Middleton races past Verona

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MTT News's picture
Gregg Hammill/For the Times-Tribune
Dion Huff and Middleton's football team rolled past Verona last Friday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

VERONA – Sometimes it pays to go against the grain.

After gathering a punt off the turf, Kevin Meicher saw his first option up the sideline blocked, so he took it the other way. The result was an impressive 72-yard touchdown return that lifted Middleton’s football team to a 31-10 victory over Verona in a Big Eight Conference game last Friday night.

Meicher, who initially dropped the punt at the Middleton 28, eluded a tackler, then darted to his left and ran upfield breaking an attempted arm tackle by Verona’s Tim Soko at the Verona 20-yard line. Meicher then used blocks from teammates Collin Serra and Colin Liegel to get to the end zone.

“On our punts, we usually set up walls from one side or the other and I think Verona knew that from watching film,” Meicher said. “I saw the Verona guys running over there so I cut it up the other way and, luckily enough, there was enough blockers who recognized that and kept the play going until the whistle.”

Meicher’s return couldn’t have come at a better time with the Cardinals trailing 3-0 early in the second quarter and the offense struggling to get anything going.

“We were a little sluggish,” Middleton coach Tim Simon said. “We just weren’t clicking in the first half, especially in the first quarter, and sometimes you need something special for a boost … a fumble recovery, a pick, or, in this case, a special teams score. That was what we needed.”

Middleton improved to 4-1 in league and overall with its third consecutive victory and is tied with Madison West for second place in the Big Eight Conference. Verona dropped to 3-2 overall and in the league and fell into a fourth-place tie with Madison La Follette.

The Wildcats were coming off a 23-17 loss to Madison West last week.

“We knew they were going to be a bit ornery coming off that loss to West,” Simon said. “We said they’re going to come in with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder and with something to prove, so we’ve got to play our best football game. It was probably as complete of a football game as we’ve played so far. We have a ways to go, we’ve got strides to make, but the way all three parts of the game plan went together with special teams, defense and offense … I think it was a pretty complete game by us.”

“Once we started playing as a team then no one can beat us,” added Middleton senior defensive end Ryan Fortney.

Middleton leaned on its senior running back tandem of James Pabst and Dion Huff to dominate the second half. Pabst scored three touchdowns and rushed for 137 yards on 18 carries while Huff added 74 yards on 17 attempts. The pair were held to just 48 yards on 13 carries in the first half, but exploded for 163 yards on 22 rushes in the second half.

“They’re both over 200 pounds and there’s not a lot of body fat on them,” Simon said. “They’re just muscular kids and they worked their butts off in the weight room the last couple of years.

“On a night like tonight it pays off because they’ve got a good defense. They’ve held a lot of teams to very few or no points, but they’re two running backs that are hard to arm tackle. You’ve got to gang-tackle them.”

Simon said Pabst and Huff share time at tailback which creates a healthy competition.

“They’re competitive against each other,” Simon said. “They’re both sharing time and neither one really wants to share time. That keeps them competing against each other. When one guy has a great run, the other guy goes, ‘I think I’ve got to do that too.’”

While the offense was dominating, the defense took over as well. After allowing Wildcats’ running back Joe Riley to rush for 64 yards on 12 carries in the first half, the Cardinals held him to just 14 yards on six attempts in the second half.

“They ran a counter trap that they were catching us on and that was the No. 1 run play we had to stop in the second half,” Simon said. “For coach (Tom) Cabalka that was kind of a focus to take that one away and I think we did a lot better job in the second half.”

Leading just 7-3 at halftime, Pabst set the tone with a 25-yard run on the Cardinals’ first offensive play of the second half. Pabst capped the 10-play, 70-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown run straight through the Verona defense. Pabst carried eight times for 54 yards on the drive.

“I thought the last two offensive series of the second quarter were good,” Simon said. “So we went in at halftime without an offensive touchdown, but it gave us a lot of positive feelings. Like, ‘Hey we’ve got it moving and now we’ve just got to finish it.’ Then to come out in the third quarter and put that first drive together and finish it was just what the doctor ordered because our defense was on the field too much in the first half.”

Verona answered with a 10-play, 65-yard touchdown drive of its own. Quarterback Aaron Young hooked up with Taeman Talton for a two-yard TD pass in the corner of the end zone to make it 14-10 with three minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Middleton came right back, driving from its own 28-yard-line to the Verona 40. From there, Pabst took the handoff and appeared to be stopped at the line of scrimmage by a host of defenders until he broke loose and sprinted to the end zone on the last play of the quarter.

“On that 40-yard touchdown run that James had, ‘We’re like son of gun we didn’t get the first down,’ and then ‘Holy cow he just scored,’ ” Simon said. “That was a tremendous run. He just kept going, just kept those feet moving, and kept those knees high.”

Leading 21-10 in the fourth quarter, Jake Genyk set the Middleton defense up with a 42-yard punt that went out of bounds at the Verona one.

“What a great punt by Jake Genyk,” Simon said. “We have a couple different punts and that was a certain punt play that we called and he executed it perfectly. They get the ball at the 20 or 30 and it’s a different deal, but you’re getting the ball at the 1-yard line and down a couple scores. You’ve got 99 yards to go and that’s pretty tough for any offense.”

After two incompletions, Middleton capitalized when Fortney and defensive lineman Tristan Carroll converged on Riley in the end zone for a safety with 5:15 remaining.

“The D-line opened up the line of scrimmage for me and he was sitting right there sitting on my lap,” said Fortney, who also sacked Young twice. “So I figured I might as well make the play.”

Verona then attempted an onside kick that went out of bounds and Middleton took over at the Verona 36. Six plays later, Pabst surged in for a 2-yard touchdown. Quarterback Davis Roquet passed to Huff for the two-point conversion.

The offense scored on three of its first four possessions of the second half to put the game away.

“The offense figured out what we did wrong in the first half and fixed it at halftime,” said Meicher. “Just got it done in the second half.”

Fortney credited the offensive line with stepping it up in the second half.

“It was more of just motivating our O-line,” Fortney said. “I mean we got it on lockdown that whole second half. Our O-line got it figured out in that second half and it was just bread and butter after that.”


Sept. 15, 2017

Middleton 31, Sun Prairie 10

Middleton       0    7    14     10   –    31

Verona            3    0      7     14   –     10

V – FG Aaron Young 36

M – Kevin Meicher 72 punt return (Joey Culp kick)

M – James Pabst 14 run (Culp kick)

V – Carson Bull 2 pass from Young (Young kick)

M – Pabst 40 run (Culp kick)

M – Safety

M – Pabst 3 run (Dion Huff pass from Davis Roquet)



First downs – M 13, V 12. Rushing (Att-Yds) – M 40-223, V 30-101. Passing yards – M 80, V 168. Passing (Att.-Comp.-Int.) – M 19-11-1, V 28-16-0. Total plays-yards – M – 67-303, V – 66-269. Fumbles-lost – M 2-1, V 1-0. Penalties-yards – M 6-35, V 5-25.



Rushing: M – Pabst 18-137. V – Riley 19-82. Passing: M – Roquet 19-11-1-80; V – Young 28-16-0-168. Receiving: M – Huff 4-31. V – Bull 7-91.

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