(Anita) -- The latest recognition for CAM's dominant 2021 football season comes on the defensive side of the ball, where Joe Kauffman wrecked shop all season en route to being named KMAland 8-Player Defensive Player of the Year.
While Lane Spieker grabbed the headlines with record-breaking numbers on offense, Kauffman spearheaded the Cougars' valiant defensive efforts, which concluded with the first state championship in program history.
"We all worked really hard," Kauffman said on Tuesday's Upon Further Review. "Every senior wants to go out on top. It was a great feeling and a great season."
The linebacker ended the season with 116.5 tackles, seven tackles for loss, two interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
"This year, I put on some size," Kauffman said. "I was able to break through linemen instead of going around them, so it was easier to bring people down."
Kauffman saved his best performances for the postseason, compiling 11, 16.5, 12 and 13.5 tackles in the Cougars' final four games.
"My speed and ability to make decisions," he said, "I'm a lot faster than most linemen that have to come up to the second level. My mentality is that if I can get around them, they can't touch me, and I can get to the ballcarrier first."
Defensively, CAM held opponents to 18.7 points and 255 yards per game while facing BCMoore's second-toughest schedule. Many teams struggled to run against the Cougars, as they held opponents to 3.6 yards per carry and kept seven of their 13 competitors under 100 rushing yards.
Their stout run defense was on full display in the 8-Player state championship game, where they held Easton Valley to only 30 yards on 22 carries, well below their previous average of 182 yards per game.
"We stopped the run game very well this year," Kauffman said. "I think our successful run game helped because we saw what worked, picked it out and worked through that."
While they stymied the rushing attack, Easton Valley's high-powered passing attack found success, creating a shootout. The Riverhawks raced to a 21-6 lead, but CAM responded and clung to a 42-40 lead when Easton Valley regained possession with a game-winning opportunity in the final minutes.
However, the Cougars defense rose to the occasion and forced a fourth-down stop to secure the school's first championship in any team sport.
"It was loud," Kauffman said about that final drive. "I could barely hear myself think. Everyone was tense. We just told ourselves to stay calm, and we just focused on shutting them down."
The victory was a perfect ending for the blood, sweat and tears Kauffman and his classmates put in over the last four years.
"This was our last season," he said. "We had been playing football together since elementary. It was a helluva ride."
Kauffman joins Fremont-Mills' Seth Malcom (2019 & 2020), Ar-We-Va's Keegan Simons (2018), Stanton's Drake Johnson (2017), Fremont-Mills' Parker Powers (2016) and Lenox's Spencer Brown (2015) as 8-Player Defensive Player of the Year winners. View the full interview with Kauffman below.