It had been a decidedly imperfect season for the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted Lakers. They finished the season with an 0-8 record. In fact, the Lakers had not won a football game since October 24, 2017. On Tuesday night, the Lakers played a decidedly perfect first quarter. In the first round of the Section 4AA playoffs, they scored touchdowns on their first three possessions to take an 18-0 lead. The defense took over from there, and the Lakers pulled off the upset of the 2019 playoffs with a 26-7 victory over two seeded Concordia Academy.
“We came here with the mindset that it is an 0-0 season, lineman Cody Dickhausen said. “If we work hard, do what we need to do, do all our jobs, we can come in here and compete.”
Three plays after the opening kickoff, the Lakers would take the lead. They found room in the middle of the Concordia Academy Beacons’ defense, and on the third run into the center of the line, running back A.J. Gatz broke free for a 38-yard touchdown run.
The defense would give the ball right back to the offense, and the offense gave the ball right back to Gatz. Running again behind Gabe Hausladen, Jake Flecke, and Kyle Driver – the middle of the offensive line – 67 yards later, Gatz had his second touchdown in as many possessions. The Lakers’ had a 12-0 lead.
“We ran a couple of inside run plays that I don’t think they prepped for, and our running backs and line did a great job,” Lakers head coach Ben Anderson said. “We have good athletes. When we execute, we are capable of that.”
Like the middle of the offensive line, the middle of the Lakers’ defensive line dominated in the first quarter. They forced their second three and out to force another punt. The snap went over the Concordia Academy punter’s head, and although he was able to jump on it, Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted was in business inside the Beacons’ five-yard line.
Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted quarterback Bennett Paulson would waste no time capitalizing on the mistake. His four-yard touchdown run gave the underdogs an 18-0 first-quarter lead.
“We saw what they were in,” Dickhausen said. “They were in a five front, so we ran inside and kept hitting them where they were weak. They never adjusted.”
Both defenses would control the game for the next two quarters.
Concordia Academy threatened late in the second quarter, but Lakers’ defensive back Mitchell Mallak – a freshman – came up strong in run support to make a tackle for loss. Concordia’s fourth-down conversion would fall short – ending the Beacons’ best drive of the first half.
Down 18-0, Concordia Academy in spurts started to look like the 7-1 team that they were. They moved the ball to the Lakers’ 35-yard line. A critical drop on what would have been a sure touchdown put the Beacons in a fourth and long and the Lakers’ defense – with a second life – forced an incompletion.
Two Lakers’ defenders who were all over the field keyed the next Lakers’ defensive stop. Tuchtenhagen, a defensive tackle, broke into the backfield to make one of several tackles for a loss or short gain. Later, defensive back Noah Bush undercut a slant pass and almost made an interception.
“Our defense has been improving every single week,” Anderson said. “A lot of it is young guys stepping up. We had three freshmen playing defense tonight. They played great. They rallied around those young guys. Everyone was helping each other out, and they played with confidence.”
“They were fired up and were super fun to watch,” Paulson said about his defense. “Hunter Decker and Cody Dickhausen were especially big. Everyone played together and did their job.”
Concordia Academy used a heavy package – complete with offensive tackle Aidan Kingsbury in the backfield to get on the board finally. The 6’5″ 260-pound junior would cap off the drive with a five-yard touchdown run.
Down 18-7, Concordia Academy’s defense continued to keep the team in the game, but a great open-field tackle on punt coverage by Mallak put Concordia at its own five-yard line. Down eleven points with six minutes to play, Concordia had to gamble. After the Lakers’ Collin Boese made an open-field tackle from his linebacker spot, the Beacons tried to convert a 4th and 14 from their own one-yard line. After an incomplete pass, Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted took over at its own one-yard line.
One play later, Paulson scored again to put the game away. The ensuing two-point conversion would be the final points of the game in the Lakers’ 26-7 victory.
“(This victory) is amazing. I won a game in my sophomore year, but we didn’t win a game last year, and this is our first win this year,” Dickhausen said. “This band of brothers that came together – to see the happiness on everyone’s faces – means everything.”
On Saturday, the Lakers (1-8) will continue their second season run and face St. Agnes (8-1).