Football Cards drop playoff opener

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MTT News's picture
By: 
Rob Reischel
The football season came to an end last Friday for Brennan Schmitt and Middleton./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

It came out of nowhere.

It was fast and ferocious, like a summer thunderstorm or a blitzing linebacker.

Middleton’s football team was leading Sun Prairie, 9-0, early in the second quarter of a WIAA Division 1 first round playoff game last Friday. Then, in a matter of just 3 minutes, 40 seconds, Sun Prairie scored a stunning 21 points.

Middleton never fully recovered and suffered a 30-23 defeat, ending what had been a sensational season much earlier than it ever envisioned.

“You’re never really ready for this moment,” Middleton senior linebacker Garrett Graf said. “Sun Prairie played a (heck) of a game. But this was a terrific group of seniors and we worked our tails off week after week. It’s just disappointing to have it end this quick.”

Middleton, the Big Eight Conference champions and the No. 2 seed in its bracket, ended the year 8-2. Middleton also fell to 8-12 in the postseason under 12th-year coach Tim Simon.

Middleton was done in by four turnovers and a handful of special teams blunders.

Sun Prairie, the No. 7 seed, improved to 6-4 and travels to third-seeded Hartland Arrowhead for a second round game Friday.

“It hurts because these kids invested so much and they did everything we asked them to do,” Simon said. “If they don't do those things, maybe it doesn’t hurt as much. But they did those things. They can hold their heads high. One game does not define a season.”

Unfortunately for Middleton, one brief stretch helped determine this game.

Trailing 9-0 early in the second quarter, a Sun Prairie punt skipped down the left sideline. Middleton wideout Mitch Bacon tried picking the ball up, but fumbled and Sun Prairie recovered at Middleton’s 8-yard line.

“It’s no blame on the kid, but he’s trying to make something happen,” Simon said. “We also didn't do a great job blocking on that.”

Three plays later, Sun Prairie’s Marques Reuter had a 4-yard touchdown run, trimming Middleton’s lead to 9-7.

After a Middleton punt, Sun Prairie marched 58 yards in just six plays for a go-ahead touchdown. Faizon Thomas capped the march with a 5-yard touchdown run and a 14-9 Sun Prairie lead.

On the ensuing kickoff, Middleton’s C.J. Fermanich and Trevaun Turner tried to run a reverse. But Sun Prairie’s kickoff team closed in a hurry, jarred the ball loose, and Jack Maastricht returned it five yards for a touchdown and a 21-9 lead.

Boom. Boom. Boom. Just like that, Middleton was on the ropes.

“Two things that are always important, especially in the playoffs, are turnovers and special teams,” Simon said. “We’ve been very good on special teams and turnover margin all season long and we just weren’t (Friday). I’m not making any excuses, there’s really no reason for that. But kids are trying to make plays, plays we made throughout the season, and it just didn’t happen (Friday).”

Middleton had dominated field position early in racing to a 9-0 lead late in the first quarter.

On Sun Prairie’s first punt of the game, the snap went over the head of punter Alex Oakley and through the endzone giving Middleton a 2-0 lead.

Later in the quarter, Middleton started from the Sun Prairie 34-yard line, used seven plays and took a 9-0 lead on Cam Maly’s 1-yard touchdown run.

But after the crazy sequence that saw Sun Prairie erupt, Middleton was playing uphill the rest of the night.

“It’s obviously a situation we didn't want to be in,” Graf said. “But as a team, we knew there was so much time on the clock.”

There was, and Middleton made a dent in Sun Prairie’s lead right before halftime.

Middleton marched 65 yards in nine plays and scored when Brennan Schmitt hit Sam Lauenstein with a 7-yard touchdown just 28 seconds before halftime to trim Sun Prairie’s advantage to 21-16.

Middleton junior wideout Myron Ashford made two huge plays on the drive. Ashford had a 34-yard reception down the seam on a third-and-10, then he drew a pass interference on a third-and-11.

The big drive gave Middleton some life after a rough first half.

“The theme at halftime was ‘hold the rope,’ ” Simon said. “We had to hold the rope and hang on. We did not play a good half. It was one of our worst halves of the season and we were still within one score.”

That changed in a hurry, though. Middleton managed just 16 total yards in the third quarter and Schmitt threw both of his interceptions that period.

Sun Prairie was determined not to let Maly beat it, and held Middleton’s standout running back to 58 yards on 23 carries (2.5). But Sun Prairie also covered extremely well in back, and in the process, made life difficult for Middleton’s passing attack.

“They definitely made adjustments,” said Schmitt, whose team defeated Sun Prairie, 45-13, in Week 5. “They were definitely ready to go.

