The 2020 fall high school football season was unlike any other in Wisconsin, but despite the challenges faced by teams, players, and administrators, it was certainly one to remember.
As we review the last several months of gridiron action, I have put together a list of some of the big storylines and superlatives that defined 2020. The following awards and superlatives were selected by WSN General Manager and Football Writer Travis Wilson.
What a season and career it was for Lake Mills senior quarterback Adam Moen, the 2020 recipient of the Dave Krieg Award from WSN as the most outstanding senior quarterback in Wisconsin.
In this shortened 2020 season, Moen has been outstanding once again, completing 176-of-250 passes for 2,326 yards and 24 touchdowns in nine games. He added 616 yards and 12 scores on the ground as well. He helped the L-Cats avenge one of their two regular season losses, taking down Lakeside Lutheran 21-19 in Level 2, as he completed 22-of-34 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns to go with 55 yards on the ground.
As a junior in 2019, Lake Mills quarterback Adam Moen set a new record for most combined passing and rushing yards with 4,477 (3,517 passing, 960 rushing), breaking the previous record held by Cedar Grove-Belgium's Josh Weiss. His single-season passing yardage from 2019 was fourth all-time. His combined 60 touchdowns (39 passing, 21 rushing) were the second-most in state history in a single-season.
His career totals sit at 8,117 passing yards (fourth all-time) and 89 touchdown throws (third all-time) to go with 2,114 rushing yards and 43 touchdowns on the ground. His 10,231 combined rushing and passing yards is second in state history. He had more than 300 receiving yards as a freshman also.
Others considered: Maddux Allen, Cumberland; Josh Bauer, Lourdes Academy; Alex Current, Muskego; Colin Girdaukas, Kohler/Sheboygan Lutheran/Christian; Luke Haertle, Lake Country Lutheran; Brady Hoppert, Martin Luther; Tanner Marsh, Mondovi; Robby Michael, Kohler/Sheboygan Lutheran/Christian)
Hunter Wohler of Muskego was the unanimous selection as the Jim Leonhard Award winner this year and has a strong shot to take home WFCA Large School Defensive Player of the Year honors for a second straight season. A three-year varsity player, the Warriors did not lose a game during that time, going a perfect 37-0 with a pair of Division 1 state championships. Considered by many as the top defensive back prospect to come out of the state in many years, the Wisconsin commit had 78 tackles this year with a pair of interceptions. Patrolling sideline-to-sideline and deep middle to in the box, Wohler has 355 tackles in his career.
"Hunter is the best defensive back in the history of Wisconsin high school football," Muskego coach Ken Krause put it succinctly.
Others considered: Ayo Adebogun, Homestead; Owen Arnett, Arrowhead; Austin Dahlke, Edgar; Mac Strand, Xavier.
Cumberland senior Jack Martens wrapped up one of the most prolific careers of any receiver in state history. After helping the Beavers to a perfect 9-0 record this season, Martens has 250 career receptions, which places second, and 3,305 receiving yards, good for third on the state's all-time list. His 37 receiving touchdowns are fifth. Martens earned WFCA Small School All-State recognition last season and is likely to be a three-time First Team All-Conference choice.
After catching 94 passes for 1,190 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, he's been even better in the abbreviated 2020 campaign. He hauled in 86 catches for 1,136 yards and 14 touchdowns, with three more scores on the ground (he scored 16 rushing touchdowns in his four-year career). He's also a shutdown defensive back for Cumberland, earning WFCA All-Region as both a receiver and secondary player, with 28 tackles and an interception despite teams rarely challenging him and often not playing in the second half of blowouts.
Others considered: Austin Dahlke, Edgar; Colin Girdaukas, Kohler/Sheboygan Lutheran/Chrisitian; Drayton Lehman, Mosinee; Robby Michael, Kohler/Sheboygan Lutheran/Christian; Tate Sauerwein, Lake Holcombe/Cornell; Will Straka, Mineral Point; Mac Strand, Xavier; Quinn Taege, Freedom.
