The Sun Prairie football team has been road warriors this postseason, so Friday’s WIAA Division 1 quarterfinal game with Madison Memorial at Mansfield Stadium shouldn’t be an issue.
With the No. 6 seed, the Cardinals (8-3) went on the road to defeat No. 3 Verona, 51-28 in Level 1 play, and last week upset No. 2 Fond du Lac, 34-30, to reach Friday’s quarterfinals.
“We finished 6-3 in the regular season and knew it would be a tough road,” said Sun Prairie head coach Brian Kaminski. “We’re just digging our heels in and doing what we can; it is what it is and we just hope our fans stay on the road with us and cheer us on.”
A reinvigorated running game has a lot to do with Sun Prairie’s recent success. Averaging just 105 yards per game on the ground during the regular season, the Cardinals have averaged 214 during WIAA play.
“That’t been the key,” Kaminski said. “Our offensive line has done a great job, as have our running backs Nathan Schauer and and Jamel Stone; they’ve been playing with a little bit of an attitude the last couple of weeks.”
Schauer and Stone have provided that running spark. The Cardinals’ version of thunder and lightning, Schauer has rushed for 170 yards and five touchdowns in the postseason, while Stone has gained 250 and reached the end zone twice.
That has led to a more balanced offensive attack. Junior quarterback Brady Stevens continues to defy defenses through the air, and with three touchdowns last week tied Jack Zander’s 2017 single-season touchdown mark of 29. Stevens has thrown for 2,268 yards.
“Anytime you can keep balance it allows you to open up some things in the passing game, and it keeps your defense off the field,” said Kaminski.
All three of those touchdown aerials fell into the hands of Dominick Landphier. The senior co-captain had a career night, hauling in passes of 17, 74 and 69 yards for a 160-yard performance.
Landphier has 10 touchdown receptions.
If defending Landphier isn’t hard enough, Memorial must also cover senior Colin Schaefer. The Big Eight’s leading receiver has caught 63 passes — breaking Cooper Nelson’s 2018 single-season mark of 60 — for 970 yards and a team-leading 12 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Cardinals have bent but not broken. They have allowed an average of 415 yards in their two playoff games, but have come up with key plays.
Linebackers Mekhi Gullens and Addison Ostrenga have been involved in 17 tackles apiece, while linebackers Dominic Backes and Brendan Shannon have 13 and 12 stops, respectively.
The Spartans (11-0, ranked No. 5) have been every bit deserving of their No. 1 seed. The Big Eight Conference champions throttled No. 8 Madison West, 42-6, in Level 1 play, and last week shut out Middleton, 30-0.
Memorial holds a two-game winning streak over Sun Prairie, having earned season-opening victories both last season and this year, a 28-25 win at Ashley Field as Jason Ceniti’s quarterback sneak being the difference with 1:25 remaining.
“We feel we’ve really improved since then,” said Kaminski. “It’s a different game — anytime you’re talking about playing in Week 1 versus Week 12 teams definitely change — we went back and watched that film and looked at some opportunities that we didn’t capitalize on.”
Like the Cardinals, the Spartans also have a 1-2 running punch with senior Kam Marshall (908 yards, 11 touchdowns) and junior Kabaris Vasser (840, 12).
Marshall didn’t play in the season-opening game, but Vasser more than made up for his absence, gaining 203 yards with a TD.
“What we can’t do is give up the big plays like we did in the first game,” Kaminski added.
Ceniti also proves to be a huge threat, accounting for 29 touchdowns (19 passing, 10 rushing) and nearly 2,000 yards.
Sun Prairie is playing in its 29th WIAA playoffs and owns a record of 36-27, including the 1995 Division 1 state championship.
Madison Memorial is playing in its 15th WIAA playoffs and owns a record of 7-14. The Spartans were Division 1 state runners-up in both 1978 and 1984.
PREVIOUS WIAA MEETING
This will be only the second playoff meeting between the schools. Sun Prairie won 45-20 in a Level 1 game in 2012.
The Sun Prairie/Memorial winner will face the winner of Muskego and Franklin in a Division 1 semifinal game on Nov. 15.