Middleton survives and advances

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Rob Reischel
Middleton’s Kallion Buckner (top) had 276 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the Cardinals’ win over Madison La Follette last Friday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Brad Rogeberg has watched Josh Stormer excel for nearly a decade now.

Rogeberg, Middleton’s defensive coordinator, began coaching Stormer when he was a fourth grader in the Cardinals’ youth program. And game after game, week after week, Stormer always shined.

“The kid has always been a playmaker,” Rogeberg said.

Never has Stormer made a bigger play, though, than last Friday during the Cardinals’ WIAA Division 1 playoff opener.

Visiting Madison La Follette had just driven 95 yards and pulled within 21-20 of the Cardinals after a 4-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Probst to tight end Andrew Rajkovich with only one second remaining. The Lancers eschewed the extra point and lined up for two.

For a moment, wideout David Gray came free and Probst threw his way. But Stormer — a junior cornerback — made a sensational break on the ball, knocked the pass away and helped the Cardinals escape with a thrilling win.

“Unbelievable play,” Middleton coach Jason Pertzborn said. “He made just a great, great play.”

Middleton, the No. 4 seed in its bracket, won its sixth straight game and improved to 8-2 overall. The Cardinals now travel to top-seeded and unbeaten Madison Memorial (10-0) for a Level 2 game Friday at 7 p.m.

Senior running back Kallion Buckner led Middleton with 276 yards on 28 carries (9.9) and scored two touchdowns. Senior quarterback Drew Teff threw a touchdown pass to senior tight end Sam Engler, and Strormer made a finishing play that will be talked about for years to come.

“I knew this game was going to be a dogfight,” said Stormer, who also had an interception and a fumble recovery. “And it was really, really tough.”

And how.

Middleton, which never trailed, led 20-14 with 2 minutes, 15 seconds remaining. The Cardinals drove to the Lancers’ 5-yard line and faced a fourth-and-1.

Pertzborn gave some thought to a potentially game-clinching field goal, then elected to try picking up the first down instead. That move backfired, though, when quarterback Drew Teff was stuffed for no gain and La Follette regained possession.

“I hate myself for not kicking the three,” Pertzborn said. “If we had lost, I wouldn’t have slept tonight, I guarantee you that.”

What followed were the most intense moments of Middleton’s year.

La Follette converted a pair of early third downs and patiently drove to Middleton’s 29-yard line where only 18 seconds remained. On a second-and-10, Probst scrambled for 18 yards to Middleton’s 11, then running back Jaylend Brown scampered off right tackle for 7.

With only five ticks left and La Follette at Middleton’s 4, Rajkovich leaked out of the backfield. The Lancers’ tight end got behind a linebacker and caught a pop pass from Probst to pull La Follette within 21-20.

“Brutal,” Pertzborn said of the Lancers’ final drive.

The final play was much more to Pertzborn’s liking.

After a pair of timeouts, the Lancers lined three receivers up on the left, Rajkovich on the right and Brown in the backfield with Probst. Gray, who was stationed farthest left, made a move to the middle and found a soft spot in Middleton’s defense.

As Probst released the ball, Gray had at least three yards of separation from any of the Cardinals’ defenders. But Stormer read the play perfectly, closed with ferocity, and knocked the ball away at the last possible moment.

“Honestly, they lined up in a different formation than we were expecting,” Stormer said. “I just saw an open guy and ran to him. They threw the ball and I ended up breaking it up.”

The final moments capped a thrilling game that was remarkably different from seven nights earlier, when Middleton throttled the Lancers, 49-21.

“We knew this week would be a lot tougher,” Buckner said. “They brought their intensity the whole game.”

Middleton struck first when a big defensive stand and a short punt helped it begin on the Lancers’ 36-yard line late in the first quarter. From there, Buckner needed just four carries to cover that ground, and his 7-yard touchdown run gave the Cardinals a 7-0 lead.