Plymouth's Evan Ladwig took home unanimous First Team All-Conference recognition to go with WFCA All-Region and Honorable Mention All-State accolades in 2019, and in 2020 was the league Offensive Lineman of the Year for a second straight season. As a senior, he was also the Defensive Lineman of the Year and the Defensive Player of the Year in the East Central Conference. A finalist for the Joe Thomas Award as the top senior offensive lineman in Wisconsin, he was a dominating presence on both sides of the ball, with 68 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, a sack, a safety, and a blocked kick as a senior.
Others considered: Joe Brunner, Whitefish Bay; Sam Casper, New Holstein; Adam Thompson, Northwestern.
Iola-Scandinavia junior Parker Prahl is the real deal, emerging this year as a scholarship prospect in just his second year playing football. As a sophomore in 2019, he was moved around a bit as Iola-Scandinavia struggled following a 2018 state championship, but he averaged 5.7 yards per carry while attempting 128 passes, though he completed just 46.9% of them for six touchdowns and nine interceptions. He settled into his full-time quarterback role this year and became one of the most dynamic athletes in the state with the ball in his hands, rushing for more than 1300 yards while averaging 12 yards per carry, adding nearly 500 yards through the air.
Others considered: Mason Anderson, Ellsworth; Jake Rockweiler, Elkhorn; Tristan Schelvan, Amherst.
Muskego entered as the two-time defending state champion in Division 1 and proceeded to somehow exceed expectations in a shortened 2020 campaign. The Wing-T offense was executed to perfection once again, but it was the defense that really was the difference-maker in 2020. After a 32-24 win over Arrowhead to open the season, the first-team unit allowed just two touchdowns in the final eight games. They shutout Waukesha West, Oconomowoc, and Arrowhead (in the second matchup). The Warriors limited Waukesha North, Mukwonago, Hudson, and Menomonee Falls to just one touchdown. Hudson's score came in the fourth quarter against third-teamers after Muskego was already up 54-0, while Menomonee Falls' lone touchdown was a kick return. In that Menomonee Falls game, the final game of the year and one of the most anticipated in the state, Muskego's defense limited the Phoenix to just 65 yards of offense. Led by defending WFCA Defensive Player of the Year Hunter Wohler, the unit was stacked at every level, with Jared Beilfuss and Brian Radish up front, Anthony Tomczak headlining the linebackers, and Mason Buehler joining Wohler in the secondary, with loads of strong contributors elsewhere. Meanwhile, with Alex Current, Josh Bulski, and Carson Holman doing most of the damage, the running game averaged 329 yards per game. It was dominance in every facet, against a very tough schedule, and one that proved once again Muskego is the class of the state. The Warriors will carry a 37-game unbeaten streak into 2021.
Others considered: Belmont, Cumberland, Edgar, Ellsworth, Franklin, Lourdes Academy, Whitefish Bay
Certainly it would be easy to give it to a team that finished unbeaten, like Muskego and their head coach Ken Krause, and that wouldn't be a wrong choice by any means. However, the turnaround job by Rhinelander the last couple years has been incredible to see. Prior to 2019, the program had just two playoff appearances in school history. They advanced to the postseason for just the third time in Aaron Kraemer's first year at the helm in 2019, and expectations were certainly raised. I think it's fair to say those expectations were exceeded this year, as the Hodags won a number of close games (five by one score) to post a record of 8-1. They came up short in a de facto Great Northern Conference championship game against Medford in the final week of the regular season, but it set the stage for a history-making first just a week later. A 27-20 win against Lakeland in Level 1 was the first playoff win for the Hodags in school history, and they followed it up with a thrilling 27-26 win over Mosinee just a week later. A balanced offense and stingy defense were the key for Rhinelander under Kraemer.
Others considered: Mike Aide, Highland; Tanner Behnke, Brillion; Matt Binsfeld, Kaukauna; Rick Hoppert, Martin Luther; Ken Krause, Muskego; Andy Palzkill, Mineral Point; Jerry Sinz, Edgar; Alan Tomow, Shawano; Steve Turkington, Baraboo.
