Janesville Craig and Milton both came into Friday night’s 2021 regular-season finale with a lot to play for.
Both teams found themselves on the playoff bubble, looking for a win to strengthen their case.
The Red Hawks (4-5 overall, 3-4 Badger Large) took control of the contest early and never relinquished it, defeating the Cougars 42-15 on Senior Night.
In the end, both Milton and Craig qualified for the 224-team field announced by the WIAA just before midnight Saturday.
The Red Hawks drew a No. 7 seed in Division 2’s Group C and will travel east along Highway 12 to take on No. 2 Lake Geneva Badger. No. 8 Craig travels to No. 1 Mukwonago.
Badger defeated Milton, 26-14 in Week 2.
Milton coach Rodney Wedig said his team put together a statement game to close out the 2021 regular season.
“Our defense played great tonight,” Wedig said.
It was the offense staking the Red Hawks to a 14-0 lead early in the first quarter. Senior running back Zack Bothun had another big night running the new Milton offense, amassing 263 yards on 24 carries with four touchdowns. He also tossed a 46-yard TD pass to fellow senior Jack Campion in the second quarter to help the Red Hawks get out to a 42-7 halftime advantage and set up a running clock in the second half.
Campion added five carries for 46 yards and a TD.
Craig (3-6, 3-4) put together a nice drive in the first quarter. Trailing 14-0, the Cougars marched 79 yards and cashed in on a 2-yard Jake Schaffner run.
Trailing 20-7, the Cougars had a chance to score again in the second quarter when they drove into the Milton red zone. But an interception by Mason Pusateri snuffed out the drive. The Red Hawks capitalized on the miscue with the TD pass from Bothun to Campion.
Wedig said that was the play that changed the complexion of the game. “They score and it’s a one-possession game again.”
In a heartwarming senior night move, Milton sent injured senior quarterback Cayden Zajac in to take the final three victory-formation snaps. Zajac broke his collarbone early in the season. His injury has healed enough to throw the football, but he wasn’t cleared for contact.
Zajac was touched by the move. “It was nice to get on the field one last time,” Zajac said.
Craig coach Adam Bunderson told his team after the game that they had done all they could to make their case for a playoff bid.
“We’ll know in a few hours,” Bunderson said.
Bunderson said he was proud of his team’s fight Friday night against Milton.
Senior quarterback Hunter Klietz completed 15 of 23 passes for 130 yards with a TD and an interception. Schaffner had eight catches for 96 yards with a TD. He played a part in both Craig TDs.
Before the game, Milton officials held a moment of silence in honor of assistant band director John Schroeder, who passed away unexpectedly Thursday night.
“John was a beloved member of the Milton High School marching band staff for seven years, and during that time touched the lives of countless people,“ the Milton School District said in a statement read at the game. “John’s impact on the students of Milton High School was not only as a musician, but also as a mentor and friend.”
MILTON 42, JANESVILLE CRAIG 15
Craig 7 0 0 8 — 15
Milton 20 22 0 0 — 42
M—Zack Bothun 14 run (Garrett Bladl kick)
M—Bothun 8 run (Bladl kick)
C—Jake Schaffner 2 run (Lilli Reed kick)
M—Bothun 50 run (Kick failed)
M—Jack Campion 45 pass from Bothun (Bladl kick)
M—Campion 15 run (Bladl kick)
M—Bothun 3 run (Bladl kick)
C—Schaffner 21 pass from Hunter Klietz (Gavin Bailey pass from Klietz)
First downs—C 13; M 17. Rushes-yards—C 18-178; M 36-338. Passing yards—C 130; M 53. Passes (att.-comp-int.)—C 23-15-1; M 3-2-1. Fumbles-lost—C 1-1; M 1-0. Penalties-yards—C 7-65; M 10-90.