Football Cards land No. 3 seed

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Brody Crump (39) and Oliver Wenning (41), who both had interceptions last week against Madison East, lead Middleton into the postseason this Friday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

When discussing the upcoming postseason, Sam Pilof doesn’t mince words.

He doesn’t beat around the bush.

Instead, Middleton’s senior linebacker is direct and to the point.

“We’re all super excited for the playoffs,” said Pilof, a Rutgers recruit. “It’s the start of a new season. It’s been our goal since the beginning. We know we can do it. We know we’ve got the right group of guys and the right coaching staff. Our plan is to go all the way.”

That journey begins Friday at 7 p.m. when Middleton hosts Madison Memorial in a WIAA Division 1 first round game.

The Cardinals finished the regular season 8-1 overall, 6-1 in the Big Eight Conference and are the No. 3 seed in their bracket. The Spartans (6-3, 5-2) are the No. 6 seed.

Sussex Hamilton (9-0) is the No. 1 seed in the Cardinals’ bracket, followed by Verona (8-1), Middleton, Mukwonago (7-2), Hartland Arrowhead (6-3), Madison Memorial, Janesville Parker (6-3) and Sun Prairie West (5-4).

Middleton won at Memorial, 31-20, on Sept. 14 when quarterback Gabe Passini ran for three touchdowns and threw for a fourth. That victory kicked off a five-game win streak that the Cardinals will carry into their rematch with the Spartans.

“We're ready to go,” Passini said. “Bring on the playoffs.”

Middleton won eight regular season games for first time since 2017. The Cardinals’ most impressive wins were at Bay Port (7-2) in Week 1 and at Madison Memorial in Week 5.

Middleton has outscored its foes, 337-120 — an average of 37.4-13.3. Passini will also be in the running for the league’s Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for 20 touchdowns and 1,409 yards, while also leading the team in rushing yards (572) and TDs (10).

While the Cardinals put together an impressive regular season, they’re still bothered by their 28-21 loss to Verona in Week 4 — a defeat that eventually allowed the Wildcats to win the conference title with a 7-0 mark.

“That one still burns us a little bit, as any competitive team, any loss burns you,” Middleton co-interim coach Tim Simon said. “We’ll use that as motivation going into the playoffs.”

Senior running back Bruce Falk, who has battled a hamstring injury the entire season, agreed with Simon.

“Ever since Verona, that really checked us in,” Falk said. “We did have a lot of players out that game. But I think it kept us going, knowing that we can get beat. We have to work harder so we don’t get beat.”

Middleton would love a rematch with the Wildcats in the second round of the playoffs. For that to happen, though, the Cardinals will have to knock off the Spartans for a second time in five weeks.

Passini was the difference in Middleton’s win at Memorial, rushing for 198 yards on 19 carries (10.5 average), throwing for 115 yards and accounting for four total touchdowns.

“If he doesn’t have that type of performance, we don’t win this game,” Simon said that night.

Middleton was also missing Falk, as well as starting safeties Thomas D’Onofrio and Harrison Armstrong in its first meeting against the Spartans. All three are expected to play Friday.

“The goal was to have me ready for (the playoffs),” Falk said. “So I sat out the last two games.”

With both safeties back, Middleton’s defense figures to be close to full strength for the start of the postseason.

“We always refer to ourselves as 'Psycho D',” Pilof said. “Dudes got hurt, Harry (Armstrong) and Thomas (D'Onofrio), and now they’re back. So we were all talking about how 'Psycho D' is back and now we’re flying around like we have been.”

From the first practice of the season, these Cardinals have felt like they’re capable of a deep playoff run — and even a trip to the state finals at Camp Randall Stadium. Now, it's time for them to prove just that.

“Obviously, we choked up against Verona defensively,” Pilof said. “Now we’re back to just playing tough, physical ball. We’re not going to lose again.”


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