WAUKESHA - The L-Cats made history this season.
The team won it's first Capitol Conference title since 1988, multiple playoff victories were earned on the new field at Lake Mills High, junior quarterback Adam Moen set the state record for most combined passing and rushing yards with 4,477 and seniors receivers Matt Johnson and Hunter Buechel both had 1,000-yard seasons.
The season ended Friday as the second-seeded Lake Mills football team fell to top-seeded Catholic Memorial 47-14 at Carroll University's Schneider Stadium in a WIAA Division 4 Level 3 game.
The L-Cats (10-2) saw their 10-game win streak snapped as the defending Division 3 state champion Crusaders built a 28-14 halftime edge. Catholic Memorial (10-2) scored 19 unanswered in the second half to advance to take on River Valley, who beat Lakeside Lutheran 28-14, at Big Foot next week.
"They were able to pound the ball on us. They would pound the ball on us a couple of plays and then took that their shots deep and a some of them worked," Johnson said. "They got good field position and were able to pound that rock. They were really effective. They have a big line, some good running backs and an athletic quarterback. They are a great team, have to give respect to them. We knew it was going to be tough coming in. We know we played our hearts out so we're happy we gave everything we had."
Lake Mills junior quarterback Adam Moen threw two first-half interceptions, including one in the end zone on a throw intended for junior receiver Charlie Bender that got picked by senior defensive back Daniel Fynaardt.
"Even into the third quarter, we moved the ball. That wasn't the issue. We made mistakes and that cost us touchdowns," Lake Mills football coach Dan Ferkovich said. "They dropped another safety deep which opened up a little more underneath. Adam is smart, we adjusted and guys sat. He made plays and scrambled like he had to because their defensive line was big and they gave us some rush. I think our five kept that at bay enough that we were able to deliver the ball. Our receivers made great catches tonight. Throws weren't exactly perfect but that's alright. Adam threw for a good amount of yards tonight. I thought the offense did well, couldn't ask for more. Obviously if we could have that play back where we threw the interception in the end zone we'd love to because that would have made it a different game at that point."
The L-Cats went three-and-out to start the game before senior quarterback Luke Fox connected with junior wideout Alex Oechsner for a 69-yard score on a screen pass, the Crusaders' second offensive play.
Buechel had a first down reception and Johnson caught a 28-yard pass across the middle to put the L-Cats in business. Moen's next pass ricocheted off the shoulder pads of Catholic Memorial's Langston Latham before Joe Sikma came away with the interception.
The Crusaders picked up a couple first downs before running back Obacoso Allen was stuffed on a 3rd and 5 rush by L-Cat freshman linebacker Ben Buchholtz.
Moen completed a 38-yard deep ball to junior receiver Jaxson Retrum before threading the needle to Buechel for a 25-yard gain. Feynaardt then undercut Moen's pass in the end zone, giving Fox and company the ball back.
Fox hit Sikma, who beat two defenders on the play, for 47 yards to the L-Cat 23-yard line. Feynaardt then caught a 6-yard score on 4th and 5, the first play of the second quarter, pushing the lead to 14-0.
The L-Cats had an answer though. Moen scrambled on 3rd down for a 15-yard chain-moving gain before hitting Buechel for a 23-yard play. Sophomore receiver Michael Stenbroten's grab set up a red zone chance. Johnson bulldozed defender Charlie Jarvis on his way in for a 13-yard receiving score to make it 14-7 with 7:35 left in the second.
Allen, who rushed for 206 yards, reeled off a 27-yard run, bouncing it to the outside before Fox scrambled out of the pocket for a nice gain that reached the Lake Mills 12. Oechsner hauled in his second of three touchdowns, this one from 12 yards away, a play later, pushing the lead to 21-7.
Johnson had a catch-and-run for a first down before Buechel made a nice snag on the sideline for a 12-yard gain, putting it in Crusader territory. Moen bought a little time in the pocket before launching a 35-yard pass to Bender, who made the leaping grab at the 3 with Jarvis in tight coverage. The drive was extended by a Catholic Memorial holding call in the end zone on third down. With the fresh set of downs, Moen scampered in from two yards out to make it 21-14 with 1:39 before half.
