Late rally saves Middleton's season

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MTT News's picture
By: 
Rob Reischel
C.J. Fermanich's touchdown with 27 seconds left last Friday lifted Middleton to a 22-17 playoff win over Madison La Follette./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

This wasn’t about revenge.

It was about redemption.

And who better than C.J. Fermanich to play the central character in one of Middleton’s most memorable games in years.

Fermanich had a 47-yard kickoff return, then caught a 15-yard, game-winning touchdown pass with 27 seconds left to lift Middleton to a 22-17 win over Madison La Follette in the second round of the WIAA Division 1 playoffs last Friday. And for Fermanich, as much as anyone, this was about atonement.

When these same teams met on Sept. 30, Fermanich sat out the game due to an athletic code violation — one of several Cardinals who missed time due to that infringement. That night, the Lancers rallied past Middleton, 13-12, in a game that cost the Cardinals a share of the Big Eight Conference title.

This time, Fermanich had a chance to alter the outcome — and he made the most if it.

“I wasn’t thinking about just me,” Fermanich said. “It was about the team. But I wasn’t going to leave here without a win. Glad we got that.”

Middleton improved to 9-2 overall, is the last Big Eight team standing, and heads to Lake Geneva Badger (11-0) for a Level 3 game Friday at 7 p.m. The Cardinals will be making their first appearance in Level 3 since 2010.

“Our theme this week wasn’t revenge,” Middleton coach Tim Simon said. “Revenge is when somebody does you wrong. La Follette didn’t do us wrong. They just beat us a couple of weeks ago. This is redemption. Redemption is when you have to take care of your own business when you get a second chance.”

The Cardinals made the most of their second chance.

The Lancers took a 17-16 lead with 1:52 left in the game when senior Katie Feller drilled a 24-yard field goal. That was La Follette’s first lead of the game.

Inexplicably, though, the Lancers kicked the ball to Fermanich, an all-conference return man in 2015. Fermanich turned the left corner, picked up some terrific blocks, and returned the ball 47 yards to Middleton’s 49.

“I was surprised,” Fermanich said of the Lancers’ decision to kick to him. “But I took a quick peek to see where I was at, to see if I could get a return. I was really just thankful to get a return and that’s where I like to make my plays. Our blockers set up a great hole for me to go through and I just hit it hard and then it was off to the races.”

Middleton’s drive was quickly on life support, though, when it faced a third-and-15 from its own 44. Roquet threw a ball down the middle that seemed much too high for the 5-foot-10 Fermanich.

But Fermanich went up between a linebacker and safety and somehow hauled in a 26-yard reception to the Lancers’ 30.

“Davis threw a great ball to where I could go up and get it,” Fermanich said. “And that’s where I think I excel as a receiver is to go up and get the ball like that. And I was like, ‘I’m not coming down without this ball.’ ”

Fermanich made a permanent move from quarterback to receiver midway through the season. And that catch showed why the Cardinals believed he could excel at a new position.

“The thing he did really well there was he went up and attacked the ball,” Simon said. “He had to go up to get it, but he had his hands up and also towards the ball to attack it.”

Three plays later, Middleton again had its back to the wall, facing a fourth-and-3 from the Lancers’ 23. After a timeout, the Cardinals lined up two receivers on each side, then Roquet hit senior wideout Jack Smith for eight yards on an inside slant.

First down. Season still alive.

“Davis threw a strike there,” Simon said. “Great catch. Great throw.”

Roquet quickly spiked the ball. Then on second-and-10, Fermanich came free over the middle.

Roquet fired a dart at Fermanich’s hip and he made a nifty catch reaching just slightly behind his body. Fermanich got himself turned towards the endzone, then lunged the final two yards and reached the ball over the goal line.

“I took two steps and saw the goal line,” Fermanich said. “And I was like, ‘I’m not going down without getting seven.’ ”

La Follette, which hammered top-seeded Sun Prairie the previous week, wasn’t done yet. Following shoddy kick coverage and an 18-yard completion from Patton to Mekhi Johnson, the Lancers were at Middleton’s 42-yard line with 4 seconds left.

Middleton defensive coordinator Tom Cabalka rushed just three and played coverage with eight. Patton fired for the left corner of the endzone, but Cardinals linebacker Joe Ludwig batted the pass down.

Middleton 22, Madison La Follette 17.

“We thought our best situation was to bring three,” Cabalka said. “If they would have scored, we’d have been kicking ourselves. But it worked out.”

Middleton began the game with a 17-mile per hour wind at its back and took full advantage. On the Cardinals’ first drive of the half, they marched 55 yards in eight plays and grabbed a 7-0 lead on Dion Huff’s 1-yard touchdown run.

