All of the offseason workouts, grueling weightlifting sessions, and close games have led to this. On Friday, Nov. 19, the Sun Prairie football team will travel to the University of Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium to vie for the 2021 WIAA Division 1 state championship. Standing between the Cardinals and their first state championship since 1995 are the Franklin Sabers. Let’s preview the season’s marquee matchup.

SEMIFINAL STORIES

Sun Prairie (14-0) got to the state championship by beating Mukwonago, 38-31, in the Level 4 semifinal at Oconomowoc High School. It was a back-and-forth battle until Sun Prairie senior linebacker and receiver Addison Ostrenga decided to take over in the fourth quarter.

First, he forced and recovered a fumble from Mukwonago’s quarterback on a triple option play. On the ensuing Sun Prairie offensive drive, he caught a back-shoulder pass from junior quarterback Jerry Kaminski to give his team a 38-28 lead. When Mukwonago got the ball back and needed to score quickly, Ostrenga stepped up again and secured a sack to make a comeback nearly impossible.

While Sun Prairie’s game was dramatic, Franklin’s was even more so. Facing Appleton North on the other side of the bracket, Franklin (13-0) did not start out too hot. The Sabers trailed the Lightning 19-3 heading into the fourth quarter.

Franklin senior quarterback and Wisconsin Badgers commit Myles Burkett couldn’t let the season slip away so easily. He orchestrated three scoring drives in the fourth quarter. He threw two of the scores himself as Franklin stormed back for a 26-19 win to advance.

This was the second time Franklin nearly lost in the playoffs. Back in Level 2, Oak Creek gave the Sabers all they could handle in an eventual 10-7 win.

STATE CREDENTIALS

This is Sun Prairie’s fourth trip to the WIAA state finals. The Cardinals’ sole championship came in 1995. Sun Prairie settled for runner-up in both 2012 and 2017.

This is also Franklin’s fourth appearance in the state finals. Franklin’s sole state championship came in 2006, back when the Sabers were in Division 2. Since moving up, they’ve went to the Division 1 state title in 2013 and 2016, losing both times.

LOADED WITH TALENT

Both Sun Prairie and Franklin enter the game with a gluttony of talent on both sides of the ball, as was shown in the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association (WFCA) All-Region teams.

Sun Prairie had four offensive and five defensive players receive the honor. Included on the offensive side of the ball was junior quarterback Jerry Kaminski, junior running back Cortez LeGrant, senior offensive lineman and 2-star Northern Illinois recruit Evan Malcore, and senior tight end and North Dakota State baseball commit Davis Hamilton.

The defense is headlined by four-star uncommitted defensive end Isaac Hamm. He’s joined by junior defensive lineman Jayallen Dayne, senior linebacker and 3-star Iowa commit Addison Ostrenga, Hamilton again as a linebacker, and senior cornerback Michael McMillan.

Franklin had a stunning 11 All-Region selections. Of course, the 3-star Burkett is the headliner, but he’s far from the Saber’s only offensive weapon. Burkett is protected by senior 3-star offensive lineman and Syracuse commit Chad Schuster and senior All-Region offensive lineman Evan Scott.

It should come as no surprise that Burkett’s two top targets made the All-Region team as well. Senior receiver Keaton Arendt, who holds an offer from Upper Iowa University and Concordia University — St. Paul, and senior receiver Reese Osgood, who has a Division-1 offer from Valparaiso, are potent weapons for Burkett to throw to.

Franklin’s defense showed up all over the All-Region team as well. Senior defensive lineman Steven Martinez-Delacotera made the cut, as did defensive end Dylan Palasz. Senior middle linebacker Jack Baretz, who has preferred walk-on offers from Louisville and Wake Forrest, runs the show for the Sabers. He’s joined by fellow All-Region senior linebacker Carson Walkowiak.

Senior safety Daniel Martens, who has three D1-FCS offers and a PWO offer from Louisville, and senior cornerback Logan Matthews, who has an offer from Valparaiso, roam the defensive backfield.

DEEPER LOOK AT FRANKLIN

The Sabers went undefeated in the Southeast Conference, putting up a perfect 7-0 record to win the title.

This Franklin squad can score. The Sabers averaged 50 points per game in the regular season, including a dominant end to the season where they won their last two games a combined 139-7.

Franklin does much of its damage through the air. Burkett is a 3-star recruit for a reason, completing 71% of his passes this year for 3,151 yards and 33 touchdowns with just two interceptions. Those are video game numbers.

Osgood is Burkett’s top target, hauling in 53 catches for 913 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. Arendt isn’t far behind him with 46 receptions for 834 yards and 10 scores. Even Franklin’s third option, sophomore Jacques Brooks, has 26 catches for 484 yards and four scores.

With a passing attack like that, it’s easy to see why Franklin doesn’t run the ball much. But, the running back duo of senior Tanner Rivard and sophomore Terrance Shelton can’t be overlooked. The two have nearly equally split carries this season and combined for 1,196 yards and 28 touchdowns. Both are threats to catch the ball out of the backfield, as well.

Defensively, the Sabers are just as imposing. Outside of a 35-31 win over Appleton North in Week 1, no team has scored more than 22 points on Franklin this season, including the postseason. Franklin held seven of its 13 opponents to single-digit scores.

Palasz is a huge reason for that. He’s a game-wrecker, recording 10 sacks and 26 tackles for loss on the year. Martens and Baretz are the head hunters, racking up 107 and 90 tackles, respectively, this season. In the defensive backfield, Matthews has picked off five passes and a smattering of other Sabers have also snagged interceptions as well.

KEYS TO VICTORY

For Sun Prairie, there is an immense amount of pressure on the defensive backfield. Senior cornerbacks Michael McMillan and Brandon Hernandez will have their hands full with Osgood and Arendt. I expect Sun Prairie defense coordinator Tim Bass to scheme up zone shells to get safeties like junior Brady Shanahan and sophomore Sam Ostrenga more involved in help coverage. Linebackers Jor Vang and Davis Hamilton might have to work some extra coverages across the middle as well.

The Sun Prairie defensive line has to be elite. The pass-rushing trio of Hamm, Dayne, and junior Nolan Olson has been productive all season out of Sun Prairie’s base 3-5. Getting Burkett off-schedule and forcing rushed or altered throws will be a huge plus for the Sun Prairie secondary.

Offensively, Sun Prairie will need a great game from its offensive line. To get LeGrant moving on the ground and keep Kaminski off his back, the hogs up front need to punch holes and buy time in pass protection.

I expect a similar gameplan as last week against Mukwonago. Hamilton and Ostrenga are fantastic at creating early separation and should open up windows for Kaminski to fire off quick, short passes.

Perhaps most importantly, Sun Prairie has to win the field position battle. Shelton averages 26 yards per kick return. Sun Prairie kicker Trevor Schulz has a high touchback average, but it doesn’t go out every time. The kick and punt coverage from Sun Prairie has to be quick and consistent in tackling to pin Franklin into uncomfortable offensive possessions. Letting Burkett get comfortable could spell disaster.

WHEN AND WHERE

Kickoff is set for 4 p.m., the final game of the day, at the University of Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, WI.

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