The Madison La Follette football team has jumped out to a 5-1 start this season, and senior quarterback Steve Chapiewsky is feeling the love.
"Teachers I didn't even think knew about the game of football come up and say, 'Good game, you guys are playing well together,'" he says. "It seems like we're getting everybody into it."
Chapiewsky leads an offense that is averaging nearly 29 points a game. Most recently, the Lancers have toppled Madison West and Middleton, 42-14 and 38-24, respectively. But Chapiewsky and his teammates shift uncomfortably when asked to comment on their gaudy point totals.
"We just go out and play," says senior wide receiver Cashton Craig, breaking the silence.
Last weekend, the Lancers thumped Madison East, 35-0, in the annual battle for the Lussier Cup between the east-side rivals. Chapiewsky tallied 175 yards passing, completing 10 of 15 attempts, and sophomore tailback D.J. Fuller rushed for 112 yards on 11 carries. It was an impressive show of force, a football offense in its prime, hitting on all cylinders.
In the second quarter, La Follette broke its huddle with Fuller initially lined up in the slot and Chapiewsky in the shotgun with an empty backfield. The two then swapped positions, with Fuller taking the snap and dashing off the left tackle, evading one tackler before galloping 78 yards for a touchdown. Some fans in the cheering stands shook their heads and rubbed their eyes in disbelief.
"We run a pro-style offense, and the nice thing about that is it's flexible, so if you've got some kids who can do something with the ball, you can add some more weapons to your offense," says head coach Chad Wiese. "We're in a position this year where, a lot of the time, we'll go four or five wide receivers because we've got a quarterback who can move it around the field and three, four, five guys who can really catch the ball."
As a result, Chapiewsky is currently the eighth most productive passer in the state, fourth in Division I. He's completed 58.6% of his passes for 1,166 yards, averaging 194.3 yards per game. More impressive, he's thrown only two interceptions on 128 attempts. Those numbers compare, at least in terms of efficiency, to Peyton Manning, who Chapiewsky likes to watch on Sundays.
"He's the guy who comes to mind when you talk about quarterbacks," says Chapiewsky. "I don't even think he gets enough credit. He's the best at his game, I believe, of anyone in any sport."
The knock on Big Eight Conference schools, and Madison teams in particular, is that they can't compete with the size and depth of teams from other parts of the state. The last conference team to win a championship was Sun Prairie in 1995, and a Madison team hasn't taken state since Burt Hable's West Regents did it in 1977.
Last season, none of the four Big Eight teams in the playoffs (La Follette, Middleton, Janesville Craig and Sun Prairie) advanced to the second round. So when the Lancers got on a bus and headed north to beat Wausau West on Sept. 7, 21-6, they savored it a bit more than just another win.
"Going into that game, the coaches said we needed to have a playoff mentality," says Fuller. "We're hoping we get to a point in the playoffs where we have to play a team we've never heard of with a long bus ride. Beating Wausau West was a big deal."
It will be a bigger deal if La Follette, currently tied with Sun Prairie, can claim the conference championship. The Lancers are on the road against Memorial Friday night and Janesville Craig next week before finishing against Beloit Memorial at home on Oct. 17. They've already secured a winning record, which guarantees a spot in the state tournament.
But the team's ultimate goal, says Wiese, is greater than that: "I'd sure like to think we've got a shot at making some noise in the postseason this year."