As the week progressed, a roller coaster of thoughts went through Lodi football coach Dave Puls’ mind.
On Sunday night, Puls told state media on a teleconference that he doubted anyone believed the Blue Devils could defeat defending champion Hammond St. Croix Central in Thursday’s WIAA Division 4 state championship game.
Even Puls said it would be a tall task for Lodi, though undefeated, to stop the Panthers and their methodical, punishing triple-option attack.
But then days before the game, he had a dream that senior linebacker Max Barreau would make a huge play for the Blue Devils. And he woke up Thursday morning with a sense of calm that continued throughout the title game, even when Lodi fell behind in the third quarter.
And he beamed — and teared up a bit, too — when Lodi capped an unbeaten season with a 17-10 overtime victory over St. Croix Central at Camp Randall Stadium.
“I had a gut feeling we weren’t going to lose this game,” Puls said. “I don’t know why.
“It was an amazing, amazing journey that we had this year. To end up here was just icing on the cake. To find a way to come away with the gold ball in overtime, of all things, against the defending state champion in Division 4 is like (a) storybook. It’s absolutely amazing.”
The championship was the first in football for Lodi (14-0).
And just like a dream, the game ended with the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Barreau blitzing off the edge and sacking Central senior quarterback Collin Nelson, forcing a fumble on a fourth-and-16 play from the Lodi 35-yard line.
“It was so weird,” said Puls, whose team was Division 4 runner-up in 2015. “I had a dream two or three days before the game that Max Barreau was going to have some big plays for us. I didn’t know it would be a strip sack on fourth down. But I will take it.”
The Blue Devils had the first possession in overtime, which starts at the opponent’s 25-yard line, and scored on junior fullback Ben Rashid’s 1-yard run. Senior quarterback Cameron McDonald’s 9-yard pass to Rashid on third-and-5 gave the Blue Devils a first down at the 11.
Senior running back Jacob Heyroth, who had 151 yards rushing on 35 carries and scored one touchdown, gained 6 yards to the 2 and another yard to the 1. That earned Lodi a first down and set up the winning score.
“It’s amazing,” Heyroth said. “It’s the best way to finish the season. I can’t believe it. There is going to be a party tonight.”
Senior kicker Savannah Curtis, whose 30-yard field goal tied the game 10-10 with 8:23 remaining in the fourth quarter but missed a potential go-ahead kick from 27 yards later in the fourth, then converted the extra point.
Central (12-2) was assessed a roughing-the-kicker penalty on the extra point, forcing the Panthers to start at the 40-yard line for their overtime possession.
Lodi junior safety Owen Jelinek broke up Nelson’s deep pass to Peyton Nogal at the goal line on the third-down play before Barreau flew in on the blitz.
“I’m proud of our kids,” said Central coach Tony DiSalvo, whose team was led by junior running back Ryan Larson’s 147 yards rushing on 33 attempts. “To get back to state this season was hard. We had a target on our backs all year. Lodi has a heck of a football team; it is tough to stay undefeated all year.”
St. Croix Central took the second-half kickoff and controlled possession for almost all of the third quarter. Junior Derek Myer connected on a 28-yard field goal with 1 minute, 12 seconds left in the third to give the Panthers a 10-7 lead.
Lodi, which had the football for only two plays in the third, responded with a drive that led to Curtis’ tying field goal in the fourth quarter.
Both teams had opportunities to take the lead after that, but Curtis missed a 27-yard field goal wide to the left with 4:10 remaining and Myer was short on a 38-yard field goal on the last play of regulation.
In the first quarter, Lodi took advantage of a turnover on St. Croix Central’s first play from scrimmage. Jelinek grabbed a fumble by Nelson at the St. Croix Central 21 with 9:16 left. Heyroth swept around left end for 6 yards and the score, capping a four-play, 21-yard scoring drive with 7:22 left in the first.
The Panthers answered when Nelson scored on an 8-yard run for a 7-7 tie with 5:06 before halftime.
When it was over, all of the Blue Devils, including 27 seniors, could rejoice.
“I’m just overjoyed,” Puls said. “I’m so proud of these kids.”
St. Croix Central 0 7 3 0 0 — 10
Lodi 7 0 0 3 7 — 17
L — Heyroth 6 run (Curtis kick)
SCC — Nelson 8 run (Myer kick)
SCC — FG Myer 28
L — FG Curtis 30
L — 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.