Middleton defenseless in loss to Verona

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
It was a rough night for Middleton's defense and coordinator Brad Rogeberg (right) against Verona last Friday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Middleton played its first football game in 1919 and went 0-2-1 that season.

In the 100 years since, the Cardinals have seen more good than bad, highlighted by a pair of state championships in the 1980s and a current run of 23 straight playoff appearances.

Last Friday, though, was one of the most humbling nights in program history.

Verona came to Otto Breitenbach Stadium and routed the host Cardinals, 61-35.

The 61 points is believed to be the most ever allowed by a Middleton team. In addition, Verona chalked up 734 yards of total offense, which is also believed to be the most the Cardinals have ever allowed.

The Wildcats improved to 2-0 overall and in the Big Eight Conference, while Middleton fell to 1-1, 1-1.

“Our defense my senior year gave up 35 points on the whole year,” said Middleton first-year coach Jason Pertzborn, who graduated from MHS in 1989. “This was ridiculous.”

Cardinals Hall of Fame defensive coordinator Tom Cabalka retired after the 2018 season, following a brilliant 45-year career. Brad Rogeberg was hired to run the defense and switched Middleton’s base from a 4-3 to a 3-4.

That move may eventually pay dividends. Against the high-powered and experienced Wildcats, though, Middleton’s defense looked lost at times.

Verona ran for a remarkable 607 yards on just 30 carries — an average of 20.2 yards per rush. 

Junior Jackson Acker, a University of Wisconsin recruit, ran for 243 yards and three touchdowns on just 14 attempts — an average of 17.4 yards per carry. Speedy junior Graham Steir rushed for 206 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries (25.8). And versatile, dynamic senior Haakon Anderson had seven carries for 159 yards and two touchdowns (22.7).

“It’s very tough when you’ve got three guys that run that well and they’re getting to the second level with nobody touching them,” Pertzborn said. “It makes it really tough.”

Verona scored touchdowns on nine of its first 10 possessions and didn’t punt all night. The Wildcats had five touchdown runs of more than 50 yards — scores of 87, 86, 70, 65 and 54 yards. And Verona’s average touchdown strike was a ridiculous 52.7 yards.

Three of Verona’s touchdowns came on the first play of drives. And Verona needed just 33 plays on its nine touchdown drives — an average of just 3.67 plays per drive.

“To me, we missed a lot of tackles,” Pertzborn said. “Guys were diving at ankles, not trying to run through the tackle. A couple times we just lost sight of the football. It was too bad, because they really couldn’t stop us, either.”

No, they couldn’t.

Middleton senior running back Kallion Buckner had a terrific night, rushing for 142 yards on 30 carries (4.7) and scoring a pair of touchdowns. Buckner, who also caught five passes for 96 yards and a score — and even had a 30-yard completion — now has seven touchdowns in two games.

“He’s as good as anybody out there,” Pertzborn said.

Middleton senior quarterback Drew Teff split time under center in Week 1, but took all the snaps with the No. 1 offense against Verona. Teff had a solid night, too, going 16-of-25 for 181 yards, while senior wideout Henry Patterson caught six passes for 102 yards.

Afterwards, though, those gaudy stats did nothing for Buckner & Co.

“To be honest, it’s a learning experience,” Buckner said. “We have to learn from what happened, come back next week, be more focused, be more ready and go from there.”

Verona scored twice in the first 5 ½ minutes, grabbed a 13-0 lead and had Middleton playing uphill all night.

The Cardinals battled back thanks to 20 second quarter points — all on scores by Buckner. 

Buckner had a pair of 2-yard touchdown runs, then went 40 yards with a screen pass for a score that pulled Middleton within 27-20 with 1:04 left in the half. When the Wildcats final drive before half came up short, Middleton seemed to have all the momentum.

“Offensively, it’s very hard to complain about what we did,” Pertzborn said. “We moved the chains all night long. We had them keeled over. I said if we can make their offensive stars play a lot of defense, we’re going to have a chance and we did. They had to throw ‘em out there.

“I thought we had ‘em on the ropes. And when we went into halftime I said, ‘if we score coming out of the gates, we’ve got ‘em.’ ”

They didn’t though.

On Middleton’s first play of the second half, Teff’s deep out route was intercepted by junior cornerback Cam McCorkle. Five plays later, Anderson ripped off a 33-yard touchdown run to make it 34-20 and the floodgates had opened.

Middleton’s next two drives died in Verona territory. The Wildcats responded with a 24-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Adam Bekx to wideout Aubrey Dawkins and an 86-yard TD run by Steir to make it 47-20.

Acker later added a 65-yard touchdown run and Steir ripped off a 70-yard TD as Middleton’s defense never could get a stop.

“We had a rough week of practice. Our heads were just off,” Buckner said. “We just thought we were going to come out and upset them, but we came out and laid an egg. We need to learn from this for next time.”

Pertzborn believes that will happen.

Verona, which returned a deep and talented team, has played as well anyone in the Big Eight through two weeks and should now be viewed as the favorite. Middleton, which had several starters to replace this season, should feel awfully good about its offense.

The defense is a major concern, though, as the Cardinals get ready to host Madison West Friday at 7 p.m. If Middleton can get that side of the ball figured out, it can still have the kind of season it hoped for.

“I just told the guys it’s early and this wasn’t the season,” Pertzborn said. “It’s only Week 2. I said whoever wins is going to have a leg up, so they have a leg up. I said all we have to worry about is ourselves and getting better.”


Aug. 30

Verona …………. 13 14 14 20 — 61

Middleton ……….. 0 20 0 15 — 35

First quarter

V — Acker 14 run (Armstrong kick), 9:39

V — Dawkins 41 pass from Bekx (kick failed), 6:25

Second quarter

M — Buckner 2 run (Pertzborn kick), 11:15

V — Anderson 54 run (kick failed), 9:17

M — Buckner 2 run (kick failed), 2:56

V — Acker 87 run (Armstrong kick), 2:33

M — Buckner 40 pass from Teff (Pertzborn kick), 1:04

Third quarter

V — Anderson 33 run (Armstrong kick), 9:59

V — Dawkins 24 pass from Bekx (kick failed), 3:17

Fourth quarter

V — Stier 86 run (Armstrong kick), 10:01

M — Teff 1 run (Buckner run), 8:53

V — Acker 65 run (kick failed), 8:38

V — Stier 70 run (Armstrong kick), 4:42

M — Tucker 1 run (Pertzborn kick), :12.


First downs — V 22, M 27. Rushes-yards — V 30-607, M 54-246. Comp-Att-Int — V 6-12-0, M 16-31-1. Passing yards — V 127, M 229. Fumbles-Lost — V 0-0, MID 3-0. Penalties-Yards — V 9-100, M 9-55.


RUSHING: V, Acker 14-243, Stier 8-206, Anderson 7-159. M, Buckner 30-142. PASSING: V, Bekx 6-11-127-0. M, Teff 15-25-181-1. RECEIVING: V, Dawkins 3-74. M, Patterson 6-102.


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