Verona junior running back Jackson Acker and the Wildcats’ offense put up video game numbers Friday, Aug. 31, in a 61-35 road win over Middleton at Breitenbach Stadium.
Acker, a University of Wisconsin-Madison commit, rushed for 243 yards on 14 carries and had three touchdowns to power the Wildcats. Verona (2-0, 2-0 Big Eight Conference) gashed the Cardinals for 607 rushing yards and 734 total yards.
After a shootout in the first half, the Wildcats’ defense stiffened in the second half, forcing one turnover and three turnovers on downs while the offense kept chugging.
Verona junior Graham Stier rushed for 206 yards and two touchdowns, and senior Haakon Anderson ran for 159 yards and two touchdowns.
“We knew we could do it,” Acker said. “We just had to come out and prove it. A big part of practice has been conditioning and training for things like this. I think it has definitely been helping.”
Verona coach Dave Richardson said the last time the Wildcats had a 600-yard rushing performance was in 2011 in a win over Hartland Arrowhead. Middleton (1-1) went 6-3 last year and finished fourth in the Big Eight.
“This was pretty special against a good football team,” Richardson said. “We just have a lot of weapons. It’s fun to call plays because you can’t be wrong too often.”
The Wildcats played with heavy hearts after two former players in the program died this past week.
Former wide receiver Shay Watson was shot and killed Sunday, Aug. 25, in Fitchburg, and 2014 graduate Grant Langer, a firefighter, died in Memphis, Tennessee. The visitation for Langer was Thursday, Aug. 30, and the funeral was the following day. The visitation for Watson was Friday, Aug. 31, and the funeral was Saturday, Sept. 1.
Acker was excited by the team’s performance considering the adversity the team faced leading up to the game.
“It was really tough on us all,” Acker said. “It was a big wake-up call. We came together. We are a family, and we got through it.”
Verona led 27-20 at the half before Verona junior defensive back Cam McCorkle intercepted a pass to start the third quarter. Four plays later, Anderson broke away for a 33-yard touchdown run.
After the Cardinals turned the ball over on downs on their second drive of the second half, Senior quarterback Adam Bekx hooked up with senior Aubrey Dawkins – who was wearing Watson’s No. 2 jersey in tribute – on a 24-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to 41-20.
Stier added an 86-yard touchdown scamper early in the fourth quarter, and Acker tacked on a 65-yard scoring run. Stier tacked on a 7-yard touchdown run for good measure.
The Wildcats opened the game with a nine-play, 76-yard drive, culminating in Acker’s 13-yard touchdown run. Acker kept the drive alive with a 10-yard run on fourth-and-1 from the Wildcats’ 34-yard line.
Verona evolved into a quick-strike offense after its first drive, as it finished with 10 plays of 20 yards or more in the game. Bekx connected with Dawkins on a 41-yard touchdown pass to give the Wildcats a 13-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
The Cardinals responded with a 16-play, 78-yard drive, capped off by senior Kallion Buckner’s 2-yard touchdown run.
The Wildcats answered right back, as Anderson bolted for a 54-yard touchdown run to push the lead to 20-7. After Buckner scored his second 2-yard run, Acker raced for an 87-yard touchdown run.
Buckner dashed in for a 30-yard touchdown with 1:09 to go in the second quarter to cut Verona’s lead to 27-20 at the half.