LAKE MILLS — Eleven L-Cats were honored on Senior Night, and each wrote down a favorite football memory which the announcer read aloud as Lake Mills hosted Watertown on Friday night.
Beating Lakeside Lutheran last season? Sure.
Ending Lodi’s conference winning streak in the Mud Bowl? Solid choice.
Charlie Bender had a good one: Being part of the program’s first conference championship team in 31 years.
Adam Moen and Jaxson Retrum used the opportunity to tease Charlie Cassady.
“Adam’s favorite football memory is Charlie Cassady getting trucked by a freshman,” the announcer said. “Jaxson’s favorite football memory is also Charlie getting trucked by a freshman.”
From Cassady’s perspective, that may have been overstating things. Moen admitted Cassady tripped during the incident and has never let him live it down.
“The truck story? That’s an interesting one,” Cassady said. “I didn’t really get trucked. I’m sure they’ve all made mistakes in practice.”
Cassady and the L-Cats did plenty of trucking in the game. The senior running back rushed 11 times for 132 yards and accounted for two scores as Lake Mills defeated Watertown 49-24.
First year head coach Tyler Huber’s commitment to offensive balance was on full display. The L-Cats ran it 34 times for 232 yards and five touchdowns. Senior quarterback Adam Moen had three of those rushing scores also completed 10 of 16 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns to lead Lake Mills (3-1) to victory in its first home game of the season.
“Coming into the season, we had a lot of athletes, a lot of kids, and there’s only one football,” Huber said. “We’ve got probably eight to ten of them that can make a play at any moment, so for tonight, sometimes it’s a running back’s night and sometimes, it’s a receiver’s night. We’ve got a lot of receivers that can definitely play. In order to score points, you can throw, but in order to win championships, you have to run the football as well. That’s what we are trying to establish this year. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of doing that, but we can always get better, for sure.”
Watertown (2-2) had hopes of matching Lake Mills score for score in a shootout, and the Goslings were only out-gained 454-393. Despite moving the ball well in the first half, they failed twice on fourth down attempts and also gave up a sack on a third-and-short.
They took the opening drive to midfield before a fourth-and-5 pass came up a yard shy of the sticks. Lake Mills took over at its own 46 and scored the first points of the night by springing Cassady for a 30-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead with 7 minutes, 51 seconds left in the first quarter.
“We do some pin and pull stuff,” Huber said. “We like to get him on the edge, especially if they have the alignment that we like. It turned out well and he was able to knock it in there.”
Watertown answered with a 72-yard scoring drive. Junior quarterback Caleb Huff completed two passes for 68 yards on the series, including 57-yard pass to junior Nathan Kehl where Kehl took a quick throw on an arrow route and slipped a tackle for a big play to the Lake Mills 5-yard line. Huff plowed in from 1 yard out to tie the game with 5:54 left in the first quarter.
“We decided to go with Caleb (starting) with his dual threat ability,” Watertown football coach Benji Kamrath said. “We took our other quarterback Nathan Kehl and put him at slot receiver. They both played defense the whole time. We knew we had to put our best athletes on the field to match up with them. I thought they both did a good job.”
Sophomore JP Rugig returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards, but the score was wiped out by a holding penalty. Lake Mills still reached the red zone, but the drive stalled when Moen was sacked twice. Junior linebacker Marcus Norman got in on both plays, sharing sacks with senior linebackers Dylan Sippel and Eli Adrian.
“I thought from a physicality standpoint, up front, we did an excellent job,” Huber said. “We had a little bit of trouble with 51 (Norman) getting in on the defensive line for them. He had a motor and was he running in and playing hard all game.”
Lake Mills responded in kind when junior Ryan Grossman sacked Huff on a third-and-3 play at midfield to force a Watertown punt.
The L-Cats marched 81 yards in seven plays to take the lead. Cassady picked up 46 yards on an inside zone run. Moen capped the drive with a 6-yard run and Lake Mills led 14-7 with 8:02 left in the half.
“I like to run the ball,” Cassady said. “It’s fun. It’s a nice change of pace (from the spread attack we ran the last two seasons). Our linemen can get great blocks. Our big boys can block.”
Moen agreed. He added 70 rushing yards on 19 carries.
“It feels amazing,” Moen said. “We have two seniors, Josh Lescohier and Tyler Theder, on our front line able to give good blocks. We have an excellent running back, Charlie Cassady, able to read blocks and get yardage. It’s a lot different than last year, but I like it a lot. (When there’s) cold weather, that’s where you’ve got to start running the ball. It’s harder to throw, so just win it on the ground.”
Watertown threatened from there. Junior running back Taylor Walter busted a trap play for 26 yards and a pass interference penalty moved the Goslings just outside the red zone. But the drive stalled when Huff overshot senior receiver Jackson Wehner twice in the end zone when the Goslings needed just three yards to extend the possession.
Lake Mills made that hurt with a 79-yard drive. Moen was 3-of-4 for 62 yards, finding Bender for 23 yards before Cassady took a screen pass 28 yards to the house to put the L-Cats up 21-7 with 31 seconds left in the half.
The Goslings had just enough time to set up senior Branden Fischer’s 40-yard field goal in the closing seconds. Huff’s boot wheel pass to Walter went for 46 yards and two plays later, Fischer’s kick just cleared the crossbar.
Watertown spent of the rest of the game chasing points in vain. A holding penalty put Lake Mills in a first-and-20 from its own 10 to start the second half. That’s when Moen went looking for Retrum, who won a jump ball at midfield and kept his feet for a 90-yard score to push the lead to 28-10 just 26 seconds into the third quarter.
