoff spot in week five, needed all 52 points in outlasting Madison Memorial, while the visiting Cardinals clinched a berth with last week's triumph against Verona.
Sun Prairie can pretty much wrap up a second straight Big Eight title with a win as its last two contest are against Janesville Parker and Madison East, teams with a combined 2-10 mark. Middleton is hoping for its first piece of the conference championship since sharing it with Sun Prairie and Verona in 2010.
Superior (6-0) at Hudson (5-1)
The upstart Spartans haven't been playing great defense or blowing opponents away, but they are one of only five unbeaten teams left in Division 1. That's quite a turnaround for a program that finished 0-7 in Big Rivers play in 2010.
However, knocking off the defending champions on the road is another story.
Hudson hasn't dominated like the 2011 contingent, but it has cranked up its offense of late and has won five straight since a season-opening defeat across the border.
Marquette (5-1) at Brookfield Central (5-1)
The Hilltoppers' comeback from last year's debacle became complete as it earned a playoff berth last week and continues its quest for the Greater Metro crown.
However, that means it must get past another league contender in a Central squad that has dominated the past two weeks after its overtime loss at Menomonee Falls.
Marquette and Central shared the 2011 title with Sussex Hamilton, but the Lancers need a win to secure their fourth postseason appearance in a row.
Chilton (5-1) at Roncalli (6-0)
The Tigers absorbed a big hit as they tasted defeat in a big way last week against Kewaunee, and this week they have to travel to face the other Olympian-Packerland Large leader.
A Chilton win would push it toward a likely share of the top spot, while the Jets need to win to make their season and home finale against the Storm to be for all the marbles.
Roncalli earned a postseason appearance last week, while Chilton needs one more league victory to qualify.
Black Hawk (6-0) at Pecatonica/Argyle (6-0)
The Warriors and Vikings hook up Saturday afternoon in a contest that should decide the Six Rivers title.
Both foes clinched playoff berths last week, with Pec-Argyle pulling out a seven-point win over Cassville, while Black Hawk dominated previously undefeated Potosi.
The Vikings must visit Potosi next weekend, and the Warriors have Belmont and Highland remaining.
Menasha (4-2) at Marshfield (5-1)
The Bluejays and Tigers will slug it out for a shot at the Valley Football Association South crown.
Marshfield secured a postseason trip last week and a win would give them a chance to claim the outright championship at Oshkosh North (4-0, 6-0) in the regular-season finale. However, the Tigers also must travel to Stevens Point next week.
As for Menasha, a loss would relegate it to a battle for third place and still in need of a win to qualify for the playoffs. A win over Marshfield should push the Bluejays toward at least a second-place finish.
Cedarburg (4-2) at Whitefish Bay (5-1)
The Bulldogs, if not for a poor second quarter, could have derailed top-ranked D-2 rival Homestead. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.
Thus, Cedarburg finds itself battling the Blue Dukes and Germantown for second place in the North Shore.
The winner of this confrontation grabs a postseason spot, although Whitefish Bay's path looms much tougher with Port Washington at home and a trip to Homestead left.