La Follette answered on its next possession, putting together an extremely impressive 16-play, 64-yard touchdown drive that sucked up 8:36. Senior Elias Sobah capped the terrific march with a 2-yard touchdown run that tied the game, 7-7.

The drive was kept alive when Middleton jumped off sides on a fourth-and-18, then the Lancers hit a 17-yard pass play from Patton to Jake Gilchrist-Kleinitz.

“It wasn’t just that we had (10) penalties,” Simon said. “We had some really poorly timed penalties.”

Middleton drove the La Follette 4-yard line in the final seconds of the first half. On fourth down from the 5, though, Simon bypassed the field goal and Roquet’s pass to the endzone was intercepted.

Afterwards, Simon stood on the exact spot where a field goal kick might have occurred and defended his decision.

“I’ll tell you exactly why. Right hash,” Simon said. “So we’re off to the right of the goal post, and it wasn’t just that the wind was in our face. The wind was also a cross wind, which was going to make the kick even harder.”

Despite that failed opportunity, Middleton raced to a 16-7 lead in the third quarter thanks to its defense.

First, the Cardinals had the Lancers pinned deep in their own territory. Then with La Follette facing a third-and-11 from its own 6, the Lancers’ center snapped the ball over Patton’s head and out of the endzone for a safety that gave Middleton a 9-7 lead.

Late in the third quarter, La Follette had the ball on its on 7 when Patton tried throwing a screen pass to Sobah. Just one problem. Middleton defensive end/tackle Roman Kryshak had watched film of that play all week and immediately sniffed it out.

Kryshak jumped in front of Sobah, intercepted Patton’s pass on the 2, then scored to give Middleton a 16-7 lead.

“All week long, every other day, we have study halls at the end of the day,” Kryshak said. “So I was repping that all week, knowing what to watch for.

“I read it and just like that the ball was in my hands and I walked into the endzone. I’m still amazed.”

Cabalka wasn’t stunned.

Cabalka has watched Kryshak put on 20 pounds of good weight in the past year and go from a seldom-used reserve to a vital cog in Middleton’s defense. This was just the crowning jewel for Kryshak’s months of hard work.

“Roman is a very intelligent player, one of our smarter kids,” Cabalka said. “And he watches enough film with us to know what was coming. There were three plays there we thought they might do, and he read it perfectly. Good for him. ”

The Lancers weren’t done, though.

Working with the wind in the fourth quarter, Patton looked like Cam Newton on a brilliant, 31-yard touchdown run that pulled La Follette within 16-14 with 7:32 left. That drive appeared dead, but Middleton was flagged for 12 men on the field when the Lancers were punting.

“I thought we had him a bunch of times on that run,” Cabalka said. “He’s a phenomenal athlete. A phenomenal athlete, and you saw it on that run.”

After the Cardinals went three-and-out, Fermanich’s punt traveled just 17 yards and La Follette began on Middleton’s 30-yard line. The Lancers’ drive died at Middleton’s 6-yard line, but Feller gave La Follette a 17-16 lead.

While many believed that kick would end Middleton’s season, the Cardinals responded with its biggest drive in years. And now they’re one of just eight Division 1 teams still standing.

“This is great. It’s like the Elite Eight,” Simon said. “Now we’ll try and make it to the Final Four.

“When you’re playing in November, and you have to practice with the stadium lights on, that’s pretty great.”

Kryshak agreed.

“This is amazing, best game of my life so far,” Kryshak said. “We’ve still got a long road ahead and want to keep going. But this is pretty awesome.”

 

Madison La Follette ........... 0 7 0 10 — 17

Middleton ............................. 7 0 9 6 — 22

Mi — Huff 1 run (Wipfli kick)

MLF — Sobah 21 run (Feller kick)

Mi — Safety

Mi — Kryshak 5 interception return (Wipfli kick)

MLF — Patton 31 run (Feller kick)

MLF — FG Feller 24

Mi — Fermanich 15 pass from Roquet (pass failed)

TEAM STATISTICS

First downs — MLF 12, Mi 13. Rushing (Att.-Yds.) — MLF 44-191, Mi 28-63. Passing yards — MLF 54, Mi 157. Passes (Comp.-Att.-Int.) — MLF 7-15-0, Mi 12-27-1. Fumbles-lost — MLF 0-0, Mi 0-0. Penalties-yards — MLF 7-65, Mi 10-63.

INDIVIDUAL LEADERS

Rushing: MLF, Patton 24-105. Mi, Pabst 10-38.

Passing: MLF, Patton 7-15-0-54. Mi, Roquet 12-26-0-157.

Receiving: MLF, Gilchrist-Kleinitz 4-31. Mi, Ashford Jr. 6-82.

 

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