“It’s nice always having (Jaxson) as a last resort if needed,” Moen said. “He’s an excellent receiver. He always has been one of my top targets.”
The Goslings trimmed the lead to 28-17 with 4:15 left in the third quarter. Huff gained 30 yards off an outside zone run on fourth-and-1 at midfield, and Walter broke tackles on a 22-yard TD run.
Moen went right back to Retrum for 24 yards on the next series. Junior Michael Stenbroten finished the drive on the jet sweep with a 19-yard TD run to put Lake Mills up 35-17 with 27 seconds left in the quarter.
Stenbroten struck again in the fourth quarter, tracking down a punt 10 yards behind him and turning it into a 56-yard return. Moen scored from 7 yards out to push the lead to 42-17 with 6:09 remaining.
Huff threw a 34-yard TD pass to senior Brian Kronquist for Watertown’s final points. Moen capped the scoring with a 1-yard plunge in the closing seconds.
Several teams around the state were primed for deep playoff runs, and Lake Mills was no exception. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced participating teams to settle for a 7-game regular season schedule and nothing more, but it’s far better than not playing at all.
“We’ve been talking to the boys every single day and every single week and giving them a reminder, not to take anything for granted, because there’s teams right now and coaches that are sitting on their couch watching the live streams of us playing,” Huber said. “So for us to even have an opportunity to step out here and the kids being able to have shoulder pads and helmets on, and I can throw a headset on for a Friday night, I can’t complain at all.”
Neither can Cassady or Moen.
“I’m just glad we can get out here and play this year,” Cassady said.
“It’s nice actually being able to have a season now,” Moen added. “Earlier, when everything was delayed, we didn’t know if we were going to end up having a season or not. Yeah, it’s not a complete season with playoffs and state, but I am happy we are actually able to get out and play a little bit and show what we’ve got at Lake Mills. I am grateful having everyone on my team with great seniors.”
This weird season works much better for a team like Watertown’s, which is loaded with juniors looking ahead to what hopefully will be a normal season in 2021. The Goslings were in for a challenging matchup against a veteran team coming into this one.
“On film, they did a good job the first three games,” Kamrath said. “They run a counter trey where they pull the guard and tackle. They run a QB power play where they fake outside zone and the QB keeps it. Sometimes, it was just not executing the defense correctly. A few times, it was just their athlete being a little better than our guy winning the one on one where we missed tackles. We had to try to pick our poison there. We were playing some zone coverage and didn’t want to get beat over the top, because if you get one-on-one with one of those receivers, they are going to get you deep as you saw when we did do that.
“So then we had to force a smaller number in the box and we put some kids in some tough situations and they did a good job. After the game, we thought they were more physical up front than we anticipated. I thought they did a good job on both sides of the ball. I thought it was a really good game. It just came down to, in the end, I thought their athletes made a few more plays to get up on us early. Probably should have been a tie game or maybe us even being up at halftime. Instead, they were up and we dug ourselves a hole and we were trying to overcome that the whole time.
“We had some third downs and some fourth downs we just didn’t convert. We just didn’t execute. We missed a slant and go for a touchdown. We had to get rid of it a little early because we had a protection breakdown. Their D line was really good. I thought we had opportunities. We’ll watch on film. I thought we were pretty even across the board. I mean, 18 (Retrum) and 1 (Stenbroten) and 6 (Moen), those guys are electric, and they are a year older than our athletes. We’re going to get there, but we also made plenty of mistakes and that’s what ultimately cost us the game.
“We had some long down and distances, too, that were tough to overcome. There’s time where on special teams, everybody else let that ball go, and (Stenbroten) just beat three guys, because he was a better athlete. I’ve got to give them credit. They did a good job. We won a lot more plays than we lost. But we gave up too many big plays or we didn’t take advantage of the big plays when we needed to and that’s what cost us the game. I think the score is a lot closer than it shows. I know we’re a really good team and we’re still relatively young. We’ll just keep getting better and move forward and look forward to our next game.”
Sippel led Watertown’s defense with 10 tackles. Walter and Norman each had seven while Kronquist and Adrian each had five.
Next Friday, Lake Mills hosts Lakeside Lutheran while Watertown travels to face Reedsburg.
LAKE MILLS 49, WATERTOWN 24
Watertown 7 3 7 7 — 24
Lake Mills 7 14 14 14 — 49
First downs 13 18
By rush 4 11
By pass 7 6
By penalty 2 0
Yards rushing (att-yds.) 27-138 34-232
Yards passing 255 222
Attempts 33 16
Completions 15 10
Had intercepted 0 0
Total yards 393 454
Penalties, yards 4-25 5-55
Fumbles, lost 0-0 1-0
LM —Cassady 30 run (Levake kick)
W — Huff 1 run (Fischer kick)
LM — Moen 6 run (Levake kick)
LM — Cassady 28 pass from Moen (Levake kick)
W — Fischer 40 FG
LM — Retrum 90 pass from Moen (Levake kick)
W — Walter 22 run (Fischer kick)
LM — Stenbroten 19 run (Levake kick)
LM — Moen 7 run (Levake kick)
W — Kronquist 34 pass from Huff (Fischer kick)
SP — Moen 1 run (Levake kick)
Individual stats — Watertown passing Huff 14-32-225, rushing Walter 4-52, Huff 15-45, receiving Walter 2-79, Kehl 5-67, Meyers 3-31
Lake Mills passing Moen 10-16-222; rushing, Cassady 11-132, Moen 19-70; receiving Retrum 4-138, Cassady 2-42