LAKE MILLS — What a way to culminate the season.
Lake Mills and Lakeside Lutheran had already clashed to the tune of a 24-21 double overtime decision for the Warriors last month.
The second-seeded Lake Mills football team evened the score, defeating top-seeded Lakeside Lutheran 21-19 in a WIAA Division 3 regional championship game at LLHS on Thursday.
The L-Cats and their 11 seniors finish the season 7-2, having won four straight since the Oct. 23 setback versus the Warriors.
"It's an insane feeling having lost to them earlier in the season to come away with a win," Lake Mills senior quarterback Adam Moen said. "This was two great teams going at it. It's an amazing feeling to come out with a win.
"Coming out with two wins in the playoffs, you can't ask for anything more. Them letting us play these two games in the middle of a pandemic is a blessing."
Moen went 22-for-34 for 239 with three touchdowns passes, hitting senior receiver Jaxson Retrum on a three-yard fade route in the back of the end zone to make it 21-7 with 2 minutes, 21 seconds left in the third quarter.
Lakeside (6-1) had no intentions of going quietly, blocking a punt and returning it to the seven-yard line. Senior quarterback Nathan Chesterman ran it in on the next play, but an errant snap led to the point after try being botched and the Warriors faced with a 21-13 deficit with 8:10 left.
After forcing a turnover on downs, the Warriors had it at their own 26 with 2:53 left and a pair of timeouts.
Chesterman, who finished with 14-for-23 for 162 yards, engineered an efficient drive that was capped by senior wideout Tersony Vater making an 18-yard touchdown grab near the back pylon with 46 seconds left. The two-point conversion try was batted down at the line and L-Cat junior Michael Stenbroten recovered the onside kick to seal it.
"I'm just getting off the line, look back at my quarterback and see the linemen blocking for him," Vater said of the touchdown. "Chesterman is in the pocket and throws it to me and I make a catch. I couldn't have done it without the line and Chesterman throwing the ball."
Both sides were grateful for the chance to compete this fall.
"We're playing a cross-town rival, but if we're playing anybody to allow these guys to be able to play right now in the times we're dealing with is special," Lake Mills football coach Tyler Huber said. "For the seniors to be able to do this and be out there is great. Five and 10 years down the road they have those memories. Some players and teams aren't able to have them right now. To be able to give them that. There's no words."
"We have a good bunch of kids, a close-knit bunch," Lakeside Lutheran football coach Paul Bauer added. "You can tell by how they're responding tonight, they just don't want it to end. I think Lake Mills is going through the same thing. That's another great group of seniors. We had fun, you hate to see it end. Give Lake Mills a ton of credit they played a great game tonight."
Each side dropped a catchable ball that would resulted in a touchdown on their first drives.
Vater, who finished with seven catches for 102 yards, had a catch-and-run of 24 yards to push it inside the L-Cat 40 late in the first quarter. A holding penalty wiped away a 15-yard reception by senior tight end John O'Donnell. Three players later, senior Christian Schmidt's punt bounced out of bounds at the three-yard line.
Junior wideout Michael Stenbroten had a grab of 34 yards before senior receiver Charlie Bender picked up eight. A holding call put the L-Cats behind the sticks before Moen completed a pass to Retrum and ran it for a yard, setting up 4th and 1 from the Lakeside 31.
Moen had good protection and launched a deep ball to Bender near the right pylon for a 31-yard TD to break a scoreless tie with 7:57 left in the second quarter.
"That was supposed to be a hitch," Moen said. "I told Charlie to run a go because they had been playing the hitches. It worked out for us perfectly."
Lake Mills junior defensive lineman David Bruce got a hand on a third-down pass by Chesterman to force a punt next.
L-Cat sophomore tailback JP Rugig gained 19 yards on the first play of the ensuing series before senior tailback Charlie Cassady ran it for 25. Moen then threw deep and incomplete to Stenbroten on fourth down.
