LAKE MILLS — On a night when conditions were more apt for making snow angels than throwing the ball downfield, one team ran it effectively and was stout in run defense.
The other was left searching for a ground game and more players willing or able to make tackles.
Second-seeded Lake Mills held third-seeded Greendale Martin Luther to 10 rushing yards and ran it at will in the second half of a 54-28 WIAA Division 4 Level 2 victory at Lake Mills High School on Nov. 1.
Junior quarterback Adam Moen threw for 407 yards and three touchdowns, bringing his season passing total to 3,209. He also ran it 17 times for 157 yards, scoring four times, including a 59-yard scamper that put the game on ice in the fourth quarter.
“In the first half we were running timid. We said ‘don’t run timid, run hard and lower your shoulder,’” Lake Mills football coach Dan Ferkovich said. “Make them have to tackle you rather than making it easy. Through our weight room conditioning and our power lifting they struggled to tackle Matt (Johnson) and Hunter (Buechel) on some of those really short passes that have kind of been our bread and butter all season. We kind of wore them down and when you’re on defense as much as they were especially in the second half, it’s hard to keep wanting to tackle guys. Eventually, we will break those tackles and turn them into big plays.”
Lake Mills extended its win streak to 10 games and reached Level 3 for the third time in four seasons.
The L-Cats trailed, 21-20, at halftime and found themselves behind in a game for the first time since Week 1 against Menomonie. Then they scored 35 consecutive points to eclipse the 50-point threshold for the fifth time this year.
“We knew with the weather we had to do something on the ground, start running the ball,” Moen said. “It’s going to be hard to tackle with the cold and people don’t want to tackle. So we have to run as hard as possible and that’s what we did.”
Junior quarterback Brady Hoppert connected with junior receiver Aundreus Griffin for a 51-yard Martin Luther touchdown two minutes into the third quarter.
The L-Cats needed 18 seconds and one play from scrimmage to answer back as senior receiver Hunter Buechel beat tight coverage from sophomore Sam Strohmeyer to haul in a pass on the sideline, holding off the defensive back en route to a 75-yard touchdown that cut the lead to 28-26.
After the teams traded punts, junior Charlie Bender intercepted a pass intended for junior Jacob Hartlaub but the L-Cats weren’t able to convert the turnover into points. After another Martin Luther punt, Lake Mills had it at midfield looking to take the lead. Moen and junior tailback Charlie Cassady ran for first downs before a receiver screen to Buechel set up goal-to-go from the one-yard line. Moen rolled left and put a shoulder down, pile driving through two Spartans defenders to find paydirt for the go-ahead score.
The duo of Tyler Theder and Josh Lescohier halted the next Spartan drive with a sack of Hoppert on the last play of the third.
Lake Mills started at its own 34-yard line before Cassady had a 14-yard run that required half the Martin Luther defense to bring him to the turf. A Buechel 16-yard run and 22-yard scamper by Moen set up a red zone opportunity. A few plays later, Moen scored from a yard out, increasing the lead to 40-28 with 8:40 left.
The Spartans committed a block-in-the-back penalty on the ensuing kickoff and punted after just four plays.
“It was just our mindset,” Lescohier said of stopping the run. “We knew what plays they were doing from studying earlier in the week. It was all about mentality to stop the run.”
Moen’s 59-yard run down the right sideline was created by the blocks of pulling guard David Bruce and Jaxson Retrum on the edge, making it 47-28 with 6:42 left.
“My pulling guard David Bruce gave me an amazing block,” Moen said. “Without (the blocking) that isn’t a touchdown. Thanks to the whole line for finding blocks to get the ball moving and win this game.”
Matt Johnson was tripped up at the 4-yard line as he was heading into the end zone on a 48-yard catch-and-run. The penalty was enforced half the distance, giving the L-Cats the ball at the 2-yard line and Cassady scored from there for the final margin.
The L-Cats held a 204-10 advantage in rushing yards thanks in part to the muscle and teamwork up front.
“We just had to talk, communicate with the line about who’s going where,” Lescohier said. “We read their calls. It’s all about communication on the line, that’s where you get the open gaps on the offensive line.”
