Prep football preview: This could be Lakeside Lutheran’s year to unseat Lodi atop the Capitol North
CAPITOL NORTH CONFERENCE
Regular season, overall: Lodi 5-0, 14-0; Lake Mills 4-1, 10-2; Lakeside Lutheran 3-2, 6-4; Watertown Luther Prep 2-3, 5-4; Columbus 1-4, 2-7; Poynette 0-5, 2-7.
WIAA Division 4 playoffs: Lodi defeated St. Croix Central in the state championship; Lake Mills advanced to quarterfinals, losing to Lodi; Lakeside Lutheran lost in the first round.
RETURNING ALL-CONFERENCE PLAYERS
Offense: Will DeNoyer, sr., wide receiver, Lakeside Lutheran; Zachary Gregorius, sr., tight end, Watertown Luther Prep; Caleb Raymond, sr., offensive lineman, Lakeside Lutheran; Harley Jones, sr., offensive lineman, Lake Mills.
Defense: Casey Ponyicsanyi, sr., inside linebacker, Lakeside Lutheran; Skyler See, sr., defensive tackle, Poynette; Harley Jones, sr., defensive end, Lake Mills.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Will DeNoyer, 6-1, 180, sr., WR, Lakeside Lutheran: DeNoyer was named first-team all-conference and is the only returning player to record a reception last season for the Warriors. With a full year of experience with returning quarterback Jack Monis, DeNoyer will have a chance to build on a strong junior year.
Austin Soehle, 5-9, 155, sr., LB, Lodi: After Lodi lost lost the majority of its defensive stalwarts, Soehle will be asked to take on an even bigger role after totaling 68 tackles (12 for loss), 2½ sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception as a junior.
Trent Casper, 6-3, 185, sr., WR, Columbus: Casper is a talented athlete who returns after averaging 23.9 yards per reception and being named second-team all-conference at both wide receiver and defensive back. He’s expected to be the focal point of the passing game for the Cardinals.
Casey Ponyicsanyi, 6-0, 180, sr., LB, Lakeside Lutheran: The only returning two-time, first-team all-conference pick, Ponyicsanyi will play a key role for the conference favorites after recording 47 tackles and two sacks last season.
Harley Jones, 6-0, 235, sr., OL/DL, Lake Mills: Jones was named first-team all-conference on both sides of the ball after leading the way on the offensive line for the L-Cats’ prolific passing attack and registering 83 tackles (nine for loss).
THINGS TO WATCH
Changing of the guard: Lodi has won four of the last five conference championships and are coming off of a Division 4 state title, but significant losses to graduation on both sides of the ball could open the door for a team like Lakeside Lutheran to contend for the crown.
Life without Dunkleberger: For the first time since 2015, Lake Mills will be without former quarterback Ben Dunkleberger and wide receiver Hayden Iverson. Two of the most prolific offensive playmakers in the state, Dunkleberger won back-to-back league Offensive Player of the Year honors and Iverson led the state in receiving yards and touchdowns in 2017.
Chasing playoff berths: While Lakeside Lutheran and Lodi are considered the favorites to win the conference title, the Capitol North coaches expect a logjam in the middle of the conference. Watertown Luther Prep, Columbus, Poynette and Lake Mills each received second or third-place votes in a conference that is likely to send three teams to the postseason.
Relying on inexperience: The majority of the Capitol North is paying the price for strong senior classes last season. Lodi, Watertown Luther Prep and Columbus are each replacing the majority of their starters, while Lake Mills and Poynette will each debut new quarterbacks in Week 1. The ability of the new starters and the incoming juniors to adjust quickly will likely decide who finishes in the top half of the conference.
Return of Barnharst: Two years removed from being one of only two sophomores in the conference to earn first-team all-Capitol North honors, Poynette defensive lineman Christian Barnharst will have an opportunity to play in a conference game for the first time since 2016. He missed most of last year after breaking his leg early on.
1, Lakeside Lutheran; 2, Lodi; 3, Watertown Luther Prep.
Coach: Calvin Zenz, second year (2-7); second overall (2-7).
Letterwinners (returning/lost): 15/20.
Starters returning (offense/defense): 3/6.
