Sun Prairie tops Middleton in thriller

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MTT News's picture
By: 
Rob Reischel
Middleton's football team fell to Sun Prairie in the first round of the WIAA Division 1 playoffs on Oct. 19. That marked the final game for Tim Simon as the Cardinals' head coach. Simon will be an assistant coach starting next season.

SUN PRAIRIE — The hugs, the handshakes and the tears had ended.

Bryce Carey was among the last people remaining at Ashley Field last Friday. And Middleton’s senior quarterback/defensive back — who could barely stand thanks to a painful calf injury — was having a hard time believing the end had arrived.

“I’m so proud, of all the guys,” Carey said. “We worked so hard … but we just fell short.”

Middleton played its finest game of the year in its WIAA Division 1 playoff opener at Sun Prairie. But third-seeded Sun Prairie scored the final nine points of the game and rallied for a 42-36 win over sixth-seeded Middleton.

Middleton ended the year 6-4, while Sun Prairie improved to 9-1 and will host seventh-seeded Sussex Hamilton (6-4) in a Level 2 game Friday at 7 p.m.

“I’d say it probably was our best game of the year,” Middleton co-coach Tim Simon said. “We asked one thing of the kids and that was to give us everything you’ve got. And our kids gave us everything they had.”

The loss marked the final game for Simon, Middleton’s coach since 2004. Jason Pertzborn, who shared co-head coach duties with Simon this year, will be the head coach in 2019 and Simon is expected to remain on the staff as an assistant.

In 15 years at the helm, Simon went 117-43 (.731), but just 11-15 in the postseason (.423).

Just two weeks earlier, Sun Prairie came to Middleton and cruised to a 35-7 win. But after Middleton’s coaching staff learned it had a rematch with Sun Prairie and a chance at redemption, it spent the week convincing its troops that the rematch could be substantially different.

“That was the kind of game we should have had two weeks ago,” Pertzborn said. “That’s why I challenged our kids not to quit and get ready to go. We can be that good.

“Sun Prairie was hurting. They had a lot of dudes laying on the ground tonight. They had three, four, five kids leave the game (with injuries) and to me, that means we brought it. Our kids brought it, they were physical tonight and they wanted this game bad. They had themselves in position to do it, but the breaks just did not go our way.”

Middleton did several things substantially better in Round 2 to make this one of the more thrilling and dramatic first round games in the state, including:

• Middleton dominated special teams, getting a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from junior Kallion Buckner and a 96-yard kickoff return for a score from Kevin Meicher.

“I told our guys the first time we played (Sun Prairie) that we should kill them in special teams,” Pertzborn said. “Then we came out and got our butts kicked in special teams. That was inexcusable. Inexcusable. Tonight, the special teams did what they should have done the first game.”

• Buckner, who was held to zero rushing yards in the first matchup, had one of the best games in recent Middleton memory. In addition to his kickoff return for a touchdown, Buckner had an eye-popping 63-yard touchdown run for a score and took a screen pass 60 yards for another touchdown.

“He’s pretty unstoppable,” Carey said of Buckner. “He’s a special talent and I know he’ll do great next year and I’m sure he'll play at the next level, too.”

• Middleton abandoned its base offense and operated a spread attack from the shotgun all night. Middleton believed that was its best plan of attack and it moved the ball far better than its first game against Sun Prairie.

“With our personnel, we felt we were better off in gun,” Simon said.

• Middleton won the turnover battle, 3-2, although Middleton turned those three turnovers into just six points.

• And Sun Prairie standout wide receiver Cooper Nelson, son of former University of Wisconsin standout Scott Nelson, left with an ankle injury just two minutes into the game.

“There were a lot of big plays,” Middleton defensive coordinator Tom Cabalka said. “There’s always a lot of big plays. But I was just extremely proud of our effort. We could have laid down and we didn’t. We made our mistakes, but that’s a really, really very good football team and we took them to the wire.”

Buckner, perhaps more than anyone on the roster, gave Middleton hope it could compete.

Sun Prairie marched 69 yards in just three plays on its opening drive and grabbed a 7-0 lead 57 seconds into the game. Quarterback Richie Gilles hit running back Colin Schaefer for 64 yards on the first play of the game and Nathan Schauer finished the drive with a 3-yard TD run.

“They scored first and it had the ability to be like, ‘Here we go again,’ ” Pertzborn said.

Buckner made sure that wouldn’t happen, though, taking the ensuing kickoff back 97 yards for a touchdown that gave Middleton’s sideline a much-needed jolt.

Sawyer Pertzborn’s extra point was blocked and Sun Prairie maintained a 7-6 lead. But from there, it was game on.

“We thought we could get some things done with our special teams,” Simon said. “And Kallion’s kick really gave us a lift.”

Sun Prairie took a 13-6 lead early in the second quarter. But on Middleton’s next possession, Buckner was back to doing his best Barry Sanders impersonation.

On a first down from Middleton’s 37, Buckner took a toss and started right. He worked his way through the trash, then made a dramatic cutback entirely across the field at the 45. From there, it was a foot race that Buckner won and tied the game, 13-13, with 8:01 left in the second quarter.

Sun Prairie answered with a 12-play, 76-yard touchdown drive that included one of the most controversial calls of the night. On a third-and-12 play early in the drive, Sun Prairie’s Gilles threw incomplete, but Middleton defensive back Keewon Bufford was called for defensive holding.