The Crusaders needed only 58 seconds to put up a matching score. Allen flipped to Oechsner on a reverse for 29 yards before 6-foot-5, 245-pound tight end Cole Dakovich got in on the action, catching a 17-yard pass. Allen scored from five yards out as the Crusaders led by 14 at the break.
"He picked apart our zone a little more then I was hoping," Ferkovich said of Fox. "They ran the ball to the outside a little more then I was hoping. We missed tackles, usually we are pretty good at tackling, and we missed more then we should have. Those tackles led to big chunk plays in the run game. It wore us down. Fox was able to stay in the pocket, we couldn't get pressure. Nobody could get any pressure on him (this season). He's a great athlete too, when he takes off running things are going to happen. He did a great job of running their offense, delivering the ball and making throws. They were able to run the ball and their offense clicked, too."
The Crusaders got it to start the second half and put together a 15-play scoring drive capped for Fox's 15-yard touchdown rush. Allen converted a 4th and 2 from the Lake Mills 32 earlier in the drive and Catholic Memorial was able to overcome their second holding call of the game that wiped away a touchdown by senior tight end Ben Kreul.
Moen underthrew junior receiver Jaxson Retrum on a deep sideline route that Oechsner intercepted midway through the third. Three players later, Allen scored from 56 yards out, pushing the score to 41-14 after Fox's kick missed.
Oechsner caught a 6-yard scoring pass early in the fourth for the final margin.
Moen was under pressure especially in the second half but hung in and made throws with pass rushers hitting him as the ball was getting released.
"When team's bring pressure, Menomonie did that to us too (in week 1), it's hard to throw a very accurate throw," Ferkovich said. "This is the first time (with Adam) as a starting quarterback we were this deep in the playoffs. This is a big stage and it's hard to perform at that level and he did, the entire team did. If we get back here next year, he can reflect upon this. This isn't an ordinary opponent. It's an opportunity, we weren't going to shy away from it. I don't think we played scared or afraid and we didn't back down. We battled. In the end, we were outmanned and that's nothing to be ashamed of."
Johnson, who caught four passes for 65 yards, doesn't feel all that far removed from first stepping onto the field as a freshman.
"It flew by so fast. It's truly an amazing experience," Johnson said. "I got put in a perfect situation where I could make the best out of myself and show who I am. I just worked hard all four years. It felt like yesterday I was a little freshman running around with the big seniors. It truly has been an amazing experience, something I will never forget.
"I'm just proud of everyone, I truly think this is one the greatest Lake Mills teams we have put together. It just hasn't hit me yet that's over. I'm sure it will hit me tomorrow, but I'm just proud of everyone. It was an amazing season."
Buechel can remember some of his early days as an L-Cat, learning from guys like Hayden Iverson, who was amongst state catch leaders in 2016.
"It's been amazing, something I will never forget," Buechel said of his career. "All the memories, all the fun we've had and all the bad times we've had. When I got here as a freshman, that senior group here really set the standard for us. They got me to where I am today. It's just amazing to be an L-Cat."
"They had great leaders ahead of them," Ferkovich added of Buechel and Johnson. "They had Hayden in front of them and watched his work ethic and what he was able to do in breaking the state record for touchdown receptions. Once they saw the lifting was going to help them, they started lifting hard. Now it takes multiple guys to take either one of them down. If you go one-on-one, they are going to break tackles and make big plays. I'm hoping the younger guys see that, and we have so many young guys, that if they can get to that level of work ethic, we are always going to be tough to stop. I'm hoping their influence lasts for a long time."
Johnson will have plenty of in-game highlights to reflect upon from his years playing for Lake Mills. Memories on the practice field will cherished as well.
