After a fourth-quarter lead slipped away on the road against Sun Prairie, the Verona football team’s chances of winning the Big Eight Conference took a hit.
Now the Wildcats have a chance at redemption.
Verona’s 55-6 road win over Madison East on Friday, Oct. 18, set up a rematch with the Cardinals in the first round of the Division 1 playoffs. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at Curtis Jones Field.
“We welcome the challenge,” Verona senior quarterback Adam Bekx said. “We were all upset we didn’t win that first one. There will be some added energy there.”
Verona (7-2, 7-2 Big Eight) tied Middleton for second place in the conference.
If Verona beats Sun Prairie, the Wildcats will face the winner of Fond du Lac and Arrowhead in the second round.
Verona 55, Madison East 6
Bekx tossed four touchdown passes for the second straight week and the Wildcats’ offense clicked on all cylinders at Madison’s Breese Stevens Field.
Fellow senior Haakon Anderson displayed his versatility as a playmaker at running back, wide receiver and safety. He scored three touchdowns — one rushing, one receiving and one on defense, finishing with 89 rushing yards on eight carries.
“He’s just a great athlete,” Bekx said of Anderson. “We can get him the ball so many ways. We know he’s going to get the job done. He’s probably the best athlete to go through Verona.”
Another senior, Aubrey Dawkins, had seven receptions for 132 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s a fantastic receiver,” Bekx said of Dawkins. “Any time I throw the ball up to those two guys, I know they will go up and get it. They can score any time they touch the ball. The offensive line was great. It was a good feeling to sling the ball around.”
Verona got its offense rolling late in the first quarter, with sophomore running back Kyle Krantz scoring on a 6-yard touchdown run with 1:53 left in the first. Bekx connected with Dawkins on a 34-yard touchdown pass to give the Wildcats a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.
“We still have athletes on the field,” Richardson said. “Haakon Anderson is incredible, Aubrey Dawkins, Adam Bekx and a couple of sophomore running backs really stepped up. That tells you a lot about the offensive line and the coaches. We have rotated a lot of guys in and we don’t miss a beat.”
Verona junior defensive lineman Tyler Laham had a monster game with a sack and a half, a blocked punt and a tackle for a loss on a fake punt attempt by the Purgolders (3-6, 3-6).
“He’s gotten so much better,” Richardson said of Laham. “Last year, he was defeating blocks. This year, he’s defeating blocks and finding the football. He’s the cornerstone of our defense.”
Laham snuffed out the fake punt to give Verona the ball at the Purgolders’ 21-yard line. Three plays later, Anderson rumbled into the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown at the 9:51 mark of the second.
Bekx found Anderson for a 20-yard touchdown strike to give the Wildcats a 27-0 lead midway through the second. Facing a fourth-and-15, Bekx then hooked up with Dawkins on a 25-yard touchdown with 3:59 left in the first half.
In the second half, the Wildcats picked up where they left off, as Bekx capped the first drive of the third quarter with a 13-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Anthony Kinney, extending the lead to 41-0.
Anderson then intercepted a pass and returned it 95 yards for a touchdown. He has been starting safety since Michael Guy was injured.
“To get that pick six was really exciting,” Anderson said. “I haven’t played that position much. I have had a lot of teammates and coaches help me out get in the right position. It just felt natural.”
Verona senior Xavier Howard later scored on a 13-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Verona junior running back Jackson Acker did not play the final two weeks of the regular season because of a sprained ankle. The Wildcats were also without senior middle linebacker Keegan Lindell (shoulder injury), sophomore running back Graham Stier (broken finger) and Guy against Madison East.
Richardson said the team hopes to have Acker back for the first round, and there is a chance Guy could return at safety.
Richardson said Lindell and Stier are both out for the season. Stier had thumb surgery on Friday, meaning Krantz could see more carries going forward.
“I wanted to show all the things we can do,” Richardson said. “We know where our bread is buttered, and that’s our running game. That is what we will emphasize.”