That gave Sun Prairie an automatic first down, and six plays later it was back in the endzone and back in the lead, 20-13.

“I really didn't like that call,” Cabalka said of the penalty on Bufford. “We just had a couple drives and penalties that hurt us big time.”

Almost inexplicably, though, Sun Prairie kicked deep again — and this time Meicher made it pay. Meicher caught the kick in the left corner and immediately raced down the left sideline, almost unimpeded.

Meicher made a nifty move at midfield to make a man miss. At the 20, Meicher ducked inside of two Sun Prairie defenders, cut back to the right and scored to tie the game, 20-20.

Sun Prairie fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Jake Pavelski recovered for Middleton. That set up a 33-yard Sawyer Pertzborn field goal that gave Middleton its first lead of the night, 23-20, with 2:11 left in the first half.

Sun Prairie quickly put together a 67-yard touchdown drive and reclaimed the lead, 27-23, with 43 seconds left in the half.

Amazingly, though, on Middleton’s next play from scrimmage, Buckner took a screen pass 60 yards for a touchdown to give MHS a 30-27 halftime lead.

“Kallion was Kallion,” Jason Pertzborn said. “After shutting him down the first time, they sure didn’t tonight.”

At halftime, many players took a second to marvel at the remarkable game they were in the middle of.

“In the locker room I was talking to Kevin (Meicher),” Carey said. “And we just looked at each other and it was like, ‘Wow. This is so fun.’ ”

The start of the second half wasn't much fun for Middleton, as Sun Prairie linebacker Adam Rademacher intercepted a screen pass for Buckner and raced 50 yards for a TD and a 33-30 lead. It was the same play that Middleton hit a home run with to end the first half, only this time, Sun Prairie was ready.

“We practiced that play all week long and basically we missed their backer,” Carey said. “They made a great play.”

Middleton tied the game, 33-33, on a 33-yard field goal by Sawyer Pertzborn with 1:49 left in the third quarter. Middleton had a 14-yard TD run by Buckner wiped out three plays earlier by a holding call.

“Our defense was rolling right there,” Pertzborn said. “That hurt. They didn't call any holdings all night and right there they decided to call it.”

On Sun Prairie’s next possession, Middleton junior defensive end Jake Wuebben forced a Gilles fumble and recovered it, as well. That gave Middleton the ball at the Sun Prairie 15, but it had to settle for a 25-yard Pertzborn field goal and a 36-33 lead.

“We had our opportunities to do a lot of damage and we just didn’t at times,” Simon said. “There were some times we left some points out there.”

Sun Prairie reclaimed the lead for good when Gilles and Schaefer — the same pair that hooked up for 64 yards on the first play of the game — connected on a 67-yard TD and a 40-36 lead.

From there, Middleton had four possessions, but gained just seven net yards. Three times, Middleton started from inside its 10-yard line and couldn't flip field position.

Reserve quarterback Drew Teff — who was in the game for one play when Carey left with his calf injury — was also sacked for a safety.

“Field position and turnovers are highlighted in playoff games,” Simon said. “And in the fourth quarter, we had a tough time flipping position.”

Overall, though, Middleton flipped the script after an extremely disappointing effort just two weeks earlier against Sun Prairie.

Yes, Middleton fell short and saw its season end. But there was some consolation in the fact Middleton gave its best performance of the year and made Sun Prairie sweat until the final gun.

“We knew the first time around we did not play a good game,” Simon said. “And when we watched film Monday, we showed the guys like 20, 25 clips and said look at the plays we left out there. Dropped balls, missed blocks, all those things. But the kids played their hearts out tonight and we were fully convinced we could win this game tonight. We just came up a little bit short.”

 

Oct. 19

WIAA Division 1 Level 1 playoffs

Sun Prairie 42, Middleton 36

Middleton ………… 6 24 6 0 — 36

Sun Prairie ………… 10 17 6 9 — 42

SP — Schauer 3 run (Shanahan kick)

MID — Buckner 97 kickoff return (kick failed)

SP — FG Shanahan 27

SP — FG Shanahan 30

MID — Buckner 63 run (Pertzborn kick)

SP — Ackley 11 pass from Gilles (Shanahan kick)

MID — Meicher 96 kickoff return (Pertzborn kick)

MID — FG Pertzborn 33

SP — Gilles 5 run (Shanahan kick)

MID — Buckner 60 pass from Carey (Pertzborn kick)

SP — Rademacher 50 interception return (kick failed)

MID — FG Pertzborn 33

MID — FG Pertzborn 25

SP — Schaefer 66 pass from Gilles (Shanahan kick)

SP — Team safety

TEAM STATISTICS

First downs — MID 7, SP 26. Rushing (Att.-Yds.) —MID 28-110, SP 47-240. Passing yards — MID 121, SP 316. Passes (Comp.-Att.-Int.) — MID 5-15-1, SP 18-25-0. Fumbles-lost — MID 0-0, SP 3-3. Penalties-yards — MID 6-25, SP 8-51.

INDIVIDUAL LEADERS

Rushing: MID, Buckner 14-113. SP, Schauer 29-192.

Passing: MID, Carey 5-15-1-121. SP, Gilles 18-25-0-316.

Receiving: MID, Buckner 1-60. SP, Schaefer 8-203.

 

 

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