The script got flipped, and so did the battle for field position.
Eliminating most of the mistakes of the first half, the Lake Mills High School football team rallied for a 27-20 homecoming win Friday over Lodi in a key Capitol Conference battle.
What was it that turned things around?
“A little butt chewing at halftime,” said L-Cats’ head coach Tyler Huber, with a laugh.
With the victory, Lake Mills improved to 5-1 in conference play and 6-2 overall, while the Blue Devils fell to 6-2 overall and 4-2 in the Capitol Conference.
The L-Cats trailed 20-7 at the half, after committing a majority of their 10 penalties on the night. A fumble also led to one of Lodi’s scores.
It was a different story in the second half, as Lake Mills’ passing game started to click.
Caden Belling threw for three total touchdowns on the night, the first coming on a 15-yard pass to JP Rguig that put the L-Cats up 7-0 in the opening quarter, following the extra-point kick by KC Hagedorn.
Lodi responded immediately, as Blue Devils quarterback Keegan Fleischman raced 70 yards to paydirt. Chandler Curtis kicked the extra point to tie things up.
Starting drives deep inside their own territory, with officials’ calls going against them, the L-Cats’ offense stalled in the second quarter, and Lodi pulled ahead. Fleischman connected with Preston Nichols on a 26-yard touchdown pass for the Blue Devils, and Lodi’s Jaylen Montgomery plowed in from 4 yards out just before halftime to make it 20-7.
The L-Cats’ defense was stifling in the second half, holding Lodi to 17 yards of offense. Lake Mills limited Lodi to 170 total yards and just five first downs. It didn’t help that the Blue Devils continuously faced long fields on offense. A Lake Mills punt pinned them down inside their own 10-yard line for their first offensive series of the half. The Blue Devils’ starting field position didn’t get much better from there.
“It was an uphill battle,” said Lodi Head Coach David Puls.
Lake Mills trimmed the deficit to 20-14 in the third quarter on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Belling to Rguig, who had seven catches for a team-high 56 receiving yards.
Belling continued to pick the Lodi defense apart, sailing a 30-yard scoring strike to Matthew Stenbroten down the sideline midway through the fourth quarter to put the L-Cats on top 21-20, after the extra-point kick.
Meanwhile, Lodi’s offense was stuck.
“Really, it just came down to not being able to take advantage of situations,” said Puls. “Some things we let slip away. I told the kids it was not for lack of heart or hustle. We just had some big plays that we missed out on … the kids played hard. They played their butts off and played with effort and enthusiasm. We just didn’t do the technical things we needed to do to win the game.”
A 9-yard touchdown run by Ben Buchholtz provided some insurance late for Lake Mills. The try for a two-point conversion failed, however, leaving Lodi one last chance. But it wasn’t to be for the Blue Devils.
Belling completed 23-of-28 passes for 145 yards, while Carson Lund led the L-Cats in rushing with 37 yards on nine carries. Matthew Stenbroten finished with five catches, totaling 48 receiving yards. Buchholtz registered 15 tackles and a pair of second-half sacks.
For Lodi, Fleischman threw for 61 yards and rushed for 73 yards, while Nichols totaled three catches for 30 receiving yards.
Patience helped the L-Cats with their comeback.
“We have an extremely resilient group. We’ve got great leadership from the top down,” said Huber. “Our group of seniors is unbelievable, and we truly believe we haven’t played our best football yet.”
Lake Mills extends its win streak to five games and has trailed in the second half of four of those contests.
The L-Cats, who are tied with Columbus in the conference race, can clinch a share of the league title with a win versus Horicon/Hustisford on Senior Night this week.
LAKE MILLS 27, LODI 20
Lodi 7 13 0 0 — 20
Lake Mills 7 0 7 13 — 27
LM — Rguig 15 pass from Belling (Hagedorn kick)
LO — Fleischman 70 run (Curtis kick)
LO — Nichols 26 pass from Fleishman (kick failed)
LO — Montgomery 4 run (Curtis kick)
LM — Rguig 3 pass from Belling (Hagedorn kick)
LM — Ma. Stenbroten 30 pass from Belling (Hagedorn kick)
LM — Buchholtz 8 run (conversion failed)
First downs: LO 3, LM 11; Rushing attempts-yards: LO 16-121, LM 24-73; Passing yards: LO 61, LM 145; Fumbles-fumbles lost: LO 1-1, LM 1-1; Penalties-yardage: LO 10-85, LM 10-80.