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WIAA DIVISION 5 FOOTBALL

WIAA Division 5 football: Aquinas, Mayville bring new identities to title game rematch

From the WIAA FOOTBALL: Collection of semifinal and finals coverage series
West Salem vs Aquinas football, Oct. 14

Aquinas' Isaac Schumacher celebrates after a play during the Blugolds game against West Salem on Oct. 14.

Aquinas High School football coach Tom Lee has had an informal attire policy for his team around the weight room and at practices all season.

No ‘2021 state championship’ shirts.

“I didn’t want them to think of defending a championship,” Lee said. “Every team is organic and brand new. We wanted them to have their own identity and they’ve embraced it. They really care about each other, they fight hard for each other and they’re a lot of fun to be around.”

The Blugolds (12-1) will set out to Camp Randall Stadium at 4 p.m. Thursday for the WIAA Division 5 state championship game against the very team they defeated last season for the title, unbeaten Mayville, which has taken a similar approach to its season.

“It was our motivation all throughout the offseason,” Mayville coach Scott Hilber said Sunday during the WIAA media availability. “We knew we had holes to fill, but we knew we had the opportunity to be, maybe not bigger, but stronger, faster and more athletic than last year. It was just a matter of everything coming together for us.”

“It was expected. We’ve been keeping an eye on them all year and have a lot of respect for their coaching staff and kids. We knew they’d be in the mix.”

Lee, who called his team “creatures of habit” after its 44-19 win over Kewaunee in last week’s semifinal, has tried to squeeze every bit of preparation he can into three days of practices at Carroll Park. The team departs for Madison early Thursday morning.

“We do a lot more of our neck-up install stuff on Monday, so we’ve kind of married Monday and Tuesday together for this bit,” Lee said.

Their run through the playoffs has come with a pivot on offense. The normally big-play Blugolds that relied on big throws from senior quarterback Jackson Flottmeyer — he has 2,514 passing yards and 28 touchdowns — have more recently looked to the ground with the likes of senior Calvin Hargrove and junior David Malin among others.

“We realized we could really pound the rock and run the ball a lot against these teams,” senior wide receiver Collin Conzemius said. “I just want what’s best for the teams, so I’ll go out and make my blocks and let the running backs do their thing.”

The Blugolds average 245 yards on the ground over the last three weeks compared to 149.7 yards in the first 10 games. Senior running back Calvin Hargrove is also coming off a season-high 18 carries with 128 yards and three touchdowns against Kewaunee.

The biggest shift offensively might have been changes to the offensive line. Senior Isaac Schumacher moved from right tackle to center, senior Aaron Lepak moved from defensive lineman to right tackle and junior Brady Lehnerr moved into the lineup after a knee injury.

Even after losing three starters from last year’s team, Lee is as confident in his offensive line as ever. So is Schumacher.

“I really just try and do whatever the coaches need me to do,” Schumacher said. “(The offensive line) has taken the challenge with pride. I think we’ve really come along as an offensive line. This is the best our offensive line has looked since I’ve been here, I think.”

The Cardinals (13-0), who defeated Prairie du Chien 26-21 in the semifinal round, also graduated three offensive linemen among their 18 seniors from last season. But they did return their biggest offensive piece.

Senior running back Blake Schraufnagel has had at least 2,400 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns in back-to-back seasons, earning him a WFCA All-State spot.

“He’s got great vision, great balance, he’s powerful,” Lee said. “He’s the complete package. I’m watching him on Hudl right now and he looks like he has 2,200 yards every game. The guy is just unbelievable.”

Hilber’s play calling is another thing that wows Lee. Mayville averages 43 points a game and hasn’t scored fewer than 26 in a game since Oct. 15, 2021.

“The way that he calls his stuff, the formation and motion look the same from play to play,” Lee said. “Sometimes the play they run isn’t for them, it’s to set up the next play or third down play. It’s great football. That means we can’t go nuts and say ‘Oh, they did this last time, they’re going to do the same thing this time.’ We have to play for our keys and not get ourselves out of position.”

Hargrove and Damian Lee lead the Blugolds in tackles at 143 and 138, respectively. The Blugolds hope to have their third-best tackler, senior Lee Corsi, back after he suffered a shoulder injury against Maple Northwestern in the second round.

Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. with the broadcast on Bally Sports Wisconsin.

James Krause can be reached by email at James.KrauseJr@lee.net or on Twitter @jkrausepro.

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