Platteville head coach Kyle Craig knew the challenge Lake Mills junior quarterback Ben Dunkleberger and his various weapons would present.
Unfortunately, knowledge alone wasn’t enough as Dunkleberger and his Lake Mills teammates were simply too much to handle.
The dual threat QB did it all Friday night, accounting for 431 yards and five touchdowns in the L-Cats’ 44–26 win in the second round of the WIAA Division 4 playoffs.
Lake Mills (8–3) kicked a 23-yard field goal on its opening possession to take the early lead. Then after Platteville junior Zach White boomed a 70-yard punt to the L-Cats’ 3-yard line, Dunkleberger broke loose for a 95-yard run down the east sideline and a 10–0 lead.
Platteville’s Luke Fugate, who missed the entire week of practice with a badly sprained ankle, returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for a score, but that was the only offense the Hillmen could muster in the opening half.
In the second quarter, Dunkleberger hit Austin Keach with a 25-yard pass to set up Brady Wagner’s 6-yard run that made it 17–7 with 2:27 left in the second quarter.
Dunkleberger, who rushed for 130 yards in the first half, went to the air in the second, passing for 190 yards and two touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters. He also added two more TD runs.
“Lake Mills has a lot of speed all over the field,” said Craig. “Dunkelberger is a special athlete, but he’s got some really good athletes surrounding him. Spreading us out the way they did put us in a lot of 1-on-1 matchups and they won more of them than we did. I thought we did an outstanding job of getting into position to make plays. Unfortunately, they made of them than we did. We were able to put ourselves in favorable situations, just unable to capitalize on the moments.”
Dunkleberger finished the game with 168 yards and three TDs on the ground, while completing 17 of 30 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns. Wagner added 101 yards on 17 carries. Keach caught five passes for 132 yards and a 10-yard TD that made it 44–20 with 3:33 left in the game.
After being held to just one first down in the first half, the Platteville offense finally got on track.
After a 40-yard Ethan Bernhardt pass to White, Fugate scored from two yards out to make it 31–14 with two minutes left in the third quarter.
Bernhardt threw fourth down TD passes to junior Donovan Blevins and White to account for the final score.
Bernhardt completed 23 of 31 passes for 188 yards. Fugate was held to 49 yards rushing on 18 carries. Senior Alex Traxler caught a team-high nine passes for 50 yards. Blevins hauled in seven passes for 79 yards.
Platteville finished the year 8–3 overall, after winning a share of the Southwest Wisconsin Conference title during the regular season.
“I hate losing, and I’m 100 percent positive that our staff and players feel the same way,” added Craig. “But if there is any consolation in losing, it comes from losing to a better team. Friday night, Lake Mills was the better team. They are more than just Dunkelberger.
“The hardest thing about it is saying goodbye to our team. We had a special team this year, seniors through freshman. I know people are going to look at individuals that we have coming back but there are a lot of intangibles you can’t measure or see if you don’t spend time around these men. There is so much genuine care for each other and multiple personalities that it all blends into this perfect championship formula. Yes we have talented players leaving and, yes, we have talented players coming back, but the team chemistry is what makes years like this special. That’s due in large part to our senior class. I hope the younger players were paying attention to the lessons this senior group was showing."
WIAA Division 4 Level 2 playoff
Lake Mills 44, Platteville 26
(from Friday, Oct. 21 @ Platteville)
Lake Mills 10 7 14 13 — 44
Platteville 7 0 7 12 — 26
LM: FG Adam Mitchell 23
LM: Ben Dunkleberger 95 run (Mitchell kick)
P: Luke Fugate 90 kickoff return (Zach White kick)
LM: Brady Wagner 6 run (Mitchell kick)
LM: Dunkleberger 19 run (Mitchell kick)
P: Fugate 2 run (White kick)
LM: Hayden Iverson 10 pass from Dunkelberger (Mitchell kick)
P: Donovan Blevins 23 pass from Ethan Bernhardt (kick failed)
LM: Dunkelberger 7 run (kick failed)
LM: Austin Keach 10 pass from Dunkleberger (Mitchell kick)
P: White 15 pass from Bernhardt (conversion failed)
First downs — LM 17, P 13. Rushing — LM 40-269, P: 25-58. Passing Yards — LM 263, P 188. Passing — LM 17-31-1, P 23-31-1. Fumbles–lost — LM 0-0, P 0-0. Penalties-yards — LM 4-20, P 8-60.
Rushing — LM: Ben Dunkleberger 23-168, Brady Wagner 17-101; P: Luke Fugate 18-49. Passing — LM: Dunkleberger 17-30-2, 263; P: Ethan Bernhardt 23-31-1, 188. Receiving — LM: Austin Keach 5-132; P: Alex Traxler 9-50, Donovan Blevins 7-79, White 4-41.