LODI — While the running back gets the accolades, the base to any strong rushing attack is a cohesive offensive line.
While Jacob Heyroth has been the main leader for Lodi’s brutal ground attack all season, the senior running back knows how beneficial the Blue Devils’ senior laden offensive line has been to this year’s run to tonight’s Division 4 state semifinal game against Greendale Martin Lutheran at Waukesha High School.
“We just have a great group of seniors,” said Heyroth, who has rushed for a state best 2,617 yards and 34 touchdowns this season. “Every one of them works hard in practice and I have to give them a lot of props. I would be able to do what I can do if I didn’t have them.”
The fivesome, comprised of Lucas Brisky, Anthony Benson, Sam Kerr, Tyler Leonard and Ryan Goethel, has been the predominant starters for the Blue Devils unit that has helped Heyroth and company rush for 3,762 yards and 50 touchdowns. Along with the five starters, top-seeded Lodi (12-0) has a pair of top-tier back-ups in seniors Bo Zander and Tyler Richard.
Both players have seen plenty of time due to injuries and provide a good amount of depth to an already stacked group.
“The depth those guys have and how they push each other; they’re just a great group of guys,” Lodi coach Dave Puls said. “Having those two and three guys we can plug in that could start for any other team in the conference in my opinion, is a great luxury. As a unit, they’re one of the best we’ve ever had here.”
The group, which also includes senior tight end Kade Crissinger, has a great deal of size at an average of 6-foot-2, 240 pounds. The starters alone weigh a combined 1,245 pounds and all eight players combine to weigh nearly a ton at 1,922.
While that size is impressive, Puls has been more awed at the group’s communication. According to the 14-year head coach, getting an offensive line to talk is one of the most difficult things to do, but the group has done a phenomenal job of communicating throughout the season.
“They think they’re giving things away to the defense but once they get past that and start communicating, it’s great,” Puls said, crediting the work of offensive line coaches Andy Murray and Pete Moskol. “They continue to work and get better and their language as far as understanding what they need to do and when they need to do it is great.”
Along with their communication on the field, the Blue Devils offensive line has been dedicated to talking on the sidelines. According to Benson and Brisky, the group frequently discusses inbetween series what changes can be made.
“A lot of times we practice what we think they’ll come out in and it doesn’t always work out that way,” Brisky said, crediting Platteville with doing a good job of presenting the Blue Devils with something completely different. “We just talked about it on the sideline and it helps.”
“It’s good the coaches know what they think they’re going to come out in because it helps us being able to block how they think,” Benson added.
That communication, along with the group’s physicality and attention to details, has helped the group open holes up front for Heyroth. For Brisky that’s something the Lodi O-line takes a lot of pride in and something Heyroth appreciates.
“We know that if we get him to the second level he’s hard to tackle in the open field so we want to open up the first level for him,” Brisky said.
“They don’t get notice a lot, but they also know with Jacob (Heyroth), Mitchell Nellen, Max Barreu and Ben Rashid that if they open and hole and get any of those guys to level two, we’re looking at a big gain,” Puls added. “They’re driven by taking care of level one, getting them to level two and making sure the whole team is successful.”
There was plenty of success on the ground in the regular season, as the Blue Devils rushed for 2,641 yards and 36 touchdowns, but the group has really come alive in the postseason. Lodi has rushed for a combined 1,121 yards and 14 touchdowns in its three playoff games, including 464 yards and five scores during last week’s 35-0 win over Lake Mills.
Heyroth has been incredibly reliable, rushing for over 300 yards in each contest, including 392 and four scores against the L-Cats, for a total of 1,021 yards and 12 scores. The load for Heyroth has gotten bigger as well as the performances, racking up at least 30 carries in each game after averaging just 16 touches in the regular season.
“It was keeping me fresh and now I don’t need to rest any more. I can just give it all I have,” Heyroth said.
With a fresh Heyroth and a deep offensive line, the Blue Devils are exactly where they want to be heading into tonight’s clash against the Spartans. With a chance at getting to a second state title game in three years, Brisky doesn’t want the chance to go to waste.
“We don’t want to feel that same pain after Level 2 last year,” Brisky said. “We’ve just really pushed it to reach a goal that we’ve set out for each other.”