On the touchdown, Middleton lined up with fullback Ben Litchfield and guard Taylor Simmons in the backfield with Buckner. Buckner took a toss to the right where right tackle Luke McChrystal, Litchfield and Simmons all made big blocks and helped pave his path to the endzone.

La Follette answered right back when Probst and Rajkovich connected on an 11-yard touchdown that knotted things, 7-7, with 9:32 left in the second quarter.

The Lancers were driving for a potential go-ahead score late in the first half when Probst scrambled to the Cardinals’ 15-yard line. As Probst was being tackled, though, senior linebacker Jake Pavelski and senior defensive back Brian Frusciante stripped the ball and Stormer recovered at Middleton’s 2-yard line.

Three plays later, Buckner ripped off a 78-yard run in which he started right, put his foot in the ground and darted back left. Center Clay Craker and right guard Billy Johnson made key blocks, and from there Buckner raced the Lancers’ 15.

Five plays later, Teff hit Engler for a 4-yard touchdown to give Middleton a 14-7 edge with just 13 seconds left in the half. Engler lined up next to the left tackle, then worked his way back to the right and caught Teff’s pass.

“They were just cheating so bad and you could see in their alignment that we were going to be able to throw it to someone like Sam,” Pertzborn said. “And kids that work as hard as Sam Engler does, you know they’re not going to fail. He’s worked his tail off and I knew he wouldn’t fail tonight.”

Middleton began the second half with the lead and the ball and had designs on extending its advantage. But on the first play of the half, Teff’s toss was slightly behind Buckner, the ball wound up on the turf, and Lancers’ safety Dakovin Prather scooped it up and raced 27 yards for the tying score.

“Yeah, something like that eats at us,” Buckner said. “But it also helps us realize that we need to come back and we’ve got to turn the tables.”

They did.

On just the third play of Middleton’s next possession, Buckner took a pitch to the right. The Cardinals overloaded that side with Litchfield and Engler, who both helped give Buckner a crease.

From there, Buckner did the rest, running away from defensive backs Charlie Kunkel and Dylan Wendricks for a 57-yard touchdown that gave the Cardinals a 21-14 lead less than two minutes into the third quarter.

“That was our plan on the first drive was to score and try to put them away,” Pertzborn said. “But that fumble scoop and score let them back in the game and you could see their energy level change. So that was a big play by Kallion to give us the lead back.”

Buckner agreed.

“When we went in at half, we talked over our pitch play,” Buckner said. “On our pitch, somebody was crashing every time. So we took him out and it opened a hole.”

Amazingly, it stayed that way until the final moments, when the Lancers put a scare into the Cardinal faithful.

Fortunately for Middleton, it had Stormer on its side.

“Josh has been doing this since the fourth grade,” Rogeberg said. “What he did was no surprise at all. Now, he did it on a bigger stage with a lot more at stake. But in big moments, he really shows up.”

And none were bigger than last Friday.

 

Oct. 25

WIAA Division 1 Level 1 playoffs

Middleton 21, Madison La Follette 20

Madison La Follette ………. 0 7 7 6 — 20

Middleton …………………… 7 7 7 0 — 21

M — Buckner, 7, run (Pertzborn kick)

MLF — Rajkovic, 11, pass from Probst (Roth kick)

M — Engler, 4, pass from Teff (Pertzborn kick)

MLF — Prather, 27, fumble return (Roth kick)

M — Buckner, 57, run (Pertzborn kick)

MLF — Rajkovic, 4, pass from Probst (run failed)

TEAM STATISTICS

Rushes-yards— MLF 26-144, M 36-268. Passing yards— MLF 135, M 29. Comp-Att-Int— MLF 16-34-1, M 5-8-0.

INDIVIDUAL LEADERS

Rushing: MLF, Brown 21-111. M, Buckner 28-276. Passing: MLF, Probst 16-34-135-1. M, Teff 5-8-29-0. Receiving: MLF, Rajkovic 2-16. M, Engler 3-14.

 

 

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