Middleton, Falk run over Craig

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton running back Bryce Falk, shown here working behind offensive lineman Kaleb Roessler, ran for 244 yards and four touchdowns in the Cardinals' 35-7 win over Craig Friday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

JANESVILLE — Middleton football coach Jason Pertzborn was finishing up some business inside Janesville’s Monterey Stadium late Friday when the host school turned out the lights.

Perhaps that was apropos, considering the Cardinals had just finished turning out the lights on the Cougars.

Junior running back Bryce Falk had a brilliant night with four rushing touchdowns and 244 yards on 33 carries. Middleton’s offensive line was sensational and an ever-improving defense bent, but rarely broke.

The result was a dominant 35-7 Middleton win that kept the Cardinals in contention for a Big Eight Conference title and perhaps a home game when the postseason arrives next month.

“I think we’re starting to put the pieces together at the right time,” Falk said. “The last few weeks of practice have been going really smoothly and that’s what’s helped us — is that practices have been going a lot smoother. I really like what we’re doing.”

With good reason.

Middleton rolled up 400 yards of total offense and held the Cougars to 216. The Cardinals scored touchdowns on their first three second half possessions and four of five.

And one week after drilling Madison Memorial, the Cardinals notched their second straight convincing win. Middleton improved to 3-1 in the Big Eight Conference and 3-3 overall following a rough start against several state heavyweights.

Craig fell to 3-2-1 overall and 2-2 in the league. Verona (4-0, 5-1) continues to lead the Big Eight.

“I thought we played a pretty complete football game,” Pertzborn said. “Defensively, we bent but we didn’t break. Offensively, we ran the heck out of the ball. It was a really solid win.”

Middleton’s sensational running game helped it control the ball and the clock.

Falk had 11 carries that went for at least 10 yards. The junior standout has a rare combination of speed and power and both were on full display against the Cougars.

“His vision is so good,” Pertzborn said of Falk. “He does such a great job on the edge. You saw tonight where he’s putting his hand on the back of the lineman and just kind of coasting with him and when he wants to go, he gives the lineman a good hard shove and then he goes.

“It’s pretty unique. We’ve had some backs that are talented like that, but he’s just pretty special.”

Middleton’s line is developing into an awfully special unit, too.

The starting five of (from left) Hudson Cleary, Kaleb Roessler, Kristian Peterson, Jackson Mefford and Alex Nelson dominated throughout. And when Mefford left with an injury, the Cardinals didn't miss a beat with Dillon Walser.

“Oh, those guys were awesome,” Falk said of the offensive line. “They just stick with their blocks all game and really make my job easy.”

There’s nothing easy about containing Craig senior quarterback Jake Schaffner. But the

Cardinals did yeoman’s work bottling up Schaffner and the rest of the Cougars offense.

Schaffner has verbally committed to play baseball at North Dakota State and has also drawn recent interest from the University of Wisconsin football program. Schaffner entered the game with 700 passing yards and six touchdown passes, as well as 359 rushing yards and six TDs on the ground.

Middleton limited Schaffner to 9-of-24 passing, though, for just 115 yards. Cardinals standout linebacker Gus Wenning also had a key fourth quarter interception of Schaffner that helped Middleton ice the game.

“He’s a great player, awesome player,” Wenning said of Schaffner. “He’s an awesome player, awesome quarterback, probably one of the best quarterbacks we’ve seen this year.

“Just the main key was when he gets out the pocket, you’ve just got to gear down, watch his hips, make sure he can't get outside of you. Because once he gets outside of you, he’s a fast, elusive player.”

Falk knows a thing or two about being elusive, as well — something he displayed from start to finish.

Middleton’s first drive of the night was a thing of beauty, as it marched 85 yards in 13 plays for a touchdown. Falk, who had 56 rushing yards on the drive, capped things off with a 1-yard touchdown to give Middleton a 7-0 lead with 1:51 left in the first quarter.

“We’re always looking to make a statement, and that was a good one,” Falk said. “The line did a great job there. If they can supply me with a little room, I’ll be good to go.”

The Cardinals had just two more drives in the first half. And despite moving the ball well, Middleton came away empty.

Midway through the second quarter, the Cardinals faced a fourth-and-2 at their own 44. Junior running back Trey Suttle shot up the middle for a 6-yard gain, but he fumbled the ball into the waiting arms of Craig cornerback Evan Lawton to kill that drive.

Then late in the first half, Middleton marched to the Cougars’ 29. But the Cardinals had three straight penalties — two false starts and a holding — to spoil that march.

“I was pretty frustrated at halftime,” said Pertzborn, whose team led just 7-0 at the break. “We had penalties and turnovers at crucial moments. And the longer you let a team like that hang around, the tougher you make things for yourself.”

