Those two words are all that need to be said to get the blood of the Sun Prairie football team pumping.
“It’s been a great rivalry in my 23 years that I’ve been here and it’s always been a quality program. Add in that we’re both 5-2 and its Homecoming Week, it should be an exciting night Friday,” said Cardinals head coach Brian Kaminski. “We hope to come out with some energy down in ‘The Pit.’”
The Cardinals took out their frustration of a Week 6 loss to Madison La Follette with a 47-14 beatdown on Madison East last Friday. In that game Sun Prairie forced four turnovers and scored 40 first-half points.
All four turnovers were interceptions, three by senior defensive back Jamel Stone and one by junior linebacker Jacob Hellenbrand.
“That’s a big key to any game. If we can get some takeaways and not turn the ball over we put ourselves in a much better situation. We’ve been on both ends of that the last two games: the one game that we lost we had four turnovers which ultimately cost us the football game. But last week we caused some that set our offense up,” said Kaminski.
That defensive unit includes junior linebacker Mekhi Gullens (45 tackles, 6 tackles for a loss), senior defensive back Dominic Backes (30, 3), Hellenbrand (30, 8, 3 sacks), sophomore linebacker Addison Ostrenga (30, 8, 3 sacks), senior linebacker Brandon Shannon (28, 5) and sophomore defensive end Isaac Hamm, who leads the team with 13 tackles for a loss and four QB sacks.
Sun Prairie’s passing attack has been solid all seven weeks of the season, with junior quarterback Brady Stevens still leading the Big Eight in yards (1,436) and touchdowns (20) while throwing only four interceptions.
But last week senior running back Nathan Schauer, a 1,000-yard rusher a season ago, accounted for four touchdowns — three rushing — and 75 yards on just 14 carries.
Sun Prairie comes into Friday’s game ranked second in the Big Eight against the run, limiting opponents to 98.3 yards/game (Madison Memorial is first at 74.5). Meanwhile, Middleton enters play second in the league with 222.1 yards/game rushing (Verona is first at 261.4). So, something has to give.
“We just have to shut down their tailback,” said Kaminski, in reference to Kallion Buckner.
Buckner leads the Big Eight in rushing with 1,004 yards and 17 touchdowns. After limiting him to zero yards in last year’s regular-season matchup, Buckner accounted for 270 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in a WIAA Level 1 playoff game, won 42-36 by Sun Prairie.
“We’ve faced him for three years and we know what he’s all about, he’s a great running back, he’s elusive, he’s fast and he can break the big one. We know at the end of the day he’s going to get his yards, we just have to go about our game plan and not give up that big play,” said Kaminski.
As mentioned, it’s also Homecoming Week, which can be a bit of a distraction for 16-to-18 year-olds.
While a fourth straight Big Eight title may be out of reach, Sun Prairie is trying to avoid losing either of its last two games to keep its hopes alive of hosting a Level 1 playoff game.
“If we go 7-2 we feel like we should get a home playoff game, but 6-3 or 5-4 you never know what happens?” said Kaminski. “We still plan on making a run at this thing.”
WEATHER OR NOT
Weather could be an issue, with heavy rains in the forecast.
“We control what we can control,” said Kaminski. “If it’s raining on us, it’s raining on them as well. Whoever can handle that the best will likely come out on top.”
Sun Prairie has won six of the last eight games in the series dating back to the 2012 season.