Getting off to a strong start in conference play can make or break a football team’s playoff aspirations.
That will be the goal for Lodi and Poynette, as they look to get off on the right foot when Capitol North Conference play begins on Friday night. While the Blue Devils and Pumas are just getting underway in the Capitol North, teams in the Badger North and Trailways Large and Small Conferences will try to continue or kick-start their drive for the postseason.
No area team is able to clinch a playoff berth this week, but a win or loss could make all the difference as the regular season passes the halfway point and every game becomes increasingly important.
Here’s a look at this week’s area prep football games:
GAME OF THE WEEK
Lodi (4-0) at Lake Mills (4-0)
Lodi has been relatively untested so far this season, coasting through its non-conference slate, including a 28-13 win over Marshall last week.
Business will pick up this week when the Blue Devils, ranked No. 1 in the medium schools division in this week’s Associated Press poll, travel to Lake Mills for a battle of unbeatens. The sixth-ranked L-Cats have raced out of the gates, winning each of their first four games by at least 20 points, including a 41-0 shutout of previously unbeaten Belleville in Week 4.
Both teams feature strong offenses. The Blue Devils are averaging 38.2 points per game, while Lake Mills is posting 43.2 points per game. While both teams are putting up a lot of points, the strengths of the teams are different. Lodi relies heavily on its ground attack, racking up 1,163 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground this season. The L-Cats, on the other hand, have picked apart opponents through the air, passing for 1,095 yards and 14 scores.
Leading the way for the high-powered offenses are standout seniors Jacob Heyroth and Ben Dunkleberger. Heyroth, a 6-foot-1, 193-pound running back, has carried the bulk of the load for the Blue Devils rushing attack, churning out 690 yards and seven TDs, good for an average of 11.1 yards per carry and 172.5 yards per game.
Dunkleberger has been the do-it-all man for the L-Cats, shredding opposing defenses with his arm and legs. The 5-11, 175-pound quarterback has accounted for 1,743 yards (1,095 pass, 648 rush) and 23 total scores this season, just one year after racking up 4,038 yards and 53 TDs.
Whichever team is able to stop, or rather limit, Dunkleberger or Heyroth, will surely have the upper hand Friday night and take a crucial step toward a Capitol North Conference title.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Erik Isakson, Sr., Portage
Portage has undergone a number of changes this season with the hiring of veteran head coach Bob Hepp and the implementation of his triple-option offense. One player that’s had no problem adjusting has been Erik Isakson.
The 6-foot-1, 165-pound senior transitioned to quarterback after playing wide receiver last season and has thrived in the new role. Isakson leads the Warriors’ balanced rushing attack with 284 yards and three scores, highlighted by his 175-yard, three-TD performance in last week’s 28-19 win over rival Baraboo.
The shifty signal-caller has also been able to hurt defenses with his arm, throwing for 288 yards and a touchdown this season, and has been one of the main reasons behind the Warriors’ resounding turnaround. Last week’s win over the Thunderbirds marked the first time since 2012 that Portage won back-to-back games.
The Warriors will face a tough test this week when they travel to Badger North power Waunakee, who is coming off a 48-12 win over DeForest. If Portage has any hopes to pull off the upset, Isakson will have to be on his game.
Palmyra-Eagle (1-3, 0-2 conference) at Pardeeville (3-1, 1-0)
The Bulldogs’ strong start to the season hit a small road bump last week with a 32-30 overtime loss to Almond-Bancroft. Pardeeville, which trailed 16-0 at halftime, scored with 2 minutes, 7 seconds left in the fourth quarter to force overtime but was unable to polish off the comeback attempt.
Pardeeville will look to get back into the win column and take a step toward the playoffs this week against Palmyra-Eagle. The Bulldogs knocked off the Panthers 12-7 last year and another win this season is crucial as Pardeeville will close out conference play against last year’s top three teams in Dodgeland, Horicon/Hustisford and Markesan.
Lakeside Lutheran (3-1) at Poynette (2-2)
After spending its first three weeks on the road, the Pumas returned home for the first time last Friday night. Unfortunately, they were met with a rude awakening in the form of a 27-14 loss to Winnebago Lutheran. The Pumas led 7-0 at halftime and 14-13 early in the fourth quarter, but were unable to keep the Vikings at bay.
Poynette will look to rebound this week when it hosts Lakeside Lutheran in a Capitol North Conference opener. The Warriors have punished opponents on the ground, racking up 1,480 yards and 16 touchdowns. If the Pumas are unable to slow Lakeside’s vaunted rushing attack, they’ll be looking at an 0-1 hole in the difficult Capitol North.
MPGL (1-3, 1-1) at Horicon/Hustisford (3-0, 1-0)
The Phoenix rose for their first win last week, a 28-20 decision over Orfordville Parkview. MPGL opened Trailways Large Conference play on a high note, but could be singing a more somber tone Friday when it travels to Horicon/Hustisford.
The lone unbeaten left in the Trailways Large, Horicon/Husty has darted out of the gates behind a stellar defense which is holding opponents to 94.6 yards per game, including 48.3 on the ground. The Phoenix will look to break through Friday behind Abe Postler, as the sophomore halfback is coming off a 154-yard, three-score performance last week.
Cambria-Friesland (1-3, 1-1) at Deerfield (1-3, 1-1)
Following their first win over the season in Week 3, the Hilltoppers were cut back down to size last week with a 46-0 shutout loss to Johnson Creek. Cambria-Friesland’s rushing attack was held to just 45 yards while its defense gave up 350 yards and five touchdowns to the Bluejays. The Toppers will look to get back on track this week when they travel to Deerfield. A win over the Demons will be crucial as Cambria-Friesland must go 3-2 over the final five weeks to secure a playoff spot.
Rio (1-3, 1-1) at Johnson Creek (4-0, 2-0)
Rio’s Fireman’s Park hasn’t been so friendly to the Vikings, who went 1-3 in their four-game homestand to open the season following last week’s 39-14 loss to Oshkosh Lourdes. The Vikings must now go on the road four out of their final five games, starting with a trip to unbeaten Johnson Creek on Friday. The Bluejays have given up just 30 points all season behind a defense that has given up 122.8 yards per game, including 84.8 rushing yards per game, which could spell doom for the Vikings.