To borrow from above, after a 32-24 win over Arrowhead to open the season, the first-team unit under Muskego defensive coordinator Ryan Lucchesi allowed just two touchdowns in the final eight games. They shutout Waukesha West, Oconomowoc, and Arrowhead (in the second matchup). The Warriors limited Waukesha North, Mukwonago, Hudson, and Menomonee Falls to just one touchdown. Hudson's score came in the fourth quarter against third-teamers after Muskego was already up 54-0, while Menomonee Falls' lone touchdown was a kick return. In that Menomonee Falls game, the final game of the year and one of the most anticipated in the state, Muskego's defense limited the Phoenix to just 65 yards of offense. Opponents averaged just 5.3 yards per pass attempt, 2.9 yards per rush attempt and were limited to less than 190 yards per game under Lucchesi's leadership.
Success can be fleeting, but Iola-Scandinavia has been one of the most consistent programs in the state under veteran head coach Scott Erickson. Twice state runners-up, the T-Birds finally broke through with an unbeaten state championship in 2018. Dealing with significant graduation losses and injuries, the 2019 season was not how the team imagined its title defense going. The T-Birds stumbled to a 2-7 record, missing the playoffs, though six of the seven losses were competitive games, including four decided by one score and two others that were within 14 points. Iola-Scandinavia was able to get the ship righted in a big way in 2020, winning eight straight games, including a CWC-Small championship, before falling to Edgar in Level 2 of the playoffs. They were able to get back to running the football effectively, with both Parker Prahl and Brye Hardel going for more than 1200 yards with at least 20 touchdowns on the ground.
Wauwatosa West had been struggling to be competitive in the Greater Metro Conference, though a 2-7 record in its final season as a GMC member in 2019 was a bit deceiving, as they were in most games. Still, we weren't sure what to expect from the Trojans as they moved to the Parkland Conference as part of the statewide realignment this season. Picked to finish fifth in the league prior to the start of the year, Tosa West faced an extremely challenging schedule. It opened with two-time defending state champion Catholic Memorial in Week 1, and the Trojans showed they were no pushovers in a narrow 21-19 loss to the Crusaders. The team would announce it was a legit contender quickly after that, hammering New Berlin Eisenhower 48-6 before topping Pewaukee and New Berlin West as well. In a couple late-season replacement games, the Trojans hung with Division 1 heavyweight Franklin in a 21-7 loss and then beat up on Brookfield Central 35-14. While they'd have to cancel the last few weeks of the season due to COVID-related issues, Tosa West finished 4-2 against a schedule that featured all playoff teams from 2019, as head coach Andy Kolstad has things headed in the right direction.
Others considered: Brillion, Ellsworth, Germantown, Rhinelander.
It had everything you want in an exciting high school football game: lots of scoring, six lead changes (and a couple ties), big plays, a record-setting individual performance, and an improbable Hail Mary as the clock ran out.
After a wild comeback win over Kiel in Week 1, Kohler/Sheboygan Lutheran/Christian found itself in a shootout once again with New Holstein, though the KLC squad was down 50-36 with less than four minutes remaining. After Robby Michael ran for a touchdown with 3:44 left, Kohler/Sheboygan Lutheran/Christian got the ball back with one more crack at it.
With just seconds left on the clock from their own 26-yard line, things looked bleak. However, Robby Michael was able to escape pressure, roll right, and find Colin Girdaukas streaking down the sideline for a 74-yard touchdown with no time left on the clock that tied the game at 50, as KLC kicker Justin Hendrikse booted home the ensuing extra point for a crazy, improbably 51-50 victory. Video of the play can be seen below.
That final reception as time expired allowed Girdaukas to break the state's single-game receiving record, as he finished the night with 339 yards on seven receptions, three of them touchdowns. The previous record was set by Spooner's Tanner Vik in 2013 when he caught eight passes for 331 yards and five scores. Not to be outdone, KLC quarterback Robby Michael moved into third place on the state's single-game passing yardage list with 579 yards, completing 24-of-36 passes with four touchdowns.
MUST WATCH: Unreal finish for the New Holstein vs. Kohler/Sheboygan Lutheran/Christian game.— Matt Hietpas (@MattyHip) October 10, 2020
K-L-C came back from 14-point deficit in 4th quarter then did this with less than 0:10 seconds left.