"Just going to practice everyday and having fun. It didn't feel like it was a responsibility. I never really dreaded going to practice," Johnson said. "I just looked at as opportunity where I could let go of everything else going on and have fun with teammates and coaches. It was a loose environment where everyone was having fun, I loved that. I made some of my best memories on the practice field out on those 7 a.m. practices just being with all my friends and teammates. That's truly the best thing that I'll remember is just all those little memories put together that I'll never forget."
There's plenty of great moments for Buechel, who caught eight passes for 112 yards, too.
"It's just the memories we've made together. We have fun whether we are winning or losing, we have fun out here," he said. "It's just amazing to be out with here with the team we have."
Lake Mills' senior class that also includes linemen David Klein and Kyle Templin as well as receiver Mike Sehmer left its mark on the program.
"You can't say enough about any of our seniors," Ferkovich said. "Even the ones that didn't play as much as those guys just being here everyday, working hard and being a role model for those younger kids. They are great leaders, great kids and great people."
Buechel finished the season with 1,222 receiving yards on 78 catches. He had 2,176 yards on 141 catches with 22 receiving scores for in his three-year varsity career.
Johnson had 82 catches for 1,108 yards in 2019. He had 2,134 yards, catching 132 passes, 25 of which were for scores, over three varsity campaigns.
That kind of production won't easily be replaced.
"Their attitude, work ethic, toughness, willingness to sacrifice, ability to play multiple positions and athleticism," Ferkovich said of what the senior pass-catching duo brought to the table every day. "They both went over 1,000 yards for the season, 2,000 for their careers. They led us to huge victories this season. Tonight they played tough, showed out there they could play with anyone. They have great things ahead of them."
Moen finished the season with 3,517 passing yards, throwing 39 touchdowns. He ran for 960 yards and scored 21 times on the ground in his first full season as signal-caller. Moen's 60 total touchdowns responsible for are thought to be the second most in state history, behind the 65 Cedar Grove-Belgium's Josh Weiss had in 2016. Moen surpassed Weiss's combined yardage clip of 4,234 also from 2016.
Moen also broke Ben Dunkleberger's single-game school passing record by throwing for 470 yards against Columbus.
This was a loose group that enjoyed each other. They had plenty to celebrate during a historic season of Lake Mills football.
"We've had good teams, we've been 10-2 before. This is the third time we've been to quarterfinals," Ferkovich said. "This is probably the most fun I've had. This was history. Adam was making history, our receivers were making history. We won the (Capitol North) conference for the first time.
"Our guys all season have been loose. They have fun, not too serious and not too uptight but not too goofy where it becomes a distraction. It was just the right temperament. It was great everyday to be there. It's always fun, Lake Mills has great kids and we keep getting great kids coming through. That's why it's a joy to coach here."
CATHOLIC MEMORIAL 47, LAKE MILLS 14
Lake Mills 0 14 0 0 - 14
Catholic M. 7 21 13 6 - 47
CM - Oechsner 69 pass from Fox (Fox kick)
CM - Fynaardt 6 pass from Fox (Fox kick)
LM - Johnson 12 pass from Moen (Ciesiolka kick)
CM - Oechsner 12 pass from Fox (Fox kick)
LM - Moen 2 run (Ciesiolka kick)
CM - Allen 5 run (Fox kick)
CM - Fox 15 run (Fox kick)
CM - Allen 56 run (kick failed)
CM - Oechsner 6 pass from Fox (run failed)
Total yards LM 411, CM 546. Rushing (att.-yds.) LM 26-103, CM 32-266. Fumbles, lost LM 1-1, CM 1-0. First downs LM 20, CM 21. Penalties-yards LM 2-14, CM 3-31.
Passing (comp.-att.-yds.-tds.-ints.) - LM Moen 22-36-308-1-3; CM Fox 15-23-280-4-0.
Rushing (att.-yds.-tds.) - LM Moen 9-44-1, D. Johnson 8-26-0. CM Allen 24-206-2.
Receiving (catch-yds.-tds.) - LM Buechel 8-112-0, M. Johnson 4-65-1, Bender 1-41-0, Retrum 1-38-0. CM Oechsner 7-124-3, Fynaardt 4-79-1, Sikma 3-58-0.