Football Cardinals picking up steam

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Middleton football coach Jason Pertzborn (right) and quarterback Drew Teff (12) helped the Cardinals push their winning streak to three games last Friday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

JANESVILLE — The streak is alive and well.

For Middleton football coach Jason Pertzborn and his Cardinals, though, there’s so much more to achieve.

Middleton rolled past host Janesville Craig, 42-7, last Friday and clinched a playoff spot for the 24th straight year. That’s tied for the longest streak in Division 1 with Hartland Arrowhead.

Middleton won its third straight game and improved to 5-2 overall and in the Big Eight. The Cardinals are now tied for second place in the league with Sun Prairie, Verona and Madison La Follette.

Forgive Pertzborn, though, if he’s not impressed — yet.

“Making the playoffs is just the start,” Pertzborn said. “There’s a lot more that’s out there for these guys, and now it’s time to go and get it.”

Billy Johnson, a standout right guard and defensive lineman, agreed.

“This was our first goal, but it’s certainly not our whole goal,” Johnson said. “We’re pretty confident right now and we know we have a good team. Now, it’s just a matter of proving that down the stretch.”

Middleton lost two of three games earlier this season to conference powers Verona and Madison Memorial, and many wondered where these Cardinals were headed. Middleton has rebounded, though, by routing league bottom feeders Beloit Memorial, Janesville Parker and Craig by a combined score of 142-31 over the last three weeks.

Middleton now finishes the year at Sun Prairie (5-2) Friday and home against Madison La Follette (5-2) on Oct. 18. And the Cardinals know this closing stretch will play a huge role in where their year eventually goes.

“We’re ready. We’re definitely ready,” said running back Kallion Buckner. “We took some losses earlier this year, but we’re a much better football team today than we were back then.”

Buckner is a big reason for that.

The Cardinals’ all-everything running back continued to dazzle against a Craig team that couldn't stop him.

In just one half of work, Buckner ran for 150 yards on 19 carries (7.9) and scored three touchdowns. He also caught a screen pass from quarterback Drew Teff that he turned into a 12-yard touchdown.

Buckner now has 1,004 rushing yards on the year and 20 total touchdowns.

“There aren’t many like him,” Johnson said of Buckner.

Added Pertzborn: “One of the officials came over and said how (Buckner) was breaking ankles and asked what he’s like on turf. He’s a special, special back.”

For the third straight game, Middleton’s defense was awfully special, too.

The Cardinals, who switched to a 3-4 defense this year, went back to a four-man front against Craig. The Cougars built virtually their entire offense around the running game this year, and entered the contest having thrown just 20 passes all season.

Middleton’s beefy defensive line took away Craig’s run game, though, holding the Cougars to just 14 rushing yards and 52 total yards in the first half. Craig also had only two first downs before its final drive of the game, when it grinded out six more against Middleton’s reserves.

“Our defense has been getting better and better since the Verona game (in Week 2),” Pertzborn said. “I thought they dominated tonight.”

Middleton marched 60 yards in 10 plays on its opening drive and Buckner capped it with a 1-yard touchdown run. Buckner carried seven times for 44 yards on the march, including a sensational 9-yard run to the Cougars 9-yard line where he displayed enough moves to open his own dance studio.

Middleton’s offensive line was dominant from the start, as (from left) Zac Mayhew, Taylor Simmons, Clay Craker, Johnson and Luke McChrystal cleared holes for Buckner. Tight end Sam Engler, who led the Cardinals with four receptions for 60 yards, was also a force in the run game.

“I really trust those guys,” Buckner said of his line. “There were a lot of times where I had a lot of room to get going.”

After a Craig three-and-out, Middleton began at its own 49. From there, it took the Cardinals just five plays to cover the 51 yards, highlighted by a 28-yard Buckner TD run behind Johnson and McChrystal to make it 14-0.

Buckner had a 3-yard touchdown run just 50 seconds into the second quarter when he followed Craker up the middle. That capped a quick six-play, 50-yard drive that gave Middleton a 21-0 lead.

Then just before half, the Cardinals faced a third-and-seven from the Craig 12. Teff ran play action and Buckner leaked out of the backfield into the left flat. Teff then delivered a strike and Buckner waltzed into the endzone with just 10 seconds left in the half to make it 28-0.

“That play takes some time, so you have to be patient,” Buckner said. “But the guys blocked it really well, and once I caught it, it was all green.”

Quarterback TJ Bauer — who rotated throughout the game with Teff — had a 2-yard touchdown run on Middleton’s first series of the third quarter to make it 35-0 and start the running clock.

Then early in the fourth quarter, junior outside linebacker Nolan Franzen intercepted Craig quarterback Eric Hughes and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown that gave Middleton a 42-0 lead.

Cardinals defensive back Josh Stormer also intercepted a pop pass for the tight end, and junior defensive lineman Michael Parente recovered a fumble as Middleton won the turnover battle, 3-0.

“Our defense played really well,” Johnson said. “We didn't let them get much going.”

That will be tougher for Middleton to do these next two weeks.

Sun Prairie is averaging 35.7 points per game and its two losses are by an average of 5.0 points.

Madison La Follette is one of the league’s surprise teams and notched an impressive win against Sun Prairie two weeks ago.

Pertzborn knows if the Middleton wins out, it’s guaranteed no worse than a second place tie in the league, which could mean a home playoff game. If the Cardinals struggle down the stretch, though, they will almost certainly be on the road throughout the playoffs.

“You want to play at least one, even two at home if you can,” Pertzborn said. “It’s a lot easier to reach your goals when you can do that.

“And now, we’re in a position where we can have a great finish to this season. It’s up to us.”

 

Oct. 4

Middleton 42, Janesville Craig 7

Middleton …………….. 14  14  7  7 — 42

Janesville Craig ………. 0  0   0  7 — 7

M – Kallion Buckner, 1, run (Sawyer Pertzborn kick)

M – Buckner, 28, run (Pertzborn kick)

M — Buckner, 3 , run (Pertzborn kick)

M – Buckner, 12, pass from Drew Teff (Pertzborn kick)

M — TJ Bauer, 2, run (Pertzborn kick)

M — Nolan Franzen, 2, interception return (Pertzborn kick)

 

TEAM STATISTICS

First downs – JC 8, M 14. Rushing (Att-Yds) – JC 29-79, M 29-177. Passing yards – JC 47, M 139. Passing (Att.-Comp.-Int.) – JC 12-4-2, M 18-9-0. Fumbles-lost – JC 1-1, M 1-0. Penalties-yards – JC 3-25, M 4-35.

 

INDIVIDUAL LEADERS

Rushing: JC – David McWilliams 7-41. M – Kallion Buckner 19-150. Passing: JC – Eric Hughes 4-12-47; M – Drew Teff 5-8-76, TJ Bauer 4-10-63. Receiving: JC – Eric McLevige 1-25. M – Sam Engler 4-60.

 

 

 

 

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