Season four of Preps Live on WTMJ.com kicks off on Friday, with the defending WIAA Division 3 State Champion' Catholic Memorial Crusaders hosting the Mukwonago Indians from Carroll University. Our pre-game coverage gets underway at 6:40 p.m., with kickoff right around 7 p.m.
High expectations once again surround the Crusaders, who last year won by an average of 21 points per game en route to finishing 14-0. Not only did Catholic Memorial claim their second WIAA State Championship, but won their fifth Classic Eight Conference title in the 20 year history of the league. The conference crown was also the program's first outright title since 2000.
From that squad, starting quarterback Ben Nimz returns after throwing for 2,032 yards and 18 touchdowns in his first season as the starting QB. Who will emerge as go-to-threats on the ground and in the air will be among the questions the Cruasders will need to answer, following the graduations of top rusher Jaylen Campbell and top receiver Max Cooper. All-Conference Honorable Mention Mike Naze figures to fill the void created with the departure of Cooper.
On defense, All-State linebacker and Wisconsin recruit CJ Goetz returns. Goetz had a strong showing in the team's state championship victory, finishing with eight tackles, two tackles for a loss, two pass break-ups and two sacks. All-Conference Second Team defensive end Jake Kaiser also returns to a unit that allowed only 11 points per game, and recorded four touchdowns of their own.
Across the field, the Mukwonago Indians have their sites set on returning to the playoffs. Missing out on the postseason each of the past two falls by a single conference win, the Indians know if they are to win at least four league games and become playoff eligible, they will need a number of players to step up in expanded roles.
Offensively, the Indians must replace quarterback Gabe Cizauskas, and their top four rushers - including Zach Genrich, who ran for nearly 1,000 yards. Jacob Boucher returns for his senior season after running the ball 22 times for 128 yards and two touchdowns. Also having to replace their top receiver, Mukwonago may look to Jake Schierts to take on a larger role both on the ground and in the air.
The defensive side of the football was also hit hard by graduation, as the top five tacklers for the Indians graduated in June. The top defensive returnee is outside linebacker Jesse Schmidt, who finished with 20 tackles, including two tackles for a loss.
Last season, Catholic Memorial knocked off Mukwonago by a 34-14 final, and have won three of the past four meetings. Mukwonago will look to beat the Crusaders for the first time since October 10th, 2014.