Playing a rugged nonconference schedule for a high school football can be a double-edged sword so to speak.
On one hand, a squad can benefit from going up against tough competition and carry that experience into the regular conference schedule.
On the other hand, lopsided losses, even against top competition, can affect the confidence and mental approach of a team, while there is always a risk of injury playing against high-caliber programs.
Laconia battled its way through nonconference foes Wautoma and Marathon the first two weeks of the season. And although the Spartans were outscored 77-7 in those two games, they appear to have emerged fine.
Laconia hosted upstart Lomira last Friday and opened the Flyway Conference season with a convincing 21-0 victory, a win that was a by-product of the first two weeks.
“This week, yeah, the energy is definitely up and there is a lot more confidence this week,” head coach Mark Madigan said. “In order to beat those teams (like Wautoma and Marathon), you have to play your best and we came far from playing our best those two games. But I think we learned some things and improved and the biggest thing is that we made it through the situation healthy.”
One of the big turnarounds from the first two games for the Spartans was on defense. Against Wautoma and Marathon, Laconia surrendered 574 yards, but Lomira totaled just 84 yards in the game and standout running back Jordan Michael was limited to 71 yards on 15 carries.
Madigan credits his young defensive line for the improvement with interior linemen Bryan Beske, Brandon Reigel and Jacob Isaac along with defensive ends Ryan George and Dustin Hobbs leading the way.
“The first two games we had a pretty inexperienced defensive line. Those front four it was the first time starting,” Madigan said. “The last couple of weeks we have working on the technique, maintain gaps, just doing the little things right to win those one on one matchups. I think the biggest thing is that our d-line started to gel together.
“We always say take the path of most resistance for our d-lineman and that’s what they did. They did a good job stuffing holes.”
Having a going showing against the run should bode well for the Spartans this week, too, as Laconia travels to face powerhouse Omro.
The Foxes have an experienced backfield, led by quarterback Spencer Potratz, and will run the ball again and again and again … and then maybe some more.
“Omro is a different beast when it comes to running the football. They will just go, go, go, go,” Madigan said. “You’re talking about some very experienced backfield that is great at running veer. They do a great job of it. This week, taking care of our run responsibilities and getting confidence is huge coming up this week.”
New conference, not yet
Waupun and Campbellsport were two of the teams relocated to the newly formed East Central Conference before this season.
But through the first three weeks, it’s been a lot of the same for both teams.
Waupun actually opened the season against three teams who joined the Warriors in the Eastern Wisconsin Conference last season. Waupun faced Kiel and New Holstein in nonconference tussles and then opened the EWC season against Plymouth.
It was a little different for Campbellsport as its nonconference opponents were Flyway members Mayville and Lomira, but those two teams have been on the Cougars schedule since 2013. That was followed by a matchup with longtime EWC power Kewaskum.
Both teams, however, will delve into the new conference this week.
Campbellsport welcomes in winless Ripon, while Waupun makes the trip to face Kettle Moraine Lutheran.
Five of a Kind
Fond du Lac improved to 3-0 last week with a 29-25 win over Stevens Point. That is the Cardinals’ 13th win by seven points or less since 2008 – the most among area teams — and the seventh in the past three season.
Being able to win close games is often a big key to success for high school football teams so here are the top five area teams who have the best winning percentage in games decided by seven points or less since 2008.
• 1. Laconia (7-1, .875 winning percentage): A 14-7 loss to Omro in Week 3 last season is the only taint on an otherwise perfect record for the Spartans.
• 2. North Fond du Lac (6-4, .600): The Orioles have played only one such game since 2013, but it was a 28-26 win over Kettle Moraine Lutheran in the final week of that year.
• 3. Fond du Lac (13-9, .590): The Cardinals have played in a whopping 22 such games since 2008 and are trending up having won second of the last eight close games they have played in.
• 4. St. Mary’s Springs (5-4, .555): The Ledgers don’t play in a lot of close games and when they do, it’s usually against one of the state’s best.
• 5. Lomira (2-2, .500): The Lions have the fewest number of games in this category among area teams, but that record includes a 14-13 win over Campbellsport this season.
Each week I will rank what I feel are the top 5 teams in the area. These rankings are not based on head-to-head competition (No. 1 team would beat No. 2 team), rather it will be gauging how they would stack up against teams in their own division. With that said, here are the Week 4 rankings.
•1. Fond du Lac (3-0): The Cardinals survived a scare from Stevens Point last week but remained unbeaten. We’ll see what the team learned from that loss.
•2. St. Mary’s Springs (2-1): Not that there was much concern, but the Ledgers bounced back fine after the Week 2 loss to Amherst.
•3. Winnebago Lutheran (2-1): The Vikings may have the best skill position group among area teams, which makes them a dangerous opponent.
•4. Oakfield (2-1): Yes, the Oaks move up a spot after suffering their first loss – a close call against Abundant Life – because the schedule should get much easier for the 8-man program now.
•5. Laconia (1-2): The Spartans blanked Lomira in its Flyway Conference opener and could be a sleeper in conference where Springs, WLA and Omro are the headliners.
Steve Clark: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter at @skcreno27