During a desperation last-ditch effort by Verona trailing by three points, Middleton wanted to dial up a blitz.
Middleton sacked Verona junior quarterback Mason Fink as time expired to stun Verona 18-15 on Thursday, April 1, in the home opener on the new turf field.
Sun Prairie rallied from a nine-point first-half deficit to top the Wildcats and the Cardinals responded by hollering and celebrating the win.
“I get it you beat Verona that’s a big deal,” Verona coach Dave Richardson said. “Act like you have been there before. I was surprised by their reaction in the end. It was a huge win for them on our home field. They showed their emotion and I didn’t appreciate that.”
Verona (0-2) got the ball back on a turnover on downs with 8.8 seconds to go. Fink completed a 23-yard pass to junior tight end Cole Zoromski over the middle with no timeouts left. With the Wildcats hurrying to the ball, the Cardinals took a timeout with 0.1 of a second left. The Cardinals then sacked Fink to end the game.
Richardson said he was surprised Middleton called a timeout.
“There was no way we were going to snap the ball in 0.1 seconds,” he said. “We had a chance, but they snuck in a blitz.”
He didn’t have any reservations about the first completed pass of the drive.
“In order to score we have to get to the 50 to give him (Fink) a chance to throw it in the end zone,” Richardson said. “It was a good move, we just needed to go down quicker. We haven’t practiced that.”
After being shut out in the opener by Sun Prairie, Verona’s offense got on track early on with some explosive plays against Middleton.
Verona senior running back Jackson Acker bolted for a 70-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Sophomore Mason Armstrong booted a 26-yard field goal to give the Wildcats a 9-0 lead with 10 minutes, 44 seconds left in the second quarter.
Acker rushed for 109 yards on 10 carries and scored one touchdown.
“To get the first touchdown here on the new field, I thought it was going to end up just like the last Middleton game based on the start and it just didn’t happen,” Acker said.
The Cardinals stormed back later in the second quarter. Middleton quarterback Sawyer Pertzborn connected with tight end Bryce Hensen on a 30-yard TD pass to cut the WIldcats’ lead to 9-7. Pertzborn then kicked a 35-yard field goal with 1:23 left in the second quarter to give Middleton a 10-9 lead at the half.
The Wildcats regained the lead in the second half on senior running back Graham Steier’s 32-yard TD run gave Verona a 15-10 lead in the third quarter.
Verona rushed for 157 yards, which was a big improvement over the opener when SUn Prairie limited the Wildcats to 9 rushing yards.
Acker said getting the running game on track is a combination of getting new starting offensive linemen on the same page and the backs reading the blocks better.
“These first two games were a test for them,” Acker said. “They are getting better. I have confidence in them.”
That set the stage for a frantic finish. Pertzborn scored the game-winning touchdown on a 6-yard run. He then hit Hensen with a two-point conversion pass to give the Cardinals a three-point lead with 10:30 left in the fourth quarter.
Fink completed 17 of 26 passes for 147 yards. Junior wide receiver Cole Jannusch had five receptions for 38 yards. Acker had four catches for 33 yards.
For the second straight week, the WIldcats’ defense limited an opponent to two touchdowns in a loss. Verona senior defensive end James Rae, senior defensive back Collin Stubitsch, junior linebacker Vince Langlois and Armstrong each had a team-high nine tackles.
“I’m proud of every single one of those players on defense,” Rae said. “We fought hard. We got more solid in our calls. That big O-line from Middelton pushed us hard, but we pushed them back. We have to keep taking steps forward. We are capable of winning close games like we saw tonight.”
Junior defensive lineman Andres Garrido had one sack.
“I’m really pleased with our defense,” Richardson said. “We are playing well enough to win. Middleton had to earn it the whole time. James Rae in that first quarter was a man among boys flying around.”