Middleton's 'D' dominates La Follette

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton defensive coordinator Tom Cabalka has his unit playing at a high level again./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

A normal coach might have worried.

An ordinary coach would have lost hour after hour of sleep.

But there isn’t a whole lot that’s commonplace about Middleton defensive coordinator Tom Cabalka. And there’s very little that’s routine about the defenses he fields.

In a Big Eight Conference showdown Friday night, Cabalka and Middleton’s defense came up huge again. The Cardinals sacked Madison La Follette quarterbacks Julian Patton and Frankie Arriola 10 times, held the Lancers to 193 total yards and rolled to a 24-13 win.

Middleton improved to 4-0 and now has sole possession of first place in the Big Eight Conference, while the Lancers fell to 3-1.

“We’ve played three really good games in a row defensively,” Cabalka said. “The kids were very prepared. They were very focused all week long.

“They’re still young and they’re still green. But I’m very happy. Very happy. Very excited about the fact they’re coming together.”

Middleton lost 10 defensive starters from a year ago. That group allowed just 64 points in nine Big Eight Conference games, and late in the season, Cabalka called it the best defense he had ever coached.

Many predicted slippage for the Cardinals’ defense this fall. Instead, Cabalka — one of the top defensive minds in the state — has just plugged in his next batch of standouts, a unit that’s improving by the week and frustrating everyone they play.

“Coach Cabalka is an amazing coach,” said Middleton junior defensive back C.J. Fermanich, who blanketed La Follette pass catchers all night. “He knows in and out, back and forth, left and right, every single way of doing things.”

Credit this defensive effort to countless hours in the film room, intense studying, and a perfectly executed game plan.

Cabalka and the Cardinals knew La Follette’s Patton loved to take off and run, especially if his first option in the passing game was covered up.

So Middleton rushed with just four — typically with standout defensive ends Cody Markel and Mitch Andrews, and stout tackles Saygo Henderson and Max Elliott. That group did yeoman’s work making sure Patton couldn’t escape the pocket, then eventually swallowed him up.

Andrews was a blur off the edge and finished with two sacks, while Markel and Elliott both had 1 ½ sacks.

The linebackers were terrific in coverage and took away many of the short and intermediate areas the Lancers hoped to exploit. And the secondary — led by junior safety Joe Ludwig and Fermanich — was sensational all night.

“We knew that (Patton) was a scrambler and he liked getting outside the pocket,” Andrews said. “We had to contain him and not let him get outside the pocket, and I thought we did a really good job of that.”

Middleton’s offense struggled at times, as well. But the Cardinals did enough to open the season 4-0 for a second straight year.

Senior quarterback Brennan Schmitt had a 25-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter that gave Middleton a 7-0 lead. Senior running back Cam Maly had an 11-yard touchdown run that gave the Cardinals a 24-7 fourth quarter lead and largely iced the game.

And Fermanich had an enormous 99-yard kickoff return to open the second half.

“It’s coming together and I think we’re very happy with how it’s coming together, especially defensively,” Middleton coach Tim Simon said. “We’re getting better and that’s exciting.”

The first half was largely a defensive slugfest, with Middleton netting just 89 total yards of offense, while La Follette had only 28. The Cardinals also sacked Patton a whopping seven times in the first half.
But in this defensive struggle, Schmitt made the play of the half.

On a fourth-and-3 from the Lancers’ 25 early in the second quarter, Schmitt saw that La Follette’s defensive tackles were split too wide. Middleton had called an isolation play for Maly, but Schmitt had the option to audible at the line of scrimmage.
Schmitt did just that and kept the ball himself. Schmitt shot through a huge hole, broke an arm tackle at the second level and raced to the endzone for a 7-0 Middleton lead.

“It’s understanding the situation of the game and Brennan did that,” Simon said.

Fermanich then began the second half with a bang when he returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 Cardinals lead. Fermanich fielded the ball at the 1, faked a handoff to Trevaun Turner at the 10, then took off down the right sideline.

Many of the Lancers keyed on Turner, believing he had the ball. Meanwhile, Fermanich picked up a wall of blockers and cruised to the endzone.

“Really, what I think made it so open was Tre’s fake on it,” Fermanich said. “He really sold it as good as you can.

“I had two or three guys (in front) and they were blocking the whole field. And I don’t think I would have made it without those guys. Our blocking was great. No one was even within touching distance of me.”

La Follette answered back on its opening drive of the second half, getting a spark from No. 2 quarterback Arriola. The Lancers went 69 yards in just six plays, as Arriola threw for 35 yards and junior running back Elias Sobah ripped off a 40-yard touchdown run that pulled the Lancers within 14-7 with 9:23 left in the third quarter.

It stayed that way until the first play of the fourth quarter. There, Maly had an 11-yard touchdown run that capped off a 12-play, 76-yard drive that ate up 6:25 and gave Middleton a 21-7 lead.

For most of the night, Middleton couldn't carve out much space for Maly, who finished with 61 yards of 22 carries (2.8). On this play, though, Maly had a large crease and took full advantage.

“We’ve got to get the ground game going,” said Simon, whose team managed just 78 total rushing yards. “I thought we were one block away on some of those to really springing Cam.”

Middleton’s defense continued to put the hurt on La Follette, as Markel, Andrews and cornerback Kevin Ripp all had fourth quarter sacks. The Lancers tried going back to Patton, but very little worked.

“We just had great pressure all night,” Cabalka said. “A lot of it was we knew the kid (Patton) really, really wants to run. He doesn’t go downfield unless he’s got a wide-open man.

“So we had some coverage sacks, but most of it was just great, great lateral movement from our kids up front. Not necessarily getting up field and making the sacks. It was more, he wanted to dance a little bit. They played great up front. We were very much aware of what they wanted to do.”

The Cardinals are doing exactly what they want to do. And that’s chase a second straight Big Eight title.

Middleton will host Sun Prairie (2-2) Friday at 7 p.m. With a win, Middleton will stay atop the conference and clinch a postseason berth for the 20th straight year.

“We’ve come a long ways already,” Andrews said. “We still have a long road ahead of us, but we’ve made great improvements since day one.

“We control our own destiny. But we’ve got to keep our foot on the gas pedal and keep going right now.”

Fermanich agreed.

“I think we’ve really developed in a short time,” he said. “There were a lot of frustrations early on, but I think we’ve really meshed together these last two weeks and really brought it together.”

Thanks in large part to another elite defense.


Middleton ………………………. 0 7 7 10 — 24

Madison La Follette ………… 0 0 7 6 — 13

Mid — Schmitt 25 run (Mefford kick)

Mid — Fermanich 99 kick return (Mefford kick)

MLF — Sobah 40 run (Lema kick)

Mid — Maly 11 run (Mefford kick)

Mid — FG Mefford 25

MLF — Sobah 2 run (kick failed)


First downs — Mid 11, MLF 10. Rushing (Att.-Yds.) — Mid 31-78, MLF 35-51. Passing yards — Mid 96, MLF 142. Passes (Comp.-Att.-Int.) — Mid 7-16-1, MLF 11-16-0. Fumbles-lost —Mid 2-1, MLF 0-0. Penalties-yards — Mid 5-63, MLF 7-76.


Rushing: Mid — Maly 22-61. MLF — Sobah 4-50.

Passing: Mid — Schmitt 7-16-1-96. MLF — Patton 7-10-97.

Receiving: Mid — Bacon 2-27. MLF — Jorenby 5-56.


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