Verona Wildcats Claw Their Way Back For A Come From Behind Victory
At 6-1 on the season, both the Verona Wildcats and the Madison West Regents were looking for one last win on the year to send them into the playoffs with a huge boost in momentum.
Sun Prairie had already, essentially, earned the conference championship crown even before kickoff on Friday night so second place in the Big 8 Conference was up for grabs when these two teams squared off. In the end, it was the defending conference champion who came out victorious as Verona took care of business in thrilling a 39-29 contest.
The game started off very promising for the Wildcats as Verona quickly jumped out to a 15-0 lead in the first quarter.
After Verona forced a three and out, the snap on the punt went directly over the West punter into the end zone and was recover by the Regents for a safety and an early 2-0 Wildcat lead.
On Verona’s possession after the safety, the Wildcats drove 37 yards down to the Regent four yard line and on the next play, Eric Schmid took the ball on a triple option play into the end zone for the score. The extra point attempt was no good but the touchdown extended the Wildcat lead to 8-0 in the first quarter.
Another three and out by the Regent offense led to yet another Wildcat touchdown. This time Travis Murray had a 20 plus yard touchdown run off the right side of the Verona line and increased the lead to 15-0 halfway through the first quarter.
“We jumped out to a tremendous start and I was really pleased with what our players where doing early in the game,” said Verona head coach Dave Richardson. “But right when things started to turn a little bit I think we started to panic a little bit.”
But right when everybody attending the game at Mansfield Stadium though it was all but over, West responded with four unanswered scores of their own and completely shifted the momentum of the ball game.
Regent senior quarterback Alex Brown threw for a 29-yard touchdown pass to Christian Graf on a quick wide receiver screen that was made possible by a tremendous block on the outside by junior wide receiver Terrell McFadden. On the Regents next drive, Brown would add another score on a 32-yard option keeper off the right side of the offensive line and after a successful two point conversion the game was tied at 15-15 early in the second quarter.
On the ensuing Verona possession, a fumbled pitch on an option play was recovered by West at the 23-yard line. After a holding penalty backed the Regents up, Brown would once again throw for another touchdown pass, this time for 23 yards to McFadden, which put the Regents up for the first time in the game with a score of 22-15.
“We can not give up. You need to have each others backs out there,” said Wildcat assistant coach Scott Cramer addressing the defense. “We can beat these guys, just don’t give up, we are right in this thing.”
And as fate would have it, right after Cramer addressed his team on the sidelines, a muffed punt by Verona gave the Regents the ball at the Verona 11-yard line.
Two plays later on a third and six play, Brown threw a bullet of a pass on a quick slant to Graf for the touchdown and eventually the 29-15 lead just before the half.
“That run they had in the first half was scary,” said Richardson. “Our defense hasn’t been scored on like that all year long so we just had to respond and get back to what we have been doing all year and get back in it.”
Just when the Wildcats looked dead in the water, a 60-yard kickoff return to the West 39-yard line gave Verona some life on the last drive before halftime.
After two plays for big gains thanks to Wise, the Wildcats eventually reached the end zone on the final Wise carry of the drive on a one yard touchdown run. Score heading into the half, 29-22 Madison West.
“That score right before the half was a huge boost in confidence for our guys and we were able to build off of that at the half.” said Richardson.
The halftime speech in the Verona locker room must have been one for the ages because the Wildcats ruled the second half and shutout the Regents in the final 24 minutes.
“We just had to have a gut check at that point, we cant just lay off one drive and go hard the next drive,” said Verona running back Dom Wise “We had to play up to our level and our defense really had our back and we couldn’t get back into the game without them.”
Verona received the second half kickoff and would eventually tie the game at 29-29 after a long, methodical drive by the Wildcat offense which ended in the second of three Wise touchdown runs thanks to a seven yard score.
The remainder of the third quarter was a back and forth defensive battle with no scoring but the Wildcats added three points on a 37-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to extend the lead to 32-29.
Another three and out by the Regent offense gave the Wildcats the opportunity to slam the door shut with another score and Wise and company did not leave empty handed.
Verona started the final scoring drive of the game on their own 32-yard line. Thanks to a 23-yard pass play from quarterback John Tackett to Brian Feiler and a 17-yard run by Schmid put the Wildcats in scoring position, Wise added his final touchdown of the night with an 11-yard run on fourth and two that put the game out of reach for the Regents.
“All I was thinking at that point was just get two yards, get two yards,” said Wise. “I was just thinking get the two yards, but there ended up being a big hole and I was able to score.”
Madison West did have one final opportunity to score with 2:27 left in the game but once the Regents got into the red zone, Brown was intercepted by Eric Koberle on a pass over the middle off the hands of his receiver.
Verona ended the game with a series of quarterback kneel downs and the Wildcats advanced to 7-1 on the season while the Regents fell to 6-2.
“I am honestly just speechless right now, thank god for my offensive line,” said Wise. “I just had to read the blocks they were giving me all game long and they did an awesome job once again in front of me.”
Both teams will play in the WIAA State Playoffs with Madison West set to take on Mukwonago High School at home this Friday night with Verona welcoming in Oconomowoc that evening as well.
By: Tyler Zavadsky Twitter: @TylerZonESPN
Prep Reporter ESPN 1380
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