Turmoil hits, football Cardinals fall

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Middleton football coach Tim Simon wasn’t happy with his team during a 13-12 loss to Madison La Follette last Friday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Poof!

In the blink of an eye, so much vanished right before the eyes of Middleton’s football team.

Madison La Follette’s Julian Patton threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Alex Berg with just 11 seconds last Friday to give the Lancers an improbable 13-12 win over the Cardinals. In the process, Middleton lost far more than a game.

The Cardinals fell to 5-2 overall and in the Big Eight, two games behind league-leading Verona (7-0, 7-0) and one behind Sun Prairie (6-1, 6-1). Now, barring a bevy of surprises in the final two weeks, Middleton’s two-year run as conference champions will end.

In addition, Middleton’s second loss in three games means it’s far more likely the Cardinals will have to go on the road when the playoffs begin Oct. 21.

“I’m at a loss for words,” said Middleton coach Tim Simon, who then stood silently for several seconds. “We just didn’t finish.”

No they didn’t.

Middleton played without wide receiver Myron Ashford and cornerback/wideout C.J. Fermanich, who were both suspended for athletic code violations. Both suspensions weren’t made official until Friday, including one that was handed down just three hours before kickoff.

The Cardinals were also without left guard Daydrian Spears, who was recently charged with two counts of second-degree sexual assault of an intoxicated victim and has been dismissed from the team.

Despite that turmoil, Middleton took a 12-0 lead early in the fourth quarter. And with a defense that hadn’t allowed a touchdown in more than nine quarters, the Cardinals seemed to be in good shape.

“I thought we played three really good quarters,” Middleton defensive coordinator Tom Cabalka said. “But then we just didn’t finish.

“We had some young kids in spots they wouldn’t normally be … and we had some breakdowns.”

La Follette (4-3, 4-3), which had been quiet on offense much of the night, drove 55 yards for a score and pulled within 12-7 with 3:51 left. Patton and Jake Gilchrist-Kienitz connected for 33-yards to start the drive, then Patton threw a 5-yard touchdown to C.J. Moua.

Middleton, which established its running game in the second half, then tried to eat up time and run the clock out.

First, junior running back Dion Huff — who ran for 150 yards on 26 carries — had two carries for 10 yards and a first down. Then Huff exploded up the middle for 12 yards and another first down.

Tick, tick, tick went the clock as Middleton’s chances of victory increased.

But the drive died and La Follette took over on its own 20-yard line with 1:10 to play.

Patton and Co. immediately went to work, drove to the Middleton 48 and faced a third-and-6 with 42 seconds left. Working out of the shotgun, a La Follette snap bounced on the ground and by the time Patton corralled it, several Cardinals surrounded him.

Somehow, though, La Follette’s gifted quarterback escaped trouble and rumbled 33 yards to the Middleton 24-yard line.

“That was the play of the game,” Simon said. “If we make that tackle like we should, they’re down to one play.”

Even still, the Lancers faced long odds.

Without a timeout at his disposal, Patton quickly spiked the ball setting up second down from Middleton’s 24 with just 16 seconds left.

The Lancers lined up four wideouts and Patton worked out of the shotgun. With pressure coming quickly, Patton threw down the right seam and into double coverage.

But the 6-foot-5 Berg made the play of the night, helping La Follette snap a three-game losing streak while putting a major dent in the Cardinals’ season.

“That’s a tough one,” Cabalka said. “A really tough one.”

It was tough for both teams to get much going, and they went to halftime tied, 0-0.

Playing without its top two wideouts, Middleton couldn’t get much going on offense. The Lancers jammed the box, played eight men within five yards of the line of scrimmage, and dared Middleton to beat them through the air.

On the Cardinals’ first possession, Middleton drove to the La Follette 38-yard line. But on 4th-and-2, Cardinals quarterback David Roquet fumbled the ball away on a sneak.

Late in the first half, the Cardinals drove to the Lancers 11-yard line. But on fourth-and-1, Middleton running back Dion Huff was stopped for no gain.

The good news for Middleton was its defense was excelling. The Lancers had four first half possessions, and all four ended in punts.

The Cardinals came out in the second half determined to get their running game going — and they did just that.

On Middleton’s first drive of the third quarter, it gave the ball to Huff on eight consecutive plays. With a large assist from his offensive line, Huff racked up 84 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown run.

Joe Polecek’s extra point was blocked, though, and Middleton’s lead was 6-0. Two weeks earlier, the Cardinals missed a 20-yard field goal in the closing moments of regulation and dropped a 10-7 decision to visiting Verona.

“I was really happy with how we came out in the second half,” Simon said. “But we had problems on special teams again. Every extra point makes a difference.”

Middleton struck again on its next possession, marching 56 yards on 12 plays for a score. Roquet capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge on the first play of the fourth quarter, but the Cardinals’ two-point conversion try failed.

That set the stage for the dramatic finish, one that now has the Cardinals grasping for air and wondering where their 2016 season is headed.

“I said this a couple weeks ago, too, but we’re going to find out what we’re made of,” Simon said. “There are some goals we had that we might not be able to get now.

“But we’ve got a lot of season left. So we’ll see what direction we decide to go.”

 

Middleton ……………………… 0 0 6 6 — 12

Madison La Follette …………. 0 0 0 13 — 13

MID — Huff 27 run (kick failed)

MID — Rouquet 1 run (run failed)

ML — Moua 6 pass from Patton (Feller kick)

ML — Berg 23 pass from Patton (conversion failed)

TEAM STATISTICS

First downs — MID 17, ML 14. Rushing (Att.-Yds.) — MID 44-219, ML 35-171. Passing yards — MID 78, ML 141. Passes (Comp.-Att.-Int.) — MID 8-13-1, ML 10-20-0. Fumbles-lost — MID 1-1, ML 0-0. Penalties-yards — MID 5-35, ML 6-50.

INDIVIDUAL LEADERS

Rushing: MID, Huff 26-150. ML, Patton 14-98.

Passing: MID, Roquet 8-13-1-78. ML, Patton 10-20--141.

Receiving: MID, Smith 2-41. ML, Duncan 2-45.

 

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