UNION GROVE – Coach Dan Miller had every reason to believe his Racine St. Catherine’s football team would score a whole lot of points Friday night.
After all, the Angels' coach had seen his team rack up points like crazy on a consistent basis all season. Entering their WIAA Division 4 second round playoff game against Lake Mills on Friday night, the Angels had averaged a whopping 43.4 points a game.
But the Angels’ offense sputtered — and, at times, imploded — in a 30-13 loss to Lake Mills on a 38-degree night at Union Grove High School.
The youth-laden Angels ended their highly successful season with a 10-1 record. Lake Mills, runner-up in the Capitol North Conference, improved to 10-1 — and earned a chance to avenge its only loss of the season next week with a trip to unbeaten and top-ranked Lodi.
“Offensively, we expected to be more efficient and put points on the board,’’ Miller said of the St. Catherine's offense.
Early indications pointed in that direction. After shutting down Lake Mills on the game’s opening series, the Angels fashioned an impressive 13-play, 89-yard scoring drive. Junior running back Isaiah Dodd was the workhorse, carrying the ball 11 times and capping the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
However, that turned out to be the Angels’ only score of the opening half, as the L-Cats’ defense buckled down. The L-Cats did a commendable job of keeping the Angels’ two primary playmakers — Dodd and quarterback Da’Shaun Brown, who is being recruited by the University of Wisconsin — relatively in check the rest of the way.
“Defensively, this was the best game we’ve played this season,’’ Lake Mills coach Dan Ferkovich said. “It was absolutely our best.’’
But the Angels also were their own worst enemies. They uncharacteristically committed a host of costly mistakes — bad snap exchanges (one which resulted in a safety), penalties and blown assignments.
“We usually don’t do those things,’’ said Dodd. “I think it was just nervousness.’’
Lake Mills’ exceptional quarterback, Ben Dunkleberger, didn’t seem to have any butterflies. The 5-11, 170-pound senior was a model of composure as he ran the L-Cats’ offense to near perfection.
Dunkleberger was brilliant in the second quarter, scoring three touchdowns — the first a nine-yard run that gave the L-Cats the lead for good.
He then exploded up the middle out of a shotgun formation for a 21-yard touchdown run, and added a 30-yard scoring run just before halftime to give Lake Mills a 23-7 advantage.
Dunkleberger, who has scholarship offers from Western Illinois and Navy, made a marked impression on the Angels.
“Dunkleberger is legit,’’ Miller said. “Our game plan was to contain him, and we didn’t do that the whole game.’’
Added Dodd: “He’s very athletic, fast. And he read our defenses very well.’’
Despite Dunkleberger’s big-time performance and their own miscues, the Angels pulled to within 23-13 on Brown’s three-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter.
But any hope of the Angels extending their season vanished when the ensuing onside kick went out of bounds well short of the mandatory 10 yards.
Soon afterward, Hayden Iverson added to his state single-season record with his 27th touchdown catch of the season — a 22-yard reception from Dunkleberger that put the game away.
It was a bitter disappointment for the Angels, although Ferkovich firmly believes the Angels will be heard from again next season.
“They’re an amazing team,’’ Ferkovich said. “They have some great athletes. They will be back.’’
On paper, the Angels’ future looks exceedingly bright, with a roster featuring only three seniors and 19 juniors.
"We’ll bounce back from this,’’ Dodd said. “We’re a close team. We’re sticky like glue.’’