A blocked extra point. That was the difference between a spot in the WIAA playoffs and a head start on the winter sports season for the Campbellsport High School football players last year.
The Cougars went 5-4 overall and 3-4 in the Eastern Wisconsin Conference with a 21-20 Week 8 loss to Kiel being the road block to the postseason.
“It was a tough loss,” said senior Nick Stahl. “We saw a lot of people take it hard and they showed up the next day in the weight room just wanting to get better and use that as motivation to become better and practice harder every day.”
In the team’s third season in coach Bob Hepp’s second stint as head coach, the Cougars hope the familiarity and hard work will make sure their playoff hopes don’t come down to an extra point.
“Compared to the last two years everything’s really going in the right direction I feel,” linebacker Zach Gassner said. “Kids are catching on faster, we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, doing what we’re told and lifting weights and taking the right steps.”
Campbellsport has experience back on defense, while it will be young on offense.
Seven starters return to the third best defense in the EWC.
Zach Gassner will be the captain of the defense and one of the better linebackers in the league. Gassner will have company in Taylor Straschinske and he said he was impressed with Alex Zommers, who is new at middle linebacker.
Josue Salinas (5-11, 250) and Adam Schumacher (6-1, 245) will anchor the defensive line.
“Even though we’re not as big as [Plymouth and Kewaskum],” Gassner said. “I think we’re fast enough and strong enough and our technique is good enough that we’ll battle with them.”
Stahl said Austin Kerkela is a ball hawk at safety, another veteran who makes Campbellsport’s defense so formidable.
“Our defense is looking pretty solid,” Stahl said. “We have a lot of seniors so I think we can handle just about anything.”
Things aren’t as set on offense, where only three starters return. Tim Whitty is gone as quarterback, and in his place Campbellsport will have two quarterbacks to start the season — junior Taylor Ramthun and sophomore Shaun Beisbier.
“We’ll just let the situation play out,” Hepp said. “Both are doing a good job and both are quite capable of getting the confidence of their teammates.”
Straschinske and Zommers will provide beef at fullback in Campbellsport’s option offense while James Hughes is a returning starter at wingback. There are six running backs Hepp said he can count on for playing time.
Up front, senior Garret Feucht (6-2, 205) was a second-team all-EWC center last year. He’ll anchor the line next to right guard Austin Feuerhammer (6-5, 285) and left guard Cody Baierl (6-1, 295).
Hepp hopes those guys can win the battles in the trenches, and Campbellsport can erase the memories of last October.
“There’s a couple of goals out there. The first goal: we have to beat a top-level team somewhere along the line,” Hepp said. “You have to beat a Kewaskum or a Plymouth — teams that have been on the top of the conference for the past few years. And (the second goal) play consistent football and make the playoffs. That’s the next step.”