Raccoons football team on the cusp
The Oconomowoc football team started the year 3-0 yet knew it wasn't going to the playoffs before the final week of the year. Somewhere in the middle of that remarkable start and disappointing finish is the reality of the Raccoons - a team that was able to cultivate success and finish 5-4 despite only 12 seniors on the roster.
"No one expected us to do anything this year," third-year coach Ryan McMillen said. "We most certainly could have been better but at the same time, it could have been worse as well. We had a lot of injuries that affected us in the second half of the season. We led or were tied at halftime of every game this year we just did not finish down the stretch. I think the younger kids had some eye-opening experiences this year, and I think they now know the level at which they need to prepare for in our off-season work. Time will tell if they learned how they need to prepare from now until the start of football."
The team hadn't enjoyed a 2-0 start since 2002 but went 3-0 in 2011, taking victories over Kettle Moraine, Waukesha North and Hartford, perennially one of the Wisconsin Little Ten's toughest opponents.
"Week 1 is a big game any year," McMillen said. "It was a nice confidence booster for our young team. The game allowed us to see our younger personnel in their first varsity action, and afterward we knew we could win some games if we stayed healthy."
But the Little Ten proved to have a different look than in years past. Wisconsin Lutheran was its usual dominant self, but upstarts Watertown and West Bend East transformed from the league's bottom two teams last year to playoff qualifiers. Beaver Dam also sustained the success it had begun in 2010, and all four programs were able to top Oconomowoc.
"There was a lot of parity this year, no doubt," McMillen said. "I wasn't really sure how it would shake out at the start of the year. I am not too surprised on West Bend East, because they had a senior dominated team, and Watertown has been waiting for these two classes to come up for a while now and had some success this year with them."
Sophomore quarterback Canton Larson spent his first season at the helm, working frequently with senior end Alex Eckes and junior Zach Poker. He threw for more than 1,000 yards in seven games, missing two contests with injury.
"He had control of the huddles and made some big plays for us," McMillen said. "He had a 3:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, rushed for a few scores and had about a 60 percent completion percentage … he had a decent year and still needs to improve a lot, and Canton understands that he has a long way to go in his development as a QB."
McMillen pointed to scout team player Nick Bazylewicz and Sterling Sheperd as unsung leaders of the team.
"(Bazylewicz) did a nice job of keeping our sideline into games and was a leader even though he did not play a lot on game night," McMillen said. "(Sheperd) did a good job teaching others and leading by example … also had some position changes and worked his way into some playing time."
The program has a 14-14 record in McMillen's three seasons and has beaten every program in the league, save for Wisco. The coach said he believes his coaching staff will come back intact next year for the first time in four years.
"Hopefully we can turn the corner and start to challenge for championships like Oconomowoc once did," he said. "We need to continue to improve our off-season training as a group and our offensive and defensive lines are keys to success. If they play at a high level, we will play at a high level."
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