The lowdown: With only six seniors on the roster, the Cardinals will rely on their athleticism to compete in the Capitol North. Junior quarterback Joe Morris and fullback Jay Hill will head the Cardinals rushing attack in the option-based offensive system. Safety Teagan Herschleb had 44 tackles and earned honorable mention honors as a sophomore. Miguel Miranda is only in his second year of playing football, but will be tasked with anchoring Columbus’ defensive line at nose tackle. The Cardinals failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in five years in 2017 and should have an opportunity to return this season.
Coach: Dan Ferkovich, sixth year (28-24); sixth overall (28-24).
Letterwinners (returning/lost): 17/6.
Starters returning (offense/defense): 7/6.
The lowdown: Despite the departures of Dunkleberger and Iverson, Lake Mills boasts one of the most experienced rosters in the Capitol North. Whoever takes over at quarterback in the L-Cats’ spread attack will have the luxury of throwing to four of the team’s top five receivers from last season, with a strong offensive line blocking in front of him. The Lake Mills defense will have to take a step forward if it hopes to return to the playoffs for a third consecutive season.
Coach: Paul Bauer, 18th year (108-63); 18th overall (108-63).
Letterwinners (returning/lost): 21/12.
Starters returning (offense/defense): 6/5.
The lowdown: The most experienced team in the conference, the Warriors’ offense will be led by senior quarterback Jack Monis, who threw for 602 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 1,106 yards and 17 touchdowns. All-conference picks Tyler Holzhueter and Caleb Raymond will lead the way on the offensive line in the Warriors split-veer offense. Lakeside will be young on the defensive side of the ball, but linebacker Casey Ponyicsanyi should help ease the transition for the new starters after earning first-team all-conference honors in 2016 and 2017.
Coach: Dave Puls, 15th year (124-36); 15th overall (124-36).
Letterwinners (returning/lost): 10/27.
Starters returning (offense/defense): 1/3.
The lowdown: Puls faces a tough challenge if he hopes to bring the Blue Devils back to the playoffs for the 18th consecutive year. Running back Ben Rashid is the lone returning starter on offense and will likely see more carries with the graduation of the state’s leading rusher Jacob Heyroth. Defensive backs Owen Jelinek and Riley Faust and linebacker Austin Soehle will lead Lodi’s 3-4 defense. “If our guys grasp our concepts in all three phases of the game, we will compete at a high level every week,” Puls said.
Coach: Greg Kallungi fourth year (11-16), fourth overall (11-16).
Letterwinners (returning/lost): 19/12.
Starters returning (offense/defense): 5/6.
The lowdown: Last year was a rebuilding year for the Pumas, who entered 2017 with one of the youngest rosters in the conference. That experience should be beneficial this year for Poynette, which returns four of its five starters on the offensive line, and look to be strong in the trenches on both sides of the ball. On defense, the Pumas return a trio of players that earned all-conference honors last season. Defensive end Skyler See was a first-team pick after totaling 59 tackles and 5½ sacks and linebacker Caleb Reddeman was an honorable mention selection with 53 tackles. Colby Savich will transition to linebacker after securing 6½ sacks at defensive end.
WATERTOWN LUTHER PREP
Coach: Justin Gregorius, sixth year (17-35); sixth overall (17-35).
Letterwinners (returning/lost): 7/14.
Starters returning (offense/defense): 4/3.
The lowdown: Despite having a young roster, the Phoenix have a chance to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2006. Senior Preston Borchardt returns as the team’s starting running back and should see a bigger workload after rushing for 528 yards and five touchdowns on 82 carries. Tight end Zachary Gregorius is one of the top tight ends in the state and will be an even bigger weapon after being a first-team all-conference pick. Free safety Brice Guse is Luther Prep’s leading returning tackler (28 total) and is expected to lead an undersized defense that will attempt to rely on quickness and athleticism to flow to the ball.
GAMES TO WATCH
Week 1: Lake Mills vs. Menomonie at UW-Stout, Thursday, Aug. 16
Week 2: Columbus vs. Platteville, at UW-Platteville, Friday, Aug. 24
Week 3: Hartland Lake Country Lutheran at Lakeside Lutheran, Friday, Aug. 31
Week 4: Marshall at Poynette, Friday, Sept. 7
Week 5: Watertown Luther Prep at Lodi, Friday, Sept. 14
Week 6: Columbus at Lake Mills, Friday, Sept. 21
Week 7: Lake Mills at Lakeside Lutheran, Friday, Sept. 28
Week 8: Watertown Luther Prep at Columbus, Friday, Oct. 5
Week 9: Lakeside Lutheran at Lodi, Friday, Oct. 12