“They kind of had their guys close to the box. They were ready to get Cam wherever he went. Then their (defensive backs) dropped and made some great plays. But when you have a running back like Cam Maly, you definitely want to try and shut him down and that’s what they did.”

Sun Prairie added a touchdown and field goal in the final 4:23 of the third quarter, grabbed a 30-16 lead and put Middleton on life support.

Middleton showed signs of life, marching 64 yards in just 1:07 to pull within 30-23 with 4:14 left. Schmitt hit Ashford for 18 yards and Bacon for 23 to start the drive. Maly went 10 yards on a draw play and Schmitt finished the march with an 11-yard keeper.

“We got some looks that we wanted,” Schmitt said. “We didn’t execute to our fullest. But even though we didn’t play our best game, we were right there at the end.”

Indeed.

Middleton forced a three-and-out, then took over on its own 26 with 3:08 left. To many, that seemed like plenty of time for Middleton to force overtime.

“I had so much faith in our offense,” Graf said. “If I could choose any offense in the state, I’d choose that offense right there. I had so much confidence.”

Middleton quickly moved to the Sun Prairie 47-yard line, too. Maly ran for nine yards out of the Wildcat formation on a third-and-2, then Schmitt and Ashford hooked up for 10 yards.

But after an incomplete pass on first down, Maly was tackled for a 4-yard loss. Schmitt’s pass on third-and-14 for tight end Mitch Andrews was broken up by Sun Prairie’s Andrew Kluessner.

Then on fourth down, Sun Prairie rushed just three, but still got terrific pressure off the right edge. Schmitt was forced to throw sooner than he wanted, and his pass came up short — ending Middleton’s season.

“With the way our offense was all year, I truly believed we could move the ball down there again,” Schmitt said. “After coming off a drive we scored on, we felt like we could go and get it done. We just came up short.”

Overall, though, Middleton had a year to remember.

Despite losing 17 starters from the 2014 team, Middleton won the outright Big Eight title for a second straight year. And not even a brutal playoff loss could take the shine off of that.

“When we look back and we get some distance, we’re going to see how well this team played,” Simon said. “Our guys had so much fight in them. It’s not about the size of the dog in the fight. It’s about the size of the fight in the dog. And these guys had some fight in them. And they deserve better than this.

“The ball didn’t bounce our way (Friday). Maybe we caused some of those things. Maybe we were a little unlucky. But you can’t be lucky, or unlucky, for nine games.”

Afterwards, Middleton’s players lingered on the field for a good 30 minutes, almost refusing to believe its dream season had come to an end.

“We definitely had high hopes, thought we could, knew we could make a deep run,” Schmitt said. “Looking back on the season, I’ll just remember all the guys, the bonds that I made, friendships, just making great memories all year. I’ll just remember this year forever and knowing that everyone on the team gave it their all and worked hard all year. Definitely nothing to be ashamed of.”

Graf agreed.

“Playing here at Middleton was probably the greatest four years of my life,” Graf said. “It was awesome. It was a great ride. Made a lot of memories, a lot of lifelong friends. This was an experience I was more than glad I got. Great guys, great coaches. Just everything about this was great.”

 

Sun Prairie 30, Middleton 23

Sun Prairie ………….….. 0  21  9  0 — 30

Middleton ……………….. 9  7  0  7 — 23

M — Safety by Garrett Graf

M — Cam Maly, 1, run (Joey Levin kick)

SP —  Marquis Reuter, 4, run (Alex Oakley kick)

SP — Faizon Thomas, 5, run (Alex Oakley kick)

SP — Jack Maastricht, 5, fumble return (Alex Oakley kick)

M — Myron Ashford, 7, pass from Brennan Schmitt (Levin kick)

SP — Reuter, 3, pass from JP Curran (kick failed)

SP — FG, 38, Alex Oakley

M — Schmitt, 11, run (Levin kick)

TEAM STATISTICS

First downs — MID 13, SP 9. Rushing (Att.-Yds.) — MID 29-87, SP 29-91. Passing yards — MID 159, SP 114. Passes (Comp.-Att.-Int.) — MID 14-29-2, SP 6-17-0. Fumbles-lost — MID 3-2, SP 2-1. Penalties-yards — MID 2-20, SP 5-34

INDIVIDUAL LEADERS

Rushing: MID, Maly 23-58; SP, Thomas 21-67. Passing: MID, Schmitt 14-29-2-159. SP, Curran 6-17-0-114. Receiving: MID, Ashford 4-69. SP, Verstegen 3-57, Reuter 3-57.

 

 

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