MADISON — Three yards. That’s all that stood between the Sun Prairie football team and the WIAA Division 1 semifinals.
Trailing 21-17 with under two minutes to play in Friday’s quarterfinals, the Cardinals were faced with a fourth-and-goal from the Madison Memorial 3-yard line. On the threshold of pulling off their third upset of the postseason a deflected pass ended Sun Prairie's hopes, and its season.
Top-seeded Memorial (12-0) added a late touchdown for a 28-17 final, keeping their perfect season intact.
“We had a chance to win the game and came up short,” said Sun Prairie head coach Brian Kaminski. “We had some opportunities inside the red zone that we couldn’t convert.”
Behind a 1-2 running punch of Kam Marshall and Kabaris Vasser, the Spartans were able to rack up 340 yards on the ground. Vasser’s 3-yard run capped a five-play, 63-yard drive and gave Memorial a 21-17 lead for good with 8 minutes, 43 seconds remaining.
But a Vasser fumble, recovered by Sylvester Ware, gave the Cardinals possession at their own 32-yard line with 5 ½ minutes remaining.
A 40-yard Brady Stevens-to-Peyton Jenkins pass moved the Cardinals into the red zone, before Jamel Stone’s 12-yard run made it first-and-goal at the 2.
The game was played in less-than-ideal conditions, with a kickoff temperature of 25 degrees. Meanwhile, Kaminski expressed his concerns for icy and hard field conditions at Mansfield Stadium.
“To be honest I don’t think this was a safe surface to play on,” he said.
Those conditions may have played a role in the next two plays, as both Stevens and senior running back Nathan Schauer slipped on approaches to the end zone.
That set up fourth down. As Stevens threw to his left his pass was batted down by linebacker Kyle Murphy as Madison Memorial took over on downs.
Kaminski added: “The surface didn’t cost us the game.”
The game wasn’t over just yet. On second down Spartans quarterback Jason Ceniti appeared to have fumbled, and Sun Prairie came up with the ball inside the 15. But after the referees conferred, Ceniti was ruled down.
“We had the ball, but (the referees) said he didn’t fumble. If I had a challenge flag, I would have thrown it,” Kaminski said.
On the next very play, Marshall scored on an 89-yard touchdown run putting the game out of reach, sending fourth-ranked Memorial to the state semifinals.
Sun Prairie (8-4) took advantage of a Memorial fumble on the game’s first possession, with junior kicker Owen Konopacki sneaking a 44-yard field goal over the crossbar for a 3-0 lead.
Great field position led to the Cardinals’ first touchdown, a 10-yard Stone run that capped a five-play, 23-yard drive for a 10-0 lead with 1:11 left in the first quarter.
Marshall and Vasser then went to work, combining for all 63 yards of an eight-play drive with Marshall’s 10-yard run cutting the SP lead to 10-0 just before halftime.
Neither team scored in the third quarter.
After its defense stopped Sun Prairie on a fourth-and-3 at the 9-yard line, the Spartans put together the signature drive of the game. With Vasser carrying the ball nine times for 71 yards before ending a 14-play, 91-yard drive with a go-ahead 8-yard run with 10:51 remaining in the game.
“We just couldn’t stop their power running game, that’s what it came down to,” said Kaminski.
Vasser ran for 167 yards and two touchdowns and Marshall ripped off 131 yards and also scored twice as the top-seeded Spartans ran for 340 yards. Both Vasser and Marshall eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark.
It took Sun Prairie one play from scrimmage to answer when Stevens hit Dominick Landphier on a crossing pattern and Landphier outraced the defense for a 65-yard touchdown. Konopacki’s extra point gave the Cardinals a 17-14 lead with 10:37 left.
“Dom Landphier can make plays and Brady hit him in stride, it was a great play to answer with,” said Kaminski of Landphier’s fourth touchdown of the postseason and 11th of the season.
Madison Memorial (12-0) will play defending Division 1 champion Muskego (12-0) in a semifinal on Friday, Nov. 15.
Schauer ran for 96 yards on 19 carriers, Stevens completed 12-of-20 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown, and Landphier caught three passes for 71 yards and a score to lead the Sun Prairie offense.
Meanwhile, Addison Ostrenga had a huge game in the loss. The sophomore linebacker made nine tackles, two tackles for a loss and had a quarterback sack. Mekhi Gullens added nine stops as well, while Dominic Backes and Jacob Hellenbrand eadh finished with seven tackles.
The game was the last for 24 seniors.
“We beat two very good football teams (Verona and Fond du Lac) and we were 3 yards away from winning this ball game. I’m very proud of their effort. It hurts tonight but the effort and the legacy this is a lot to be proud of,” said Kaminski.
Stevens set both the single-season touchdown mark (30, passing Jack Zander’s 2017 mark of 29) and yards (2,457, passing Richie Gilles’ 2018 mark of 2,456) … Colin Schaefer finished with a single-season school record with 68 receptions … Madison Memorial advanced to Level 4 for the first time in program history.
Sun Prairie 10 0 0 7 — 17
Madison Memorial 0 7 0 21 — 28
Sun Prairie — FG, Konopacki, 44.
Sun Prairie — Stone, 10 run (Konopacki kick).
Memorial — Marshall, 10 run (Kerkoff kick).
Memorial — Vasser, 8 run (Kerkoff kick).
Sun Prairie — Landphier, 65 pass from Stevens (Konopacki kick).
Memorial — Vasser, 3 run (Kerkoff kick).
Memorial — Marshall, 89 run (Kerkoff kick).
First Downs — SP 13, MM 16. Rushing (Att.-Yds.) — SP 35-131, MM 42-340. Passing Yards — SP 209, MM 13. Passes (Comp.-Att.-Int.) — SP 13-21-0, MM 2-6-0. Fumbles-lost — SP 1-1, MM 3-3. Penalties — SP 1-5, MM 4-34.