The Sun Prairie football team’s mantra for the entirety of the 2021-22 season has been “Last Dance.” This, of course, refers to Sun Prairie splitting into East and West following this academic year. The Cardinals put together almost the best season imaginable, finishing the year with a 13-1 record. That sole loss came Friday, Nov. 19 at Camp Randall Stadium in the WIAA Division 1 state championship against Franklin.

The Sabers, led by 3-star Wisconsin commit quarterback Myles Burkett, simply had too potent of an offense. Sun Prairie made a valiant third-quarter comeback, but it was stamped out as Franklin won its first Division 1 state title (the Sabers won the Division 2 title back in 2006) by a score of 38-17.

“You have to give Franklin credit,” Sun Prairie head coach Brian Kaminski said. “They’re a good football team. We are also proud of our kids’ effort. They left it all on the field, we just didn’t execute the way he had at other times this season.”

Billed as the state’s premiere game, the Cardinals and Sabers did not disappoint. There was drama in this one right from the start.

On Franklin’s first offensive play, the center had trouble with the shotgun snap. The ball wobbled around the line of scrimmage until senior linebacker Davis Hamilton swooped in and scooped it up.

Just like that, the Cardinals had the ball on the Franklin 15-yard line.

Hopes of an early lead were quickly dashed. Sun Prairie elected to go for the kill and lob up a pass to the end zone. The pass was slightly under-thrown from Sun Prairie quarterback Jerry Kaminski and picked off by Franklin senior safety Daniel Martens. One play, one turnover for both sides.

Martens returned that interception out to the eight yard line, and the Sabers started driving. Burkett was dealing and it looked as though Franklin would take a quick 7-0 lead.

However, a huge sack from junior defensive lineman Nolan Olson threw the Sabers off schedule. They were forced to settle for a 33-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead.

Kaminski seemed unshaken from his previous turnover on the ensuing possession. He fired a dart to senior receiver Addison Ostrenga on a comeback which he caught and ran with, flipping the field and putting the Cardinals in a position to score.

The Cardinals opted to keep it on the ground, which proved to be a mistake in this game. Sun Prairie’s offensive line has been dominant all season, but Franklin’s defensive front straight up bullied it in this game. The Cardinals were held to an average of 2.3 yards per carry and junior All-State running back Cortez LeGrant could never get going.

Sun Prairie’s drive stalled out. Junior kicker Trevor Schulz knocked a 34-yard field goal through the uprights to tie the game at 3 with just under two minutes to play in the first quarter.

The score wouldn’t stay tied for long. On the second play of the ensuing Franklin drive, senior receiver Reese Osgood absolutely burned his man and sprinted up the left sideline uncovered. Burkett lobbed the ball up to him and the Sabers had themselves a 90-yard touchdown and a 10-3 lead to take into the second quarter.

The state championship is all about risking it all to get the ultimate prize. Both of these teams displayed that with their attitudes towards fourth down in the second quarter.

Franklin was the first to break out the theatrics. Facing 4th and 8, the Sabers lined up to punt. Instead of booting the ball away, punter Logan Matthews set his feet and threw a pass to Osgood. The ball slipped right through his hands, giving the ball to Sun Prairie.

The Cardinals returned the favor with a failed 4th down conversion of their own. Facing 4th and 5 from the Franklin 33, the Cardinals were out of field goal range and elected to go for it. Ostrenga found separation in the endzone, but again the pass was underthrown by Kaminski, allowing the safety time to recover and break up the pass.

Discouragement from a failed drive quickly turned to excitement as sophomore safety Sam Ostrenga laid out for a tipped pass from Burkett and intercepted it.

That anticipation of a potential game-tying drive was quickly erased as Sun Prairie went three-and-out. The quick passing game was working, but the running game entirely ineffective. Sun Prairie kept trying to pound the rock, but the offensive line was simply outmatched.

Franklin graciously accepted the ball back and quickly marched down the field. Franklin senior running back Tanner Rivard found a crease early in the possession and burst out for a 46-yard scamper to bring the ball within the Sun Prairie 10. The next play, sophomore Terrance Shelton carried the ball in from six yards out to give Franklin a 17-3 lead.

Things went from bad to worse for the Cardinals as Kaminski was intercepted by Keaton Arendt. Kaminski was pressured quickly in his drop back, forcing him to rush and force a pass into tight coverage as the junior captain was trying to will his team back into the game.

Neither team could muster any more offense before the halftime buzzer sounded. A daunting 14-point mountain had to be climbed in the second half by the Cardinals.

Franklin certainly didn’t make a comeback look easy. On the opening kickoff, the Sabers ran a trick play tossback and carried the ball all the way to the Sun Prairie 36 before Schulz saved a touchdown with his tackle.

The Sun Prairie defense held firm. Senior defensive lineman Isaac Hamm and Ostrenga were getting constant pressure on Burkett. Outstanding coverage from senior cornerback Brandon Hernandez forced an incompletion on 4th and 5, handing the ball back to the offense.

Franklin’s defense forced another three-and-out and the offense got to work. Burkett was flushed from the pocket but no one was there to pick him up. He scampered 37 yards down to the Sun Prairie 1. From there, it was too easy as Rivard punched it in to give the Sabers a 24-3 lead.

After a second consecutive three-and-out, the Cardinals looked dead in the water, content with a blowout to end its season. But, cornerback Michael McMillan came to the rescue with some momentum.

The senior leaped up to rob a deep pass attempt from Burkett, intercepting the ball and putting hope back on the Sun Prairie sideline. This momentum shift was immediately evident as Kaminski lobbed a beautiful pass over the top to Hamilton for the Cardinals’ first touchdown of the day. Still, Sun Prairie faced a 10-24 deficit.

Sun Prairie’s defense was obviously fired up as well. Ostrenga came up with a nice sack on 2nd down and Hamilton bottled a ballcarrier up on 3rd to force a quick punt. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Franklin following a poor punt set the Cardinals up on the Franklin 35.

The offense kept rolling. A swing pass to Hamilton set the Cardinals up in prime scoring position. Kaminski kept it himself on a read option and dove into the endzone from four yards out to narrow the deficit to 17-24 as the third quarter neared its end.

Sadly, it was about then that the magic ran out. The offense returned to its old ways, producing another three-and-out. Franklin immediately took advantage as Burkett lobbed up a 30-yard touchdown bomb to Osgood, giving the Sabers a 31-17 lead with less than eight minutes left to play.

The Franklin defense was stifling again, forcing another three-and-out from the Cardinals. From there, the Sabers kept the ball on the ground. Rivard got carry after carry and the Sun Prairie defense just couldn’t get Franklin off the field. The Sabres burned seven minutes of clock, punctuating the dominant drive with a 7-yard touchdown pass with 40 seconds remaining to go up 38-17, ending the game.

“They showed the character of a champion,” Brian Kaminski said of his squad. “When you face adversity and get knocked down, how do you handle yourself? These guys got back up and had a chance to tie the game at one point.”

It was an emotional scene on the field following the game. Not only was a decorated class of 2022 done playing for Sun Prairie, but the splitting of the school meant this team would never return as a whole. Players cried, hugged, and offered words of love and encouragement, showing how truly special, connected, and loyal this group was to one another.

Though the Cardinals didn’t come home with a state championship, it was an overwhelmingly successful season. From winning the Big Eight with an undefeated regular season to an emotional run through the playoffs with numerous Sun Prairie players being named All-State, All-Region, or All-Conference, Sun Prairie danced its heart out one last time.

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