Lakeside senior tailback Micah Cody slipped a tackler on a 22-yard grab to put it inside the 30 with 1:25 left in the half. The Warriors had a false start on 3rd down and 6 before throwing incomplete throw to give it back to Moen and Co. at the 29 with 1:00 left.
Retrum had three catches on the next drive, none bigger than a 25-yard grab with 2.2 seconds left on 3rd and 4 that took it to the Warrior 3. Moen faked a handoff to Cassady before going over the top to Stenbroten for a three-yard score as time expired, pushing the lead to 14.
"We had to come out with some confidence offensively and I think we did that," Cassady said. "When we needed big yards we were able to get them."
The L-Cats went three-and-out to start the third quarter and a short punt by Moen ricocheted out of bounds at the LM 29.
A Lake Mills facemask penalty extended the drive before Chesterman barreled up the middle for a nice gain to the six-yard line. Cody scored a few plays later on a two-yard scamper to cut the deficit to seven.
The L-Cats put together a 5-minute, 22-second drive to promptly answer with Retrum's two-yard score. Cassady set up the scoring chance with a gain of 31 on a 3rd and 2 play from the Warrior 33.
A third-down sack by Retrum forced a punt, which Stenbroten brought back to the LM 45 early in the fourth.
Lakeside got the stop they needed and once again special teams came through with a massive play, blocking Moen's punt and returning it inside the 10. Chesterman's TD made it a one-score game.
Lake Mills, leading 21-13, bled off 5:10 of the clock with a drive that started at the Lakeside 40 after a kick return by Stenbroten.
On a 3rd and 1 play with 4:40 remaining from the Warrior 28, Moen ran it on a QB keeper and was so close to the first-down line that the officiating crew (a la Gene Steratore in a Cowboys-Raiders Sunday night game in 2017) required a notecard to see if the chains should move. Since the notecard wouldn't fit between the chains and the football, a new set of downs was granted.
Moen threw incomplete three times to give the Warriors new life and ample time, needing to go 74 yards in less than three minutes.
"They did that to us in the last meeting, we had them down 14 at their place and came back to tie it up," Bauer said. "We got the stop and the score. Got ourselves back into it and they answered. It took a big play on a punt block to get us back into it again in a one-score game. Proud as can be of my kids. They didn't quit. Near the end they got another stop. Put together a drive and it came down to an extra point."
Sophomore Levi Birkholz sparked the ensuing series, picking up 26 on a short completion on the second play.
Vater made an over-the-shoulder catch for 14 yards that moved it to the 30 with 1:15 remaining. Chesterman then picked up a first down on a rush, immediately hurrying to the line to spike it with 1:02 left at the 24.
Vater nearly came up with a deep ball in one-on-one coverage on second down before L-Cat senior linebacker Grant Horkan applied pressure, forcing a third-down incompletion.
Vater redeemed himself with the TD grab on 4th down and 10 before the two-point try could not be executed.
"They had to make a play and we made it," Huber said. "It seems like there's just chaos on situations like that on our end and there end. Fortunately enough this time around we were able to make a play there and coming away with a win."
"There's always some nervousness," Moen added of the final drive. "They are a great team so of course they are going to move the ball. I had trust in our defense and knew we could get it done."
Lake Mills' senior class played a hand in the school's first Capitol Conference crown since 1988 last year, went 4-1 in playoff games the last two seasons and compiled a 17-4 record dating back to 2019, which included a 10-game win streak.
"All those (senior) guys have a special place in my heart," Moen said. "No matter what after high school whatever it comes down to, they will always be in my heart. I know I can trust them with anything if it comes down to a jump ball, I know they are going to go get it. I'm so lucky to have them. I'm so lucky to have the rest of the senior class, I couldn't have a better family than this football team."
"It took me a couple of days to figure out when I first came into the program what kind of senior class we have," Huber added. "They work hard on a daily basis. We talk about pound the stone and one percent better each day. They truly resemble that message. They'll be missed. It's a great group. I can't say in words how I feel about those guys. For a lack of better terms, it's an outstanding group of kids."
