Wisconsin Little Ten
Hartford ripped through the league schedule with a 7-0 finish, one game ahead of Wisconsin Lutheran and two ahead of West Bend East, the only three squads to qualify for the postseason.
The Orioles allowed double figures only twice during the regular season and will rely on a stifling defense again in defending their second straight piece of the Little Ten crown.
Lutheran's only blemish for the year was its 21-19 setback at Hartford in week four, just seven days after dismantling West Bend East.
More than 20 all-league performers return in a conference that has become a recruiting bonanza for Midwest area colleges.
The Orioles entered the playoffs at 9-0 and made a nice showing in their seventh straight and 14th overall appearance, downing Milwaukee King (39-0) and Green Bay Preble (19-9) before falling to eventual runner-up Mequon Homestead (27-14) in Level 3 of the D-1 competitions.
Hartford must replace all-league quarterback Nick Apel along with first-team running back Charles Weissman and offensive lineman Luke Robbe. The latter two played in the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association All-Star contest.
Apel completed 61 of 106 attempts (57.5 percent) for 949 yards and a 13-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio, while Weissman carried 270 times for 2,286 yards (8.5) and an eye-popping 35 touchdowns, earning second-team all-state laurels from the Associated Press and all-area first-team honors. Robbe helped open many of those holes, also making the all-area first team
The Orioles also lost first-teamers in defensive linemen Austin Hahn and Marshall Feucht and punter Tim Bartlett, who made the second team at wide receiver. Also gone are second-team linebacker Josh Brandmeier and honorable mention picks Kyle Quednow, Josh Cesar and John Stephans.
Bartlett led Hartford with 37 receptions for 698 yards (18.9) with six TDs.
Hahn is a preferred walk-on at the University of Minnesota, while Quednow and Weissman are headed for UW-Oshkosh.
However, the Orioles return several topnotch performers who provide them with a strong nucleus for a run at a repeat. They include three senior first-team selections: offensive lineman Dylan Druch, heavily recruited linebacker Tyler Dippel and defensive back Mark Cadena. And junior offensive lineman Steve Kenitz earned second-team honors.
Dippel was a WFCA all-state selection and first-team all-area performer and will no doubt be on everybody's radar this fall.
The Vikings also will take a huge part of the league and state spotlight after finishing 8-1 overall in the regular season and making their eighth consecutive postseason appearance since the WIAA merger.
All they did in 2007 was claim their third D-3 state title in four seasons after earning six league championships, five outright, from 2000-06. Last fall they blazed through the playoff field with convincing triumphs against Pewaukee (40-14), Greendale (48-27) and Brown Deer (40-26) before reaching the finale with a 24-17 win against Kewaskum. In the title showdown, Lutheran walloped New London, 49-6.
All but one of their all-league honorees has graduated, that being senior first-team tight end Corey Henne.
Otherwise, the Vikings must replace standout running back-defensive lineman Chris Echols, offensive linemen Kevin Zeitler and Kyle Tolbert, defensive lineman Chuquee Fletcher, linebacker Damon Campbell and defensive back Sean Kennedy, all first-team Little Ten performers.
Zeitler is a University of Wisconsin recruit who made the AP all-state first team and was the Little Ten's lineman of the year. Journal-Sentinel and AP state player of the year Campbell and fellow first-team all-area choice Echols are headed to Minnesota State-Mankato, a D-II school. Fletcher made the all-area second team.
Echols rushed for 2,480 yards on 316 attempts (7.8) and reached the end zone 40 times.
Lutheran also must fill the hole left by the graduation of Jesse Muldrow, an all-area and all-league second-teamer after rushing for 1,406 yards on 209 carries (6.7) and scoring 10 TDs.
Second-team linebacker Jason Kramer and second-team defensive back Troy Heuer also graduated.
West Bend East
The Suns started 2-3 but won their final four contests to finish 5-2 in league action and 6-3 overall, advancing to the D-2 playoffs for the sixth time and third this decade. Unfortunately for them, they suffered a dizzying 62-26 setback to De Pere in the opening round.
East must find replacements for most of its all-league performers, including first-team players in running back Mike Dorrance, linebacker Tony Decent and defensive back Sam Hoffman and second-team selections in quarterback Steve Leitheiser and offensive lineman Jake Moder and honorable mention selection Scott Wenzlaff.
Leitheiser garnered second-team all-area honors after connecting on 120 of 220 aerials (54.5 percent) for 1,682 yards and 21 scoring tosses against only nine interceptions.
Dorrance gained 732 yards on 132 tries in nine outings, scoring eight running TDs and five on pass receptions.
East returns senior honorable mention picks Paul Klotz and Mike Larkin.
The Goslings suffered through two three-game losing streaks, missing the postseason with a 3-4 conference finish and winding up 3-6 overall. That meant they didn't see the playoffs for a second straight year and ninth time in the last 11 seasons after qualifying eight times over a 12-year span.
Watertown's top returning players include senior second-team tight end Des Smith, senior second-team offensive lineman Beau Ruehlow and senior honorable mention choice Weston Umland.
The Goslings must replace all-league wide receiver Josh Archambeau, second-team defensive back Chris Rouche and honorable mention selections Drew Scheulke and Austin Henneberry.
Also gone is honorable mention quarterback Brett Jacobson, who completed 54 percent of his 211 attempts for 1,642 yards with 15 TDs and 15 interceptions.
The Coons also missed the postseason by a game at 3-4 in league action and lost both nonconference outings, leaving them without a playoff game for a second year in a row. They've made 18 appearances but haven't won a postseason contest since 2001.
That could change this year because Oconomowoc returns several important ingredients to mix up a playoff run. They include senior first-team linebacker and second-team running back Paul Swan, the team's leading rusher, and senior second-team tight end Alex Kellerman.
Also back are senior honorable mention picks Jake Jungbluth and Trevor Marks.However, they must replace second-team picks in offensive lineman Jake Hanna and defensive lineman David Dembinski.
The Owls finished 2-5 in league play but won both nonconference showdowns. They missed the postseason for the second year in a row after qualifying 10 consecutive seasons, including a D-3 state championship in 1998.
Slinger does get two key performers back in senior second-team defensive lineman Matt Guerndt and senior second-team defensive back Ryan Perrault. The latter finished second on the team with 537 yards rushing and led the Owls with 23 catches for 166 yards.
Junior honorable mention choice Alex Burkel also returns.
They must replace first-team kicker Marcus LaMarche, second-team running back and linebacker Joel Yogerst and second-team defensive lineman Gus Gehring.
Yogerst topped Slinger with 187 carries and 1,064 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns in eight outings.
The Golden Beavers went 1-6 in league action and 1-8 overall, four of the setbacks coming by a touchdown or less. They haven't made the playoffs since 2003, their only berth since 1997.
But Beaver Dam has talent coming back, including senior first-team offensive lineman Hank Jacobs and senior second-team linebacker Craig Rossow, although it must replace second-team defensive lineman Andrew Cook.
Also back are honorable mention performers in seniors Devon Kellenberger, Matt Haase and Raul De La Garza.
Kellenberger carried 195 times for 841 yards (4.3) and five scores in eight games.
West Bend West
The Spartans managed a 1-6 league finish and ended 2-7 overall a year after qualifying for only the school's second postseason appearance.
One of their top performers returning is senior second-team offensive lineman Dylan Sincere
Honorable mention picks Mike Wilson and Kyle Stocks must be replaced.