Middleton routs Madison Memorial

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Dan Larson/For the Times-Tribune
Middleton’s Jack Madigan celebrates after sacking Madison Memorial quarterback Charlie Erlandson on consecutive plays last Friday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Every game for playoff-minded teams during a nine-week high school football regular season is important, but some have just a little more urgency to them than others.

For Middleton, saddled with a 1-3 record and coming off a heartbreaking loss to Verona a week earlier, last Friday’s Big Eight Conference contest against unbeaten Madison Memorial was one of them.

The Cardinals came through in a big way.

Quarterback Gabe Passini flashed his big arm, showcased his running ability and finished with four touchdowns in all, leading Middleton to a 45-21 victory that breathed life back into not just the Cardinals’ playoff hopes — but their conference title hopes as well.

“They were a little frustrated,” Middleton coach Jason Pertzborn said of his team’s season being on the brink following a 13-7 loss to Verona in which the Wildcats were able to win thanks to a pair of field goals in the final 6 minutes, 16 seconds that broke a 7-7 tie.

“Things just haven’t been going our way and for a team that works this hard to prepare for this sea-son and to start out 1-3 just didn’t sit well. Last week we had a lot of mistakes and should have won the game and we gave it away. And after losing two prior, it puts you in a tough spot. Tonight was like a must-win week.”

And win the Cardinals did, improving to 2-1 in the conference and 2-3 overall thanks in large part to Passini.

The 6-foot-4, 185-pound junior quarterback had the biggest game of his career, completing 13-of-20 passes for 158 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions while also rushing for 108 yards and two TDs on just eight carries (13.5 yards per carry).

His two biggest plays bridged the first and second halves, turning a 17-14 lead into a 31-14 ad-vantage.

First, Passini found wide receiver Dayton Devine for a 32-yard TD strike on a perfectly thrown post pass — a dime that split two defenders and could have just as easily been a pick-six going the other way had it not been for his accuracy.

“I saw the post open up,” Passini said, “and I knew I had to get it in there fast. I got it done.”

Yes he did, earning even more trust from Pertzborn in the process.

“He called the play, too, so that was even better,” Pertzborn said. “He and I have had conversations where I’ve said, ‘You’ve got to help me out here. You tell me what you’re comfortable with and we’ll go to it. I don’t want to force you to throw balls that you’re not comfortable with so if you see something and you want it, you tell me.’ And he wanted it.”

That strike capped off a textbook two-minute drive, one that spanned eight plays and lasted 1:08, making it 24-14 with 32 seconds to go before halftime.

It also came right after Memorial (4-1, 2-1) had scored on Charlie Erlandson’s 10-yard TD strike to Bradyn Taylor on a slant pattern.

“We had to answer there,” Pertzborn said. “We’ve been working on our hurry-up offense a lot, es-pecially in these first couple weeks because they’ve all been close games so there’s been a lot of op-portunities to work on it.

“We actually had it designed that we were going to do it every third series tonight. We did it the one series and that led to the field goal. And then right before the half we went to it again, and you could tell it tired them out. We were able to get in there. We saw something on film and Gabe stepped up in the pocket and threw it right to him. It was a tough throw. It was a great throw.”

The first series of the second half was arguably the series of the game, with Passini fumbling the snap on a quarterback sneak on third-and-one at Memorial’s 41-yard-line to set up fourth-and-one and a decision for Pertzborn.

The decision, it turns out, was a simple one: Call the same play.

This time, though, Passini didn’t fumble — and not only that, after bulldozing ahead for enough yardage to move the sticks, he didn’t just fall down. Instead he bounced to the outside for a 41-yard TD that made it 31-14 with 1:31 gone by in the third quarter.

“I was just trying to get that yard, but I stayed upright,” Passini said. “My fullback came in front of me and I kind of just felt going outside and I stayed with it. The safety came down, the corner came down into the pile and I bounced it out and had some running room.”

“I don’t think he knew that was going to be there,” Pertzborn added. “It just seemed like he had his head down and all of a sudden he got to the edge and was like, ‘Holy cow, nobody’s here, I’m go-ing to go.’ ”

Middleton added two fourth quarter TDs — a 4-yard TD pass from Passini to 6-foot-8, 240-pound tight end Carter Kadow, who earlier in the game had a big hit from his defensive end position, and a 4-yard TD run by Passini — to make it 45-14 before Memorial prevented a second-half shutout with a late score.

