Lakeside Lutheran 5-0 (11-2 overall); Lake Mills 4-1 (7-3); Lodi 3-2 (8-3); Watertown Luther Prep 2-3 (5-4); Poynette 1-4 (5-4); Columbus 0-5 (1-8).
First team — Adam Moen, QB, Lake Mills; Hunter Buechel, WR, Lake Mills; Dustin Paulson, OL, Lodi; Teagan Herschleb, DB, Columbus; Yuri Soloviyov, P, Watertown Luther Prep.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Hunter Buechel, 6-1, 165, sr., WR, Lake Mills: A first-team All-Capitol North pick last year, Buechel’s speed and precision route-running led to a team-high 42 receptions last year for 684 yards (a 16.3-yard average) and 7 touchdowns.
Matt Davis, 6-1, 180, sr., QB/DB, Lakeside Lutheran: Davis was a full-time starter in the defensive backfield last year, and shared time at quarterback in seven games, throwing for 341 yards and rushing for 322. He’ll be the go-to player at both spots this year.
Teagan Herschleb, 6-2, 160, sr., S, Columbus: A first-team All-Capitol North and coaches’ Small School All-State pick last year, Herschleb tied for the state lead in regular-season interceptions with eight.
Adam Moen, 6-2, 165, jr., QB, Lake Mills: A unanimous first-team All-Capitol North pick last year after throwing for 2,184 yards and 26 touchdowns as a sophomore in the L-Cats’ high-test offense. Moen also led the L-Cats in rushing with 457 yards on 131 carries.
Dustyn Paulson, 6-0, 255, sr., OL, Lodi: A first-team All-Capitol North pick last year, Paulson is the only returning lineman to earn first-team honors last year. He anchored a line that helped Lodi generate 2,660 yards of total offense last year.
THINGS TO WATCH
Lake Mills’ youth brigade: All signs point toward a special season for coach Dan Ferkovich’s L-Cats. The only question is, will it be this year or next (or both)? Lake Mills appears to have the most explosive collection of talent in the conference, but on the other hand, the L-Cats have only five seniors on this year’s roster. “(We will be) looking for leadership,” Ferkovich said. However, he adds that this year’s huge crop of juniors has been playing varsity since freshman year. The L-Cats’ junior class grew this year when running back/linebacker Javonta Beach transferred from Rice Lake, where he saw playing time as a sophomore last year.
Lodi on the run: A stark contrast to Lake Mills' air-it-out style is the run-game tradition at Lodi, where coach Dave Puls has built one of the area's most successful programs based on a steady, wear-you-out attack. But the Blue Devils were held last year to 1,570 yards rushing (136 yards per game), their lowest rushing production since they got 1,408 in 2012, their last non-playoff year. In the five years in between, the Blue Devils rushed for 12,540 yards in 63 games, an average of 2,508 yards per season and 199 yards per game.
Great (Luther) preparation: Coach Justin Gregorius said that over his first six years as Watertown Luther Prep's head coach, 65 percent of the Phoenix football players have gone on to attend Martin Luther College in New Ulm, Minn., to study for what he called "the preaching and teaching ministry." Many of them also play football for the NCAA Division III program. As a result, he said, a majority of the Phoenix players will continue playing together for four years after high school.
1, Lake Mills; 2, Lodi; 3, Columbus.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Coach: Calvin Zenz, third year (3-15).
Letterwinners (returning/lost): 20/6.
Starters returning (offense/defense): 9/9.
The lowdown: Last year was a rough one for the Cardinals, but the experience (and mending time for some injured players) should pay off as Zenz hopes to lead Columbus to the upper division of the league. “This is our most experienced, strongest and biggest team since 2016,” Zenz said. “This team has a chance to compete for a conference championship if we can stay healthy and clean up the little mistakes.” The spread-option offense will revolve around the offensive line, which returns four starters — three of whom were sophomores last year. Columbus also returns two players who missed most or all of last season with injury. “We have a number of talented skill guys, and if the offensive line gives them room to work, we will have a good year.” Junior Will Cotter (6-4, 190) returns at quarterback after leading the team last year with 14 completions for 284 yards and two touchdowns in just two games. Junior halfback Caden Brunell ran for 434 yards and two scores last year. Columbus runs a 3-3, multiple-front defense and the leader will be senior safety Teagen Herschleb (6-2, 160), who picked off eight passes last year and earned all-state honors from the coaches’ association. Second-team All-Capitol North returnees are junior linebacker Brunell and senior defensive lineman Miguel Miranda. Junior Austin Renhack will play a key role on the defensive line.
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Coach: Dan Ferkovich seventh year (35-27).
