Verona upends Middleton

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MTT News's picture
By: 
Rob Reischel
Dion Huff (25) and Middleton’s football team fell to Verona last Friday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

The scoreboard staring directly at Shane Bick read Verona 10, Middleton 7.

But as the Cardinals’ standout linebacker stood in the middle of Breitenbach Stadium last Friday, Bick didn’t think the score was a fair reflection of the previous 2 ½ hours.

“My personal opinion, no,” Bick said when asked if the better team had won Friday’s Big Eight Conference showdown. “Verona’s a great team. They just had a great day and we were just a little slow in the first half. But I don’t think the better team won the game.”

Middleton coach Tim Simon echoed Bick’s sentiments.

“I don’t think so,” Simon said when asked if the better team won. “And again, that’s no discredit to Verona. They're 5-0. They played very good football and their defense is obviously very good. But I think, especially the way the second half went, we felt we were the better team. But I always feel that way.”

On this night, there was evidence to support the Cardinals’ beliefs. Unfortunately for Middleton, the standings will tell a different story.

Middleton outgained Verona, 396-239, and held a 17-5 edge in first downs. The Cardinals controlled the ball 31 minutes, 24 seconds to just 16:36 for Verona.

Middleton was extremely dominant in the second half, outgaining the Wildcats, 210-73, while keeping the ball nearly 16 minutes to Verona’s eight.

But Middleton, which entered the game ranked third in the state, couldn’t overcome a slow start against the ninth-ranked Wildcats.

The result was Verona improved to 5-0 and grabbed sole possession of first place in the league. The Cardinals fell to 4-1 and now share second place with Sun Prairie.

“It’s frustrating,” said Middleton senior center Kayden Lyles, a University of Wisconsin recruit. “We’ve just got to do better, come out and stop playing around.

“I think we came out thinking that we were just going to roll over them, thinking back to last year (a 7-3 Middleton win). I know teams get better over the years and players get better and I don’t think we took that into account.”

The Cardinals’ terrific offensive line of (from left) Jarrett Horst, Daydrian Spears, Lyles, Justin Sarbacker and Seth Craker dominated the final 2 ½ quarters. But it took that group — and Middleton’s entire offense — too long to get going.

And by the time the Cardinals started making any headway, they were in a 10-0 hole.

“It definitely took us too long to get going,” Simon said. “We started way to slow … and I don’t have a good answer why. I really don’t.”

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, even though they dominated much of the game, they couldn’t recover from the slow start.

Verona began its second possession at Middleton’s 41-yard line, drove to the Cardinals’ 10, and got a 27-yard field goal from Aaron Young for a 3-0 lead.

Two possessions later, Verona quarterback Max Fink hit split end Jack Herkert with a 48-yard touchdown pass and a 10-0 Wildcats lead. The 6-foot-5 Herkert had one-on-one coverage down the right sideline with 5-foot-6 corner Tre Turner, and Fink lofted a jump ball that Herkert was able to wrestle away from Turner, then score.

“It wasn’t bad coverage at all,” Simon said. “The receiver was just so big and he made a great play. Sometimes the other team makes plays, too.”

By the latter stages of the second quarter, though, Middleton’s offensive line — which averages 258.4 pounds — began getting the better of the Wildcats. The Cardinals’ problem, though, was finishing.

Late in the first half, Middleton ate up 5 ½ minutes and marched 56 yards, but couldn’t score. That drive ended when Cardinals running back Dion Huff was wide open in the left flat on a fourth-and-nine, but C.J. Fermanich’s pass landed at Huff’s feet.

That started a painful theme for the Cardinals in which they effectively moved the ball, but couldn’t score.

Late in the first half, Middleton drove 41 yards to Verona’s 25-yard line, only to have the half expire.

On Middleton’s second drive of the second half, it ate up 5:21 and marched 44 yards. But on a fourth-and-5, Fermanich fired incomplete for wideout Jack Toennies.

“The first quarter they were fresh and they were flying around the field,” Simon said of Verona’s defense. “In the second half, we wore them down. We just didn’t finish off some drives that we needed to finish.”

Finally, the Cardinals found the endzone when quarterback Davis Roquet snuck in from 1-yard out on fourth down with 7:38 remaining and pulled Middleton within 10-7. Roquet’s touchdown capped a 10-play, 69-yard drive in which the Cardinals picked up 66 yards on the ground.

“The line couldn’t have played much better,” Simon said.

Middleton, which allowed just two second half first downs, forced a quick three-and-out. And the Cardinals were back in business, beginning at their own 47-yard line with 6 minutes left.

Huff carried four times for 28 yards, then Fermanich scrambled for 12 yards on a third-and-11. The Cardinals stalled at Verona’s 2-yard line and Simon summoned junior kicker Joe Polecek for a potential game-tying 20-yard field goal.

But Polecek’s kick sailed wide left.

“I feel for him,” Simon said. “But if we had played as hard in the first half as we did in the second half, we wouldn’t have been in that situation. Everyone of us has to pull the thumb and say, ‘What could I have done better the whole game?’ ”

Middleton forced one more Verona punt, then drove to the Wildcats’ 28 with 28 seconds left. But Roquet threw four straight incompletions, and the Cardinals left annoyed, agitated and angry.

“We’re facing adversity now, so we need to come back and just do better next week,” Lyles said. “We need to learn from this one and just move on to the next.”

Bick agreed.

“We need to put our nose to the grindstone, keep going,” he said. “We’re going to have to put in a lot more work. I just feel like this loss will motivate us to be better.”

Simon certainly hopes so.

Afterwards, during a passionate, 15-minute tongue-lashing of his team, Simon reminded the Cardinals that it’s a long season. And with a break or two along the way, Middleton’s hopes of winning a third straight conference title aren’t dead yet.

“We told the guys, don’t shake this loss off,” Simon said. “Inhale this one, digest this one. I want this to motivate us.

“But we can’t hang our heads. There’s a lot of season to play yet. We’ve got four games, they’ve got four games. There’s a lot that’s going to happen and going to shake out in the next couple weeks. It’s adversity. We’re staring adversity in the face … and we’re going to see what we’re made of.”

 

Sept. 16

Verona ………………….. 3 7 0 0 — 10

Middleton ………………. 0 0 0 7 — 7

V — FG Young 27

V — Herkert 48 pass from Fink (Young kick)

MID — Roquet 2 run (Polecek kick)

TEAM STATISTICS

First downs — V 5, MID 17. Rushing (Att.-Yds.) — V 29-101, MID 54-286. Passing yards — V 138, MID 110. Passes (Comp.-Att.-Int.) — V 7-15-1, MID 8-20-1. Fumbles-lost — V 2-2, MID 2-1. Penalties-yards — V 2-10, MID 8-45.

INDIVIDUAL LEADERS

Rushing: V, King 18-92. MID, Huff 30-164.

Passing: V, Fink 7-14-1-138. MID, Femanich 4-11-1-59.

Receiving: V, Herkert 2-85. MID, Ashford Jr. 5-90.

 

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