Following a season where Mauston finished with a winning record in conference play for a third consecutive year, the Golden Eagles earned 13 selections to the South Central all-conference team.
Of the 12 Mauston players who garnered All-SCC honors, three were unanimous selections: senior wide receiver Daniel Raabe, senior offensive tackle Travis Johnson and senior kicker Blake Nelson.
Raabe caught 38 passes for 658 yards and eight touchdowns during the season. For his career, Raabe finished with 71 receptions for 1,265 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was a first-team selection at wide receiver last season as well.
Other unanimous selections around the conference were: quarterback/punter Ryan Lois, running back Matt Kroll, wide receiver Cade Peterson and offensive guard Jesus Duran for Wautoma; center Cole Kaberle and inside linebacker Brandin Spice for Nekoosa; and defensive lineman Collin Bays for Adams-Friendship.
Peterson was named the SCC Offensive Player of the Year after leading the conference with 46 receptions, 838 receiving yards and 12 receiving touchdowns. Spice was named the SCC Defensive Player of the Year after recording 42 tackles, four tackles for loss and three sacks on the season.
Junior running back Tyler Jirousek, senior wide receiver Nicholas Kudick, senior defensive back Cole Kobylski, senior inside linebacker Dakota Barnier and senior defensive lineman Jarrett Dolata were the other Golden Eagles that earned first-team honors. Barnier (as a quarterback), senior offensive guard Thomas Gruman, junior offensive tackle Dominick Meurett, junior defensive back Kyran Fitzgerald and junior outside linebacker Rayn Vang were the five Mauston players selected to the second team.
Jirousek in particular had a breakout year for the Golden Eagles, leading all South Central Conference players in carries (267), rushing yards (1,508), rushing touchdowns (17) and rushing yards per game (150.8).
A total of 11 players earned all-conference honors on both offense and defense/special teams: Lois (first-team quarterback and first-team punter), Peterson (first-team wide receiver and first-team defensive back), Kroll (first-team running back and second-team defensive lineman), Dante Borland (first-team offensive tackle and second-team defensive lineman) and Damean Netzler (second-team center and second-team inside linebacker) for Wautoma; Kaberle (first-team center and first-team defensive lineman) and Dylan Bills (second-team running back and second-team defensive back) for Nekoosa; Darius MacKinnis (first-team outside linebacker/defensive end and second-team offensive player), Adam Brown (first-team return specialist and second-team defensive back) and Kayleb Galloway (second-team offensive guard and second-team inside linebacker) for Wisconsin Dells; and Barnier (first-team inside linebacker and second-team quarterback) for Mauston.
Barnier earned praise from Mauston head coach Roland Lehman for his performance at quarterback, a position that was a major question mark for the Golden Eagles heading into the season.
“(Barnier) did a really nice job for us on both sides of the ball,” Lehman said. “He surprised us a little bit, especially at the quarterback position. That’s a tough position to play. He didn’t get a ton of experience the last couple years because we had a pretty good quarterback (Tarren Hall) playing ahead of him. He saw some action on JV, but really not any sustained varsity experience. It was a really pleasant surprise. Coming into the season, we weren’t really sure who would step up and play that quarterback position, and he played well and worked into that starting role.”
Barnier threw for 1,546 yards, 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions with a 46.1 percent completion percentage on the season. He also ran for an additional 312 yards and seven touchdowns.
“We knew he had good arm strength and he was able to make some really good throws,” Lehman said. “But what really surprised us was his ability to run with the ball. We started to factor that in and use him as a running threat, and also just to extend plays with his legs, to be able to see people downfield and make some big plays downfield.”
Wautoma won its third conference championship in the last four years with a 5-0 record in SCC play. Mauston finished second with a 4-1 mark. Nekoosa was third at 3-2, Wisconsin Dells finished fourth at 2-3 and Adams-Friendship went 1-4 to finish fifth. Westfield Area did not field a varsity team this year, resulting in each of the other conference’s teams receiving a forfeit win and the Pioneers technically going 0-5.
Mauston’s 28-22 loss to rival Wautoma in its regular-season finale kept the Golden Eagles from winning their first SCC title since 2000. However, Mauston did finish with a winning record in conference play for a third consecutive year after failing to do so for 11 straight seasons from 2004 to 2014.
Lehman credited the outgoing senior class for helping the football program turn the corner during their time at Mauston.
“When they first started, we were just kind of hoping to make the playoffs,” Lehman said. “Now we expect to make the playoffs and push for a conference championship. Hopefully that carries over into years to come.”
However, the Golden Eagles now face the challenge of replacing that departing senior class, which featured eight players who made the all-conference team this year.
“That’s something you kind of face at the high school level,” Lehman said. “You lose a group and you hope that the next one that comes in steps up and takes over. We’ve got a good junior class. We don’t have huge numbers in our junior class, but the kids that are out are kids that contributed quite a bit.”
“That’s kind of the neat thing about coaching is that every year you get a new group, and it’s fun to watch those kids get better from the year before. We’re excited to see who’s going to be able to step up and surprise us, earn a starting role and contribute in a positive way.”