The lowdown: Opposing defenses will have plenty to prepare for during Lake Mills Week, as the L-Cats have young but proven performers at key skill positions. Ferkovich has been known to develop standout quarterbacks, and he appears to have done so with Adam Moen, who threw for 2,184 yards and 26 touchdowns as a sophomore and rushed for a team-high 457 yards and 8 TDs. The wide-open offense also welcomes back All-Badger North receiver Hunter Buechel and Matt Johnson, and its leading running back, junior Charlie Cassady (5-8, 170, 287 yards last year). Added to the deep mix is junior Javonta Beach, a transfer who saw playing time last year at Rice Lake. Cassady ranked second on the defense last year with 66 tackles, three for loss, but the L-Cats’ other three linebackers have graduated.
Coach: Paul Bauer, 19th year (119-65).
Letterwinners (returning/lost): 15/19.
Starters returning (offense/defense): 0/2.
The lowdown: After a perfect run through the Capitol North last year, the Warriors must replace 20 starters with only 15 returning letterwinners. “We are very young and inexperienced, but fairly athletic,” Bauer said. “We have an experienced quarterback (Matt Davis), and depth at running back and wide receiver positions. We’ll go as far as our line allows us.” Davis (6-1, 180, senior) played in seven games alongside Jack Monis last year. He’ll run the Warriors’ split-back veer offensive attack out of the pistol formation. Davis completed 23 of 40 throws for 341 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed for 322 yards. The defense, working mostly out of a 4-2-5 set, will count on Davis and Tersony Vater (6-0, 160, jr.) as returnees in the backfield.
Coach: Dave Puls, 16th year (132-29).
The lowdown: Lodi returns a large senior class of 23, and many of them saw significant minutes as Lodi reached the second round of the WIAA playoffs for a sixth consecutive season. The Blue Devils will be right in the thick of a Capitol North race that appears to be up for grabs. On offense, two experienced quarterbacks return in senior Zach Potter (798 yards passing, 5 TDs) and junior Quinn Faust (298 yards, 4 TDs). Also back are leading rusher Colton Nicolay (130 carries, 787 yards, 7 TDs) and top fullback Garrett Edge (85 yards, 1 TD). Last year’s top receiver, senior tight end Kade Parsons (18 catches, 347 yards, four TDs), returns. The line will be led by seniors Dustyn Paulson (first-team all-conference last year) and Camden Waterstradt (honorable mention). The defense will rely on senior Lucas Beckwith and juniors Connor and Quinn in the backfield, as other areas have seen significant losses. At linebacker, last year’s No. 3 tackler, senior Logan Richards (31 tackles, 7 for loss, 1 sack) returns, along with Colton Nicolay (22 tackles) and Garrett Edge (12 tackles). Senior Mason Ripp anchors the defensive line.
Coach: Greg Kallungi, fifth year (16-20).
Letterwinners (returning/lost): 15/13.
Starters returning (offense/defense): 5/5.
The lowdown: The Pumas’ offense should be able to hit the ground running, as Kallungi says “we return most of our skill position players including our quarterback, second-leading rusher and top four pass catchers.” However, most of last year’s offensive line was lost to graduation. “That’ll be our challenge in fall camp, to rebuild our line and develop depth,” the coach said. Back is senior quarterback Jackson Elsing (6-0, 150), who completed 46 percent of his passes for 1,017 yards and 7 touchdowns last year and showed strong leadership skills. Senior running back and wide receiver Brayden O’Connor (5-8, 145) rushed for 603 yards and led the Pumas with 19 catches for 377 yards last year. Shifting between tight end and fullback will be senior blocking specialist Colby Savich (6-3, 195, 200 all-purpose yards last year), and tight end and wide receiver Jake Buss (7 catches, 128 yards) is back. The line will build around senior Billy DuFresne (6-1, 380), an honorable mention All-Capitol North pick last year. The 4-4 base defense will be led by Savich (50 tackles last year) and Buss (40 tackles last year) at linebacker, and senior Christian Bault (5-10, 150, 4 interceptions last year) and O’Connor (3 interceptions last year) in the backfield.
WATERTOWN LUTHER PREP
Coach: Justin Gregorius, seventh year (19-35).
Letterwinners (returning/lost): 18/12.
Starters returning (offense/defense): 5/5.
The lowdown: Luther Prep continued its move up the standings last year, and hopes to do the same this year — while potentially challenging for its first WIAA playoff berth since 2006. Coach Gregorius has made a change at quarterback, inserting junior Ben Cole (6-1, 155) into the quarterback spot and moving senior Cole Burow (6-1, 170) to flanker. Burow completed 13 passes for 223 yards last year. Levi Clark and Jon Holtz will move into the running back spotlight this year, and the line will be anchored by senior tackle Jackson Lindemann (6-1, 215, second-team All-Capitol North last year) and junior tackle Jonathan Weidenhoeft (6-2, 200). Luther Prep’s 4-2-5 defense will be anchored by junior linebacker David Baumann (6-2, 170). The line will feature junior Caleb Chmielewski (6-2, 330), and junior Atticus Lawrenz (5-10, 155) has shown promise in the defensive backfield.