“Our run defense was outstanding today, they did what they needed to,” Moen added. “They made Martin Luther pass the ball in this weather which obviously isn’t easy and that helped a lot with winning the game.”
The L-Cats appeared likely to be punting it right back after three plays before Moen converted a 3rd and 21 run for the first chunk play of the game. Junior receiver Charlie Bender hauled in a 43-yard grab next that set up Moen from four yards out for a score to knot it a sevens.
Freshman linebacker Ben Buchholtz intercepted a tipped Hoppert pass on the next series late in the first quarter.
Michael Stenbroten made a nice play on the sideline and got both feet well inbounds on a 17-yard gain before catching a 28-yard pass to put it at the Martin Luther 20-yard line. Stenbroten then caught a 5-yard touchdown to make it 14-7.
Octavis Cherry returned the ensuing kick to the L-Cat 37-yard line and Sylvere Campbell capped the drive with a 25-yard grab over Johnson on 4th and 9 to tie it at 14 apiece.
Moen bought time and rolled right on a 3rd and 9 play from midfield before being intercepted by Campbell, who returned it for a touchdown.
Martin Luther (8-3) hung around in the first half, scoring first on a 16-yard third-down throw from junior quarterback Brady Hoppert to junior receiver Jacob Hartlaub.
”In the first half we allowed them to believe that they could win,” Ferkovich said. “We knew they scored touchdowns they normally don’t so if we came out in the second half and ran the ball, which we were able to. We made an adjustment on defense to bracket (Campbell) that we’d be all right. In the first half, they couldn’t run the ball and in the second half they couldn’t run it in. We battled and fought hard. We were able to do what we know how to do. We just kept scoring and you could see them break down like ‘oh man, keeping up with these guys is kind of tough.’ You could see them kind of wither a little bit in their belief that they could win the game and eventually we put it out of reach.”
Lake Mills punted on its next drive before forcing a three-and-out. The Spartan punt was muffed by Stenbroten at the L-Cat 20-yard line. The defense, however, stiffened again and forced a Spartan kick that just trickled barely into the end zone for a touchback.
Jaxson Retrum ended the first half with some fireworks, running a go route before cutting to the vacated middle of the field for an 80-yard score with 1:40 left to cut the lead to 21-20.
”We had to take our shots deep because they were playing us short,” Moen said. “I had trust in (the receivers), they made tough catches. They went up and got the ball and made a play.”
The L-Cats spent plenty of time studying the Spartan offense on the film, helping them make adjustments and fly to the ball.
”Their offense kind of mirrors ours, maybe the plays are a tad different but a lot of the things they do we also do so we could tell when (the run) was going to go inside or outside,” Ferkovich said. “Our linebackers did a great job of reading the play and flowing to the ball. Our defensive line did a great job eating up blocks and shedding blocks, making those guys have to double team them. That allowed our linebackers to get to the ball and make tackles. We controlled the line of scrimmage with strength and will. We were able to run the ball in this weather and they weren’t.”
The L-Cats play at top-seeded Catholic Memorial in Level 3 on Friday. The game to be played at Carroll University in Waukesha starts at 7 p.m.
LAKE MILLS 54, MARTIN LUTHER 28
Martin Luther 7 14 7 0 — 28
Lake Mills 7 13 13 21 — 54
ML — Hartlaub 10 pass from Hoppert (Eggert kick)
LM — Moen 4 run (Ciesiolka kick)
LM — Stenbroten 5 pass from Moen (Ciesiolka kick)
ML — Campbell 25 pass from Hoppert (Eggert kick)
ML — Campbell 50 interception return (Eggert kick)
LM — Retrum 80 pass from Moen (kick failed)
ML — Griffin 51 pass from Hoppert (Eggert kick)
LM — Buechel 75 pass from Moen (kick failed)
LM — Moen 1 run (Ciesiolka kick)
LM — Moen 1 run (Ciesiolka kick)
LM — Moen 59 run (Ciesiolka kick)
LM — Cassady 2 run (Ciesiolka kick)
First downs — GML 7, LM 13. Passing yards — GML 222, LM 407. Rushing yards — GML 10, LM 26-204. Fumbles-lost — GML 0, LM 1. Penalties-yards — GML 6-70, LM 3-35.