Memorial ends Middleton's year

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Josh Stormer and Middleton's football team lost to Madison Memorial in the second round of the playoffs./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

MADISON  — Back in mid-September, Middleton’s football team left Mansfield Stadium dazed, confused and uncertain where their once-promising season was headed.

The Cardinals had just lost to the Spartans, fell to 2-2, and admittedly were having a crisis of confidence.

Middleton once again left Mansfield Stadium last Friday broken hearted, following a 30-0 loss to Memorial in a WIAA Division 1, Level 2 playoff game. But what happened between the two games left the Cardinals with mostly good vibrations about their season.

In the 49 days that separated the two Memorial contests, Middleton ran off six straight wins, including an impressive victory at Sun Prairie and two wins over playoff qualifier Madison La Follette. The Cardinals finished their first year under Jason Pertzborn with an 8-3 record and a good deal of momentum heading into the offseason.

“I’m really proud of everybody on the team,” Middleton senior center Clay Craker said. “Everybody stepped up, everybody tried their hardest. Everyone did the best they could and we got things turned around.”

Pertzborn, a longtime assistant coach who took over the program this year, admits he was worried when his team started slowly.

“When we were sitting at 2-2, I was really worried about our psyche,” Pertzborn said. “I wasn’t sure what direction we were going to go.

“But I’m really proud of these guys and how they fought back. To get to this game, to still be playing in Level 2, that’s a huge accomplishment.”

While the Cardinals’ turnaround was impressive, they knew they’d have to be at their best to defeat top-seeded and unbeaten Memorial (11-0). That didn’t happen.

The fourth-seeded Cardinals managed just 51 yards of total offense and averaged just 1.34 yards per play. Middleton also turned the ball over five times — three on fumbles and twice with interceptions — managed just five first downs and didn’t complete a pass.

“We definitely struggled on offense,” Pertzborn said.

The Cardinals were also ravaged by injuries.

Running back Kallion Buckner, a likely all-state player who entered the game with more than 1,700 rushing yards and 29 total touchdowns, suffered a shin injury late in the first quarter and didn’t return. Quarterback Drew Teff was having a hard time breathing and left the game for good midway through the second quarter.

And No. 2 running back Keewon Buford suffered a shoulder injury that knocked him out of the game in the second quarter. Buford returned in the second half and led Middleton with 27 rushing yards.

“We lost some of our heavy hitters, that’s for sure,” Pertzborn said.

After a round of snow last Thursday, Memorial athletic director Jeremy Schlitz and the Spartans’ grounds crew worked diligently to get the field ready. And while that group did yeoman’s work, more snow fell before Friday’s game and throughout the first half.

By halftime, the fresh snow made it tough to gain any footing. And by the end, the field was an absolute mudpit.

Memorial struck when the field was at its best, jumping to leads of 14-0 after the first quarter and 21-0 by halftime.

“You couldn’t get off the ball at all,” Middleton senior tight end Sam Engler said. “You couldn’t do anything.” 

Memorial took a 7-0 lead with just 28 seconds left in the first quarter when junior running back Kabaris Vasser plowed in from 1-yard out. That capped a 12-play, 82-yard drive in which Memorial ran for all 82 yards.

On the ensuing kickoff, Middleton’s Josh Stormer — who was in for Buckner — fumbled and Memorial’s Nathan Francisco recovered. Just three plays later — on the final snap of the first quarter — senior running back Kam Marshall ripped off a 12-yard touchdown run to give the Spartans a 14-0 lead. 

In a matter of just 28 seconds, what had been a scoreless game completely got away from the Cardinals.

“That was a little daunting with a field like this,” Engler said of the deficit. “Praise to our guys though. We never really quit and gave it our all.”

The second quarter didn’t go any better for Middleton.

With No. 2 quarterback TJ Bauer and No. 3 running back Cole Toennies in due to injury, the Cardinals’ offense couldn’t get started. Then with just 35 seconds left in the half, Memorial quarterback Jason Ceniti and wideout LeKwan Lewis hooked up for a 25-yard touchdown on fourth-and-11 that gave the Spartans a 21-0 lead.

Middleton had a chance to make things interesting early in the third quarter when defensive end Jake Wuebben had a strip sack of Ceniti and linebacker Cole Yanke recovered at the Memorial 23. 

Two runs by Buford took the ball to the Memorial 9 and the Cardinals appeared to have a glimmer of hope. But Middleton went 10 yards in reverse on its next two plays, then on a fourth-and-18, Bauer was intercepted by cornerback Kole Kerkhoff.

“We just couldn’t take advantage of their mistakes,” said Pertzborn, whose team did force three Memorial turnovers. “That game wasn’t over until we didn’t score on that turnover. If we could have scored on that turnover, it would have changed the game.

“But the kids fought, they battled. That was a good football team.”


In notching its school-record 11th win, Memorial rolled up 314 rushing yards and averaged 5.6 yards per carry.

Vasser, who’s drawing attention from several colleges, ran for 154 yards on 19 carries (8.1). Marshall finished with 87 rushing yards on 23 carries (3.8) and Ceniti ran for 84 yards on seven carries (12.0).

While the defeat certainly stung Middleton’s players and staff alike, they also left Mansfield Stadium this time proud of the team they’d become over the past seven weeks.

“We see each other every day at school,” Craker said. “But those connections we make at practice are just great. That’s one thing that you cherish about football is seeing everybody every day and having fun, then all of a sudden it’s over.

“But we grew to be like a family and that’s amazing. I’m really proud of the team we became this year.”

Engler agreed.

“Our goal, of course was to win state,” Engler said. “So obviously we’re disappointed with that. But we can look at the little things we learned and how hard the seniors worked and what kind of message we sent to the underclassmen, and stuff. There’s a lot of lessons we can learn from this year.

“To say we’re not disappointed would be lying. But there’s a lot of things to look back on and realize they will help us later in life.”


Nov. 1

WIAA Division 1 Level 2 playoffs

Middleton ………. 0 0 0 0 — 0

Memorial …….. 7 14 7 2 — 30

MM — Vasser 1 run (Kerkhoff kick)

MM — Marshall 12 run (Kerkhoff kick)

MM — Lewis 24 pass from Ceniti (Kerkhoff kick)

MM — Ceniti 19 run (Kerkhoff kick)

MM — Safety (Wuebben tackled in end zone)


First downs — MID 5, MM 18. Rushes-yards — MID 29-51, MM 56-314. Passing yards — MID 0, MM 25. Comp-att-int — MID 0-9-2, MM 1-6-0. Fumbles-lost — MID 3-3, MM 3-3. Penalties-yards — MID 5-35, MM 11-81.


Rushing: MID, Buford 11-27. MM, Vasser 19-154. Passing: MID, Bauer 0-6-0-1. MM, Ceniti 1-6-25-0. Receiving: MM, Lewis 1-25.





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