Fortunately for the Cardinals, their defense was playing exceptionally well.

Middleton’s defensive front of Asher Koledziej, Quone Burks and Dominic Frost put terrific pressure on Schaffner in the first half. And while the Cardinals didn't notch a sack, they pressured the Cougars’ terrific signal caller throughout.

Schaffner finished the half 4-of-10 for 30 yards and threw incompletions on his final five attempts of the half. Middleton also held the Cougars to 79 total yards in the first half.

“I think we did pretty good,” Wenning said. “There’s still a drive or two we could clean up, just some communication we could clean up. But other than that, I think we’re really starting to meld and find our identity.”

Middleton began taking control in the second half against a Craig team that has several players to go both ways.

Falk returned the opening kickoff of the second half to the 43-yard line, then was a wrecking ball on a critical Cardinals’ touchdown march. Falk picked up 40 of Middleton’s 57 yards, including the final seven on a gorgeous TD run.

On a second-and-goal from the 7, Falk followed Walser and Nelson off the right edge. The Cardinals’ nifty back put his foot in the ground, cut back inside, and found a clear path to the endzone to give Middleton a 14-0 lead.

“There were a couple times where he ran other gaps, not where the play was designed,” Pertzborn said of Falk. “There were a couple times where he just saw that they over-pursued and he cut it back or cut back to the other gap. I mean, that’s how good his vision is. He’s really special.”

Craig answered with an impressive 12-play, 80-yard drive that Schaffner capped with a 1-yard TD run that pulled the Cougars within 14-7. From there, though, it was all Middleton.

Falk had runs of 12, 13 and 14 yards on Middleton’s next drive — one he finished with a 3-yard TD that put the Cardinals up 21-7 with just 52 seconds left in the third quarter.

After Middleton forced a three-and-out, senior Caleb Haverberg returned a punt 37 yards to the Craig 15. On the next play, Falk got big blocks from Cleary and Roessler off the left edge and waltzed home to make it 28-7.

“It just kind of snowballed,” Craig coach Adam Bunderson said. “We have a bunch of resilient kids. We expected better.”

Craig caught a rough break on its next drive.

The Cougars marched to Middleton’s 6-yard line, where on first down, Schaffner ran off left tackle for a score with 9 minutes left. Or so he thought.

Instead, the officials ruled there had been an inadvertent whistle before the play began and they replayed the down. Middleton’s defense then stepped up, stuffing Craig running back Owen Shucha for no gain on first down, then pressuring Schaffner into three straight incompletions.

“I’m sure that whistle was tough for them,” Wenning said. “But we really stepped up. Getting that stop was huge.”

Middleton quarterback Gabe Passini capped the scoring with a 1-yard TD run with 2:15 left. And the Cardinals had a happy ride home.

“This team is definitely coming together,” Wenning said.

“I like how we’re playing right now,” Falk said. “I’m pretty excited about where we’re headed.”

So is Pertzborn.

Middleton’s final three opponents — Janesville Parker, Madison West and Madison East — are a combined 6-12 overall and 4-8 in the conference. And if the Cardinals can run the table, they could set themselves up for a promising postseason.

“It’s kind of similar to last year,” said Pertzborn, whose team reached the third level of the playoffs last year. “We had a rough start last year, but by playing a really tough schedule, it helped us get a lot better. I think that’s happening again.”



Sept. 23

Middleton 35, Janesville Craig 7

Middleton ….. 7 0 14 14 —    35

Janesville Craig ……... 0 0 7 0 —  7

M: Bryce Falk, 1, run (Owen Halverson kick), 1:51

M: Falk, 7, run (Halverson kick), 7:58

JC: Jake Schaffner, 3, run (Lily Rick kick), 3:52

M: Falk, 3, run  (Halverson kick), 0:52

M: Falk, 15, run (Halverson kick), 11:21

M: Gabe Passini, 1, run (Halverson kick), 2:15



First downs — M 19, JC 10. Rushing (Att.-Yds.) — M 49-315, JC 25-101. Passing yards — M 85, JC 115. Passing (Comp.-Att.-Int.) — M 6-14-0, JC 9-24-1. Penalties-yards — M 6-54, 3-20. Fumbles-lost — M 3-1, JC 0-0.



Rushing (Att.-Yds) — M: Bryce Falk 33-244, Gabe Passini 12-65; JC: Jake Schaffner 9-61. Passing (Att.-Comp.-Int.-Yds) — M: Gabe Passini 6-14-0-85; JC: Jake Schaffner 9-24-1-115. Receiving (Att.-Yds) — M: Dayton Devine 2-32, Bryce Falk 2-32; JC: Owen Shucha 5-52.

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