Another deep playoff run ended at the hands of an eventual participant in the Division 4 state championship game for Lake Mills, this year falling to conference rival and eventual champ Lodi in Level 3 one year after also losing in the state quarterfinals to eventual runner-up River Valley. However, the L-Cats put together a 10-2 season in 2017, one of the best in school history.
"I think we played pretty well all season long," said Ferkovich. "Our biggest challenge early on as far as positions was at receiver, because we only had one player back at the position."
As far as the games played, Lake Mills lost only two games: to Lodi twice, once in the conference season and again in the playoffs. "There's no shame in losing to Lodi, but we wish those games would have been closer," added Ferkovich. "But, we're pretty happy with where we ended up."
With two of the state's most talented players, Ben Dunkleberger and Hayden Iverson, graduating, it means that new players have to step up. "I don't think we'll have anyone stand out quite like those guys," said Ferkovich. "We don't need that one individual. We need everyone to step up."
Ferkovich believes this year's strength could be the lines and backs on both sides, as well as the number of big and tall players that will be on the roster this season as well. Three of the five starting offensive linemen return for the L-Cats, as well as four of the top five receivers. Defensively, both corners and both outside linebackers (the latter pair all-conference honorees) return as well.
The one position that will be looked at with the most scrutiny is quarterback, where senior J.T. Toepfer, their starting cornerback, will battle freshman Luke Johnson for the starting gig. That's because the big shoes to fill at the position belonged to all-state quarterback Ben Dunkleberger, although Ferkovich believes having so many returning players at other positions will help whoever the eventual starting quarterback is ease into the position.
In the Capitol North, Coach Ferkovich knows that each week will be a battle, as it always is, because the margin for error is so small, so the L-Cats sought out challenging games on their non-conference schedule to help prepare them for the conference season. "You only play five games, so there is no margin for error," he said.
A challenge is exactly what Lake Mills will get in their first game of the season, when they head up north on Interstate 94 to take on one of the most successful high school programs in Wisconsin, Division 2 power Menomonie, on August 16 to kick off the area slate of games for the upcoming season. The L-Cats will stay on the road for Week 2, visiting one of the Capitol South co-champs in New Glarus/Monticello.
Week 3 brings Lake Mills home to face Mauston before getting back on the bus to play at Winnebago Lutheran Academy to wrap up the non-conference portion of the schedule. Back-to-back home games against Poynette and Columbus get conference play started, before a cross-town showdown with Lakeside Lutheran on September 28.
Defending Division 4 champion Lodi, who ousted the L-Cats from the tournament a season ago, will host Lake Mills in Week 8. The season finale will be a home game against Luther Prep.
Here is The Big 1070's interview with Lake Mills L-Cats head coach Dan Ferkovich:
Lake Mills L-Cats - Capitol North
Head Coach: Dan Ferkovich (5th Season); 28-24 Overall (4-2 Playoffs)
2017 Result: 10-2 (4-1), 2nd in the Capitol North (Lost to Lodi 35-0 in Level 3)
Three-Year Record: 22-11 (4-2 Playoffs)
2017 All-Conference Honors: 7 First-Team, 4 Second-Team, 5 Honorable Mention (16 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 13 First-Team, 11 Second-Team, 10 Honorable Mention (34 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (7): OL/DE Harley Jones [🏈 WSN] (1st Team-OL and 1st Team-DE), Sr.; WR Matt Johnson (2nd Team-WR), Jr.; QB/WR/DB J.T. Toepfer (2nd Team-DB), Sr.; OL/LB Cooper Buccholtz (HM-LB), Sr.; LB/WR Kyle Kube (HM-LB), Sr.; LB/RB Gavin Lira (HM-LB), Sr.; K/P Adam Mitchell [🏈 WSN] (HM-K in 2017, 2nd Team-K in 2016), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: RB/WR/LB Luke Pierce, Sr.; LB/WR John Rosecke, Sr.; WR/RB/DB/ST Hunter Buechel, Jr.; WR/DB Adam Moen, So.; RB/LB Charlie Cassady, So.; WR/CB Charlie Bender, So.; QB Matt Johnson, Fr.
BIG Games: at Menomonie, August 16 (🔊 iHeartRadio); at New Glarus/Monticello, August 24; at Lakeside Lutheran, September 28; at Lodi, October 5