Coming into the final game of the regular season, Sun Prairie had its eyes on the Big Eight Conference crown. A win over Middleton the week prior had already guaranteed the Cardinals at least a share of the championship. A win at rival Verona would give Sun Prairie the distinction outright.
The Wildcats did not make it easy on the Cardinals. The game went into overtime knotted at 35, thanks only to a 39-yard field goal from Sun Prairie junior kicker Trevor Schulz. In overtime, Schulz was the savior again, nailing a 44-yard kick to win the game, 38-35, and preserve Sun Prairie’s undefeated season and gift the Cardinals the Big Eight championship.
Schulz’s performance under pressure is even more impressive considering his shortcomings earlier in the game. He missed two extra point attempts and had a field goal blocked, all in the first half. Undeterred, he maintained his confidence and stepped up to save Sun Prairie’s season.
The game kicked off in typical fashion for Sun Prairie: with a score. Junior quarterback Jerry Kaminski connected with sophomore Connor Stauff for a 6-yard score. Here’s where the kicking troubles started for Schulz as the kick failed, leaving Sun Prairie with a 6-0 lead early in the game.
Coming into the game, Sun Prairie’s defense typically did not allow scoring in the first quarter. Sure, sometimes teams managed to get a decent start, but by and large, scoring against Sun Prairie early was uncommon. Verona flipped that trend on its head.
The Wildcats scored two touchdowns in the first quarter to take a lead on the Cardinals. First, Verona quarterback Mason Fink connected with Michael Valitchka for a huge 65-yard touchdown. After the extra point Verona had a 7-6 lead over the Cardinals.
Instead of answering, Sun Prairie allowed another score. Fink uncorked another huge touchdown throw. This time, he found Cole Jannusch for a 50-yard strike to boost the Wildcats’ lead to 14-6 as the first quarter came to a close.
Sun Prairie’s offense finally found some juice to respond in the second quarter. The dynamic running back duo of juniors Kolton Walters and Cortez LeGrant helped the Cardinals regain their footing. Walters was the first to make a big impact, carrying the ball six yards into the endzone for a score. Kaminski ran in the 2-point conversion to tie the game at 14.
After a stand from the Sun Prairie defense, LeGrant got in on the fun as well. He took a carry into the endzone from seven yards out to give Sun Prairie the lead for the first time in awhile. Kicking woes continued to plague Schulz, however, as the kick failed again. Sun Prairie would have to hope the 20-14 lead would last until halftime.
It did not. On the ensuing drive, Verona reached into its bag of tricks. Running back Kyle Krantz took a pitch and squared up to throw, catching the Sun Prairie defense by surprise as he found Valitchka for a 30-yard score. The point after attempt was successful to give Verona a 21-20 lead.
The Cardinals had a little time before halftime and pushed to get the lead back. Sun Prairie got close enough to attempt a kick, but it was blocked. Troubles continued for Schulz. Verona took a 21-20 lead into halftime.
The entirety of the third quarter was a stalemate. Neither offense could get anything going. Both defenses came to win. But, something had to break. As the fourth quarter began, still with a 21-20 Verona advantage, chaos was about to be unleashed.
Verona struck first. Fink kept up his outstanding day through the air, connecting with Jannusch for a 63-yard touchdown to boost the Verona lead to 28-20.
Desperate, the Sun Prairie offense turned up the tempo. The Cardinals weren’t used to trailing, but they still maintained great composure. Sun Prairie set out on a long, long drive. It was punctuated with a 1-yard keeper touchdown from Kaminski. Sun Prairie went for the 2-point conversion by handing it to big Jayallen Dayne, who was stuffed. Sun Prairie had chipped away at the lead but still trailed, 26-28.
As he has done all season, LeGrant was clutch when his team needed him. He was an integral part of the ensuing possession and punctuated it with a score. He carried the ball in from four yards out to give the Cardinals a 32-28 lead. Again the 2-point conversion failed as Kaminski’s pass to senior Addison Ostrenga was completed, but Ostrenga was dragged down before the goal line.
LeGrant wasn’t the only clutch one on the field, though. Fink’s outstanding performance continued for Verona. He launched another bomb that Sun Prairie was powerless to stop. He connected with Jannusch for a 67-yard score. A successful point after kick made it a 35-32 lead for Verona with time winding down.
On the ensuing Sun Prairie drive, the Cardinals got Schulz as close as they could. With seconds left on the clock, Schulz would have to nail a 39-yard kick to keep the game and Sun Prairie’s undefeated season alive. He did just that, splitting the uprights to tie the game at 35. Overtime.
In overtime, the Cardinals got a crack at winning the game. Their drive stalled out just past midfield, but they could still win it with a 44-yard field goal from Schulz. It was a big ask for the junior, but Sun Prairie head coach Brian Kaminski still trotted him out there to give it a shot. Schulz delivered, nailing the kick to give Sun Prairie a 38-35 win.
The box score from this game is absolutely bananas. Kaminski put on a show, completing 29 of his 47 passing attempts for 310 yards and a touchdown. Yet, Fink somehow put up better numbers. He only needed 13 completions to amass 342 yards and four touchdowns with zero interceptions.
The receiving stats are out of this world, as well. Verona’s Jannusch led all receivers with 201 yards and three scores. Behind him was teammate Valitchka with 100 yards and two scores. Stauff led the way for Sun Prairie, turning nine catches into 91 yards and a touchdown.
On the ground, LeGrant was the biggest gainer, carrying 16 times for 110 yards and two scores. Walters averaged a whopping 8.9 yards on his seven carries to get to 62 total.
The Wildcats gave Sun Prairie all they could handle, but this should prove to be valuable experience for the upcoming Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) playoffs, which begin this week.
Sun Prairie earned a No. 1 seed and is slated to play Madison La Follette in the first round. Earlier this season, the Cardinals thumped the Lancers, 56-19.
Verona is a 5-seed and its first opponent in the postseason is No. 4 Fond Du Lac. This is noteworthy because, if both Sun Prairie and Verona advance, it would set up a rematch.