Sun Prairie Advances to State Championship
Going into this Friday’s semifinal game, the Sun Prairie Cardinals had dominated the competition all season long. And going into Friday night’s game, the Cardinals knew they were in for a dogfight from the start as the team faced the toughest competition of the season.
“We knew it was going to be tough at first offensively for both teams to get really much of anything going,” said Sun Prairie head coach Brian Kaminski. “But I kept telling our guys to grind it out and they never stopped believing and luckily we were able to score more points than they were, and in the end, that is all that really matters.”
Tears of undeniable jubilation filled the eyes of Cardinal fans, players and coaches alike as Sun Prairie sent Lake Geneva Badger home with a 21-13 loss and punched its ticket to Madison.
“I don’t know what it really feels like quite yet, but it’s a great feeling,” said Kaminski, as he whipped the tears from his eyes. “There are not to many moments in this coaching profession that make you feel like this. It is just simply unreal, I am so proud of all of our players and coaches for what they did here tonight.”
And what his team did on Friday night was remarkable. Not only did Sun Prairie win the teams twelfth game of the season and stay unbeaten, but the Cardinals also did it against yet another potent rushing attack in the same fashion this defense has taken care of business all year long.
Coming into the contest, Badger had a two-headed monster rushing attack that featured quarterback Peter Krien, and running back/fullback Robert Johnson. Both Krien and Johnson had rushed for over 1,200 yards on the season and combined for 24 rushing touchdowns.
In Friday night’s game, the Cardinals defense limited the pair to just over 120 yards combined and only one score on the ground, while Krien added another through the air.
To put this game in perspective, in the third round game against Kenosha Bradford, Krein had 174 yards rushing while Johnson added another 94 yards and the two scored three total touchdowns.
“We knew we had to stop that duo all game long in order to have success,” said Kaminski. “Luckily our defense bent a little bit but never broke in this game and it was nice to see our guys come together once again.”
Sun Prairie would strike first and be the first team up on the board. After the Cardinal defense stoned a fourth and five rushing attempt by Badger, the offense drove down the field in an eight play drive that culminated in an 11-yard touchdown run by running back Donte Starlin-Merriam, who finished with a game high 118 rushing yards, to make the score 7-0 with just over one minute remaining in the first quarter.
After back and forth bruising action for much of the second quarter, Badger added a touchdown on a three-yard score by Johnson to tie the game at 7-7 with four minutes remaining in the first half.
An interception by Badger linebacker Andrew Cychner would give the Badgers another chance to score before the end of the half but once again the Cardinals defense held strong and denied a score of any kind to hold the score at 7-7 heading into the locker rooms.
“At the half we didn’t make huge adjustments really,” said Kaminski. “We just knew we wanted to get back to the running game and work in passes here and there to finally start putting some points on the board.”
The Badgers added another score after forcing the Cardinals to punt right out of halftime on the team’s first drive. Krien found running back Anthony Ashley out of the backfield on a wheel route for a 27-yard touchdown pass. The score made the game 13-7 after a missed extra point attempt and gave the Cardinals the team’s first real deficit all season long.
“After that first score we just told the kids it’s all about heart,” said Kaminski. “And that’s exactly what championship teams have and our players showed they had a heart of a champion tonight.”
On the ensuing Sun Prairie drive, the Cardinals exhibited that heart by driving down 79 yards for an eventual touchdown courtesy of a 21-yard Ryan Curran play action pass to Drew Mikalofsky for the score. After the successful attempt, the score was 14-13 heading into the fourth quarter.
In that fourth quarter, Curran had yet another connection to Mikalofsky on a beautifully thrown fade pass to the back of the end zone on a nine-yard touchdown throw to extend the Cardinals lead to 21-13 with 8:41 left to play.
“I think that was the best pass I have ever thrown in my life,” said Curran. “I knew I could make it, but I never knew I could throw it like that and Drew just made a great catch.”
Badger had one last chance to tie the game with 3:21 left in the fourth after a missed 37-yard field goal but ultimately came up short.
After the Badgers drove down nearly the entire length of the field, Matt Reynolds attempted a halfback pass into the end zone with 33 seconds remaining, but the attempt was intercepted by Jeremiah Bradley to close out the contest.
After a couple of kneel downs, the Sun Prairie Cardinals stormed the field and threw up the Wisconsin “W” with their hands and started to celebrate.
“I was in my dorm room the last time this team made it to state and I was watching it just saying look at this team playing in the snow,” said Kaminski. “We know all the stories and the legends of that team and we are just glad to get back for our fan base and students.”
The Sun Prairie Cardinals will now take on the Arrowhead Warhawks in the D-I State Championship game on Nov, 16 at 4 p.m. in Camp Randal Stadium.
“Anytime you have a chance to go to state and you have a hard fought contested battle like this, it is really something special,” said Kaminski. “I have a grandmother that lives in Chicago and unfortunately she can’t make it to the games but she has always told me that if we were fortunate enough to make it to Camp Randal, she would come up and watch us play. And God bless her, she’s gonna’ be there next Friday.”
By: Tyler Zavadsky Twitter: TylerZonESPN
Prep Reporter ESPN 1380
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