In the first edition of the Slider Bowl, the teams combined for five turnovers. Both sides were turnover-free in this one.
"A big thing was offensively we needed to take care of the football," Huber said. "I thought we did a good job of that tonight. When you take care of the football and win the turnover battle there's a good chance you are going to be in the game at the end there.
"Kids made plays when they needed to make plays. I trusted them to make plays when they were called. That's all you can ask for. Big-time players make big time-plays in big-times games and we did that."
Lakeside ran it 29 times for 87 yards, four weeks after amassing 261 rushing yards in the first meeting.
"We all had to do our job," Cassady said of defensive keys. "It's a triple option team so if one man doesn't do his job they are going to break for big yards. I think we all came in here knowing the importance of everyone doing your job, and we did it."
Moen, a season after setting a new state record for combined passing and rushing yardage, eclipsed 10,000 scrimmage yards last week. He was second statewide in passing yards with 2,326, seventh with 24 touchdown passes and fourth in average yards a game with 258 in 2020.
Retrum, who had nine catches for 95 yards, finished the campaign fifth in the state with 55 catches, fifth in yards receiving with 889 and tied for eighth with 11 TDs.
The L-Cat seniors hope they left behind a sense of resiliency.
"I hope we left the message for the younger players to not give up and bring the energy we need to win a game," Moen said.
"I hope we encouraged the underclassmen to work hard and be inspired to get to this point again and maybe make it to Camp Randall next year," Cassady added.
Lakeside Lutheran's seniors were around for the program's first and only Level 4 birth in 2018 before making it to Level 3 last season, compiling a 24-8 record since in the last three years.
"I don't know if you count this year as playoffs, some of those guys had seven playoff games under their belts," Bauer said. "They responded in the after season. There were a lot of years we made the playoffs and would be one-and-done. I'm proud of them to have the mindset to go somewhere when you go to the playoffs."
Cody finished the season with 75 carries for 759 yards, scoring 11 times and averaging 108 yards a game.
Some of these Warriors have been on the gridiron together since fourth grade.
"It's a crazy bond, I cant even explain it," Vater said of Lakeside's senior class. "I've been playing with some of these guys since fourth grade, it's insane. Some of us live an hour-and-a-half away from each other and we still travel into Lake Mills to play football together. We pick on each other, we fight, we're brothers and I love these guys.
"I love every single one of these guys (returning next year) and I hope they go after it next year. I wish nothing but the best for them. Our group of seniors will always be a part of Warrior football. Once a Warrior, always a Warrior."
LAKE MILLS 21,
LAKESIDE LUTHERAN 19
Lake Mills 0 14 7 0 — 21
Lakeside Lutheran 0 0 7 12 — 19
LM: Bender 31 pass from Moen (Lund kick), 7:57
LM: Michael Stenbroten 3 pass from Moen (Lund kick), 0:00
LL: Cody 2 run (J. Schmidt kick), 7:43
LM: Retrum 3 pass from Moen (Lund kick), 2:21
LL: Chesterman 7 run (pass failed), 8:10
LL: Vater 18 pass from Chesterman (pass failed), 46.2 seconds left.
First downs — LM 18, LL 14.
Rushing (Att.-Yds.) — LM 29-153; LL 29-87.
Passing yards — LM 239; LL 162.
Passes (Comp.-Att.-Int.-TDs) — LM 22-34-0-3; LL 14-24-0-1.
Penalties-yards — LM 6-62; LL 3-30.
Fumbles-lost — LM 0-0; LL 0-0.
Rushing — LM: C. Cassady 11-69, Moen 13-60; LL: Chesterman 20-47, Cody 9-40.
Passing — LM: Moen 22-34-0-239; LL: Chesterman 14-23-0-162.
Receiving — LM: Retrum 9-95, Michael Stenbroten 5-65; LL: Vater 7-102.