The Newman Catholic football team, defending state champs from 2017, will take on the top-ranked Illinois team Saturday in Elkhorn, according to a Newman news release.

Paul Michlig, athletic director and head football coach at Newman, issued the release on Friday and said the regular-season game Saturday is being played in Elkhorn, Wis., to limit travel for high school players. Newman is ranked number one in 8-man football in Wisconsin, Michlig said. The Fighting Cardinals will take on the Milford-Cissna Park Bearcats at Elkhorn Area High School with kickoff slated for 7 p.m.

Both teams are currently undefeated.

At the start of this decade, declining player participation numbers in the more rural areas of the state prompted the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association to approve 8-man football for smaller schools. This has allowed these schools to sustain their football programs. Many schools are recognizing the excitement of 8-player football as a viable option for player safety and program identity.

Three years ago, there were 21 eight-player teams in the state, but popularity quickly grew and this season began with a schedule of over 30 teams, Michlig said. Additional teams are committing to the change in 2019 and Michlig estimates that as many as 40 teams will participate in 8-man football by 2021.

This year, for the first time in Wisconsin, there will be an eight-team state tournament for 8-player football. The tournament replaces the Jamboree, which was a four-game showcase for 8-player football held in early November. The tournament will be run in an identical fashion to the 11 man state football championships, with 8 man football competing in its own division.

Newman Catholic is the defending Wisconsin “de-facto” state champions, with a perfect 10-0 season in 2017. Newman Catholic were victorious over Luck in the first place Jamboree game at the end of last season. The Fighting Cardinals are 6-0 coming into the game on Saturday night.