K-L-C 51, New Holstein 50
(Courtesy: Radio Plus) #Wisfb #OPFB pic.twitter.com/vEpLQQqRTE
Without a doubt, the biggest story of the season in 8-Player football and one of the biggest upsets in some time played out in the Luck versus Prairie Farm game back in Week 5. Luck was unbeaten, ranked #1, and the defending state champ. Prairie Farm had not won a game. No contest, right? Well, not so fast my friend. With Luck playing without star Wyatt Jensen, who averaged more than 200 rushing yards per game, the dynamic changed. Surprisingly, the contest was scoreless after the first quarter. While Luck would get on the board first early in the second quarter, the Cardinals held a slim 16-14 lead at halftime. The second half would belong to Prairie Farm, however. Tyler Rassback (more on him later) scored three rushing touchdowns in the second half as the Panthers pulled away for a shocking 34-16 victory. Rassbach, a sophomore lining up at quarterback and wearing number 84, carried the bulk of the offensive load for the Panthers, with 252 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 25 carries, as he averaged more than 10 yards per attempt. It was the only win of the year for Prairie Farm, who was outscored 165-36 in its other four games.
Germantown and Brookfield East were locked in a very good game that turned into an instant classic. Knotted at 24 at the end of overtime after Germantown rallied with a touchdown with under two minutes to go to tie it, the Warhawks had a chance to win it but a field goal with 15 seconds left sailed wide. Possessing the ball first in overtime, Germantown again lined up for a field goal only to see it blocked. Brookfield East had a chance to win the game, lining up for a field of their own from 30 yards out. However, Germantown linebacker Noah Galindo leapt in the middle of the line and blocked the low kick, and Adam Santana picked up the ball and returned it 76 yards for a game-winning touchdown. In just seconds, Germantown went from the brink of defeat to the thrill of a 30-24 victory. Video of the play is available below.
Special consideration to Highland's 19-13 win over Potosi/Cassville when the Cardinals recovered an errant snap in the end zone on the game's final play for the win. Video available here.
Cedar Grove-Belgium junior wide receiver Sam Peiffer tips the ball to himself then evades several tacklers to find the end zone.
Oconto Falls was an improved team this year, moving to the Northwoods Conference. Junior Owen Huber led the team in rushing with 718 yards and nine scores. He had 157 yards and two scores in an October 23rd game against Crandon. His highlight is music to my ears, featuring double wing, double hand-off, snow, and six broken tackles en route to a 45-yard touchdown.
Baraboo dominated Tomah 43-6 in Level 1 of the postseason, and while the play wouldn't have impacted the outcome of the game, Baraboo's Clayton Teasdale showed there was no quit no matter the score. Tomah ripped off a long run on a trap play, but Teasdale stayed with it and chased the Timberwolves runner down from behind, punching the ball out just before the goal line as Baraboo was able to recover.
In this year unlike any other, we expected to have games canceled or postponed after the final fall declarations were made in September. I'm not sure we expected that 301 games would be canceled due to COVID-related issues, however. Most were related to issues outside the football program, such as county health departments forcing the move, schools moving to virtual instruction and pausing sports, not enough players available due to contact tracing from classrooms, etc., though there were a few positive cases on teams that caused shutdowns. That number is certainly a lot, but there were 939 games played this fall, with 76% of all scheduled contests completed.
Even if there were no issues among their own team, many schools saw opponents have to cancel, and while some were able to schedule replacement games, that wasn't always the case. Counting the two weeks of WIAA postseason, there were nine total weeks in the 11-player fall season. Only 39 of 250 teams playing in 11-player this fall were able to actually play nine games. They are:
Fox Valley Lutheran
Lake Country Lutheran
Saint Croix Central
Saint Croix Falls
West Bend West
Travis Wilson serves as the WisSports.net General Manager, Football Editor, and contributing writer for other parts of the site. Wilson was selected as part of the Sports 40 Under 40 list by Coach & AD Magazine and the National High School Athletic Coaches Association for 2019. The Wisconsin Football Coaches Association (WFCA) named Travis the 2015 recipient of the Dave McClain Distinguished Service Award. He currently serves on the WFCA Executive Board as the Website and Communications Director and is a member of the Executive Board of the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association. A graduate of Richland Center High School and Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Travis was a three-sport athlete in high school (football, baseball, basketball) and currently resides in Reedsburg. You can follow him on Twitter at @travisWSN.
For the latest and most up to date football news and recruiting information, follow Travis on Twitter @travisWSN. Email story ideas, recruiting info, etc. to Travis at travis(at)wissports.net.