MADISON — When the Lodi football team has needed a big play to be made, more often than not it was one of its 27 seniors that got it done.
It was fitting then that Max Barreau came through when the Blue Devils needed it most during Thursday night’s Division 4 state championship game. The senior linebacker ended the game with a strip sack to earn Lodi its first-ever state title with a 17-10 overtime win over defending champion St. Croix Central.
“It’s absolutely storybook because those are the guys who should make the plays,” Lodi coach Dave Puls said. “I’m so happy and so proud of these guys.”
The Blue Devils, who finished their season with a perfect 14-0 record, began with the ball in overtime. Facing a third-and-6, senior quarterback Cameron McDonald hit junior fullback Ben Rashid on a 10-yard pass to keep the drive alive.
Rashid pounded out three yards before senior running back Jacob Heyroth took over. The 6-foot, 193-pounder picked up five yards and then two to set up the Blue Devils with a first-and-goal from the 1. Rashid then punched in on the next play to make it 16-0. Senior kicker Savannah Curtis added the extra point to make it 17-10 and was hit on the follow-through.
The Panthers were assessed a 15-yard roughing-the-kicker penalty and began their drive at the 40. Things got off to a strong start as junior running back Ryan Larson picked up seven yards on the first play and senior quarterback Collin Nelson added four on the next for a first down to the 29.
The Panthers (12-2) went backwards after that however, as a false start quickly set up a second-and-12. Another false start maide it third-and-16 and forced the run-heavy Panthers to go to the air. Nelson dropped back and lofted up a deep pass toward the end zone to junior tight end Peyton Nogal but the throw was broken up by Lodi junior defensive back Owen Jelinek.
Facing a fourth-and-16, Barreau capped things off, rushing off the right edge unblocked, delivering a punishing blow to Nelson that ended the game and the Blue Devils’ redemption story.
“I had a dream two or three days ago that Max Barreau was going to make some big play to win the game for us,” Puls said. “I didn’t think it was going to be a strip sack on the final play of the game but I’ll take it. I just had a feeling Max Barreau was going to do something to seal this game and it came true.”
The Blue Devils almost didn’t get to overtime as the Panthers had a chance to end things in regulation. After Curtis missed a 27-yard field goal with 4:10 left to play, St. Croix Central went to work, driving inside the Blue Devils’ 30 but came up a yard short on a fourth-and-2, turning the ball over to Lodi.
The Blue Devils were unable to do anything with the chance, however, going a quick three-and-out and giving St. Croix Central good field position after a poor punt put the Panthers at the Lodi 42 with 19 seconds left.
After a 15-yard screen pass to Larson, the Panthers got the Blue Devils to jump, setting up a 39-yard field goal try by Derek Myer. Like Curtis however, the junior kicker’s attempt fell well short and forced the overtime period.
The journey is extra special given the team’s recent history at the state title game. In their inaugural appearance in the 2015 championship, the Blue Devils struggled en route to a 28-0 shutout loss to Osceola. For Puls, that team, which was also heavily senior-laden, was a big factor in this year’s drive back to Madison.
“The 2015 team, those seniors that year that gave us a chance against Osceola, I owe those guys a huge amount of credit,” he said. “They kept these 27 seniors going to have a dream to get down here and see if they could win a gold ball.”
Unlike the loss two years ago, the Blue Devils started strong against the Panthers taking an early 7-0 lead. After its opening drive stalled out Lodi pinned the defending champions down at their own 16-yard line.
Lodi’s defense quickly got the Blue Devils back in business on St. Croix Central’s opening play. Senior Collin Larson kept the ball on a quarterback keeper but coughed up the ball on a hit by Lodi junior linebacker Austin Soehle. Jelinek was Johnny-on-the-spot, pouncing on the loose ball and putting Lodi back in business at the Panthers’ 21.
The Blue Devils didn’t take long to cash in on the turnover, scoring four plays later on a Heyroth 6-yard touchdown run with 7 minutes, 22 seconds left in the first quarter. Heyroth, who finished with 157 yards on 35 carries, took a pitch around the left side and found the corner of the endzone for a quick 7-0 lead.
The drive nearly stalled as the Blue Devils faced a third-and-3 but were able to convert on an 8-yard pass from McDonald to senior tight end Kade Crissinger. The Panthers answered back after a defensive stand of its own, scoring with 5:06 left in the second quarter on a eight-yard touchdown run by Nelson to knot things at 7 at the break.
Out of halftime, the Panthers chewed up almost the entire third quarter, ripping off a 19-play, 62-yard drive. St. Croix Central converted four third downs and a fourth down on the 10 minute, 44 second drive before Myer booted a 28-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead. Lodi answered right back, driving 59 yards in 4:43, scoring on a Curtis 30-yard field goal before the late-game dramatics.
“We’ve been dreaming of this since fourth grade and it finally came true,” Curtis said following her final game. “It’s a great way to go out.”
LODI 17, ST. CROIX CENTRAL 10 (OT)
St. Croix Central 0 7 3 0 0 — 10
Lodi 7 0 0 3 7 — 17
L — Jacob Heyroth 6 run (Savannah Curtis kick)
SCC — Collin Nelson 8 run (Derek Myer kick)
SCC — FG Derek Myer 28
L — FG Savannah Curtis 30
L — Ben Rashid 1 run (Curtis kick)
First downs — SCC 19, L 13. Rushing (Att.-Yds.) — SCC 61-236, L 44-154. Passing yards — SCC 25, L 17. Passes (Comp.-Att.-Int.) — SCC 2-7-0, L 2-5-0. Fumbles-lost — SCC 2-2 (Nelson, Larson), L 1-1 (Heyroth). Penalties-yards — SCC 6-59, L 4-20. Punts — SCC 2-36.0, L 3-28.0. Possession time — SCC 27:21, L 20:39. Third-down conversions — SCC 9-15, L 5-12. Fourth-down conversions — SCC 1-3, L 0-1. Field goals — SCC 1-2, L 1-2.
Rushing: SCC, Larson 33-147, Nelson 20-73, Fischer 5-20, Kopacz 3-(minus-4). L, Heyroth 35-151, Rashid 4-11, Nellen 2-10, Scola 1-0, McDonald 2-(minus-18).
Passing: SCC, Nelson 20-6-0-25. L, McDonald 2-5-0-17.
Receiving: SCC, Larson 1-15, Fischer 1-10. L, Rashid 1-9, Krissinger 1-8.