And so the Cardinals got up off the mat following that loss to Verona and can now think about building momentum off of it.

“Memorial and Parker, they’re pretty close competition and we’ve got to beat them both to stay in the race for the playoffs,” Passini said. “This was a statement game and we had to get it done — and we did so.”

Not without some nervous moments, though.

Middleton’s Owen Halverson drilled a 36-yard field goal from just inside the right hash that made it 3-0 with 3:30 left in the first quarter. That scoring drive that was set up by Gus Wenning’s redzone interception.

Bryce Falk’s 43-yard run on the very first play of the drive sparked Middleton into scoring range after that.

After Middleton forced Memorial to go three-and-out, Falk struck again.

The junior running back dashed 18 yards off the right side to paydirt on the ensuing possession, picking up a big block from senior fullback Tyler Mayhew — one of the Cardinals’ four captains —  along the way.

“He’s an animal,” Pertzborn said of the 6-foot, 210-pound Mayhew. “He’s worked so hard and he’s such a great leader for this team as one of the captains. Everybody loves him and respects him. The fullback is a tough position to play. You’re kind of like a glorified lineman. You’re asked to do a lot of dirty work and he relishes that, he feeds off that.”

Falk’s TD run, on the first play of the second quarter, made it 10-0.

And he would make it a two-score game once again later in the first half, running in for a 7-yard TD off the left side this time to put Middleton in front 17-7 with 2:36 to go before halftime.

Memorial pulled within 17-14 before the Cardinals ran off 28 straight points and pulled off a huge win.

Middleton now travels to Janesville Craig (3-1-1) on Friday, before heading back to Janesville again a week later to face Parker (3-2, 1-2).

If the Cardinals are able to win those games, they might very well have this Week 5 win over Me-morial to look back on as the win that turned their season around.

“At some point you’ve got to put a stake in the ground and say, ‘Enough’s enough’ and you’ve got to put your back against the wall and say, ‘Hey, it’s time to go out and ball,’ ” Pertzborn said of the attitude in practice leading up to Friday night’s game against Memorial and the same attitude pre-vailing once the whistle blew. 

“Tonight was the team effort I expected all year long. It’s just taken us a little while to get there for whatever reason. Obviously the toughness of the opponents made a big difference, but I like where we’re at.”

 

MIDDLETON 45,

MADISON MEMORIAL 21

Memorial .......... 0 14 0 7 — 21

Middleton ..... 3 21 17 14 — 45

Midd — Owen Halverson 36 field goal, 3:30, 1st

Midd — Bryce Falk 18 run (Owen Halverson kick), 11:50, 2nd

Mem — Mekai Ward 23 pass from Charlie Erlandson (Ty Aparicio kick), 9:13, 2nd

Midd — Bryce Falk 7 run (Owen Halverson kick), 2:36, 2nd

Mem — Bradyn Taylor 10 pass from Charlie Erlandson (Ty Aparicio kick), 1:40, 2nd

Midd — Dayton Devine 32 pass from Gabe Passini (Owen Halverson kick), 0:32, 2nd

Midd — Gabe Passini 41 run (Owen Halverson kick), 10:29, 3rd

Midd — Carter Kadow 4 pass from Gabe Passini (Owen Halverson kick), 11:27, 4th

Midd — Gabe Passini 4 run (Owen Halverson kick), 8:14, 4th

Mem — Charlie Erlandson 1 run (Ty Aparicio kick), 1:15, 4th

 

TEAM STATS

First downs: Mem 17, Midd 17. Rushes-yards: Mem 32-114, Midd 32-313. Passing yards: Mem 164, Midd 210. Passing att-comp-int: Mem 12-30-2, Midd 14-21-0. Fumbles-lost: Mem 0-0, Midd 1-1. Penalties-yards: Mem 7-65, Midd 5-45.

 

INDIVIDUAL LEADERS

Rushing: Mem, Bryson Cunningham 10-51, Charlie Erlandson 13-34; Midd, Bryce Falk 17-165k Gabe Passini 8-108.

Passing (att-comp-yards-td-int): Mem, Charlie Erlandson 12-30-210-2-2; Midd, Gabve Passini 13-20-158-2-0.

Receiving: Mem, Mekai Ward 6-129; Midd, Dayton Devine 2-42.

 

 

 

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