D-I State Championship Features Sun Prairie vs. Arrowhead
The road to Madison has finally led to this point for 14 teams that set off on a journey way back in August in hopes that this day would come, to one day raise the gold ball trophy high above their collective heads come seasons end.
The Sun Prairie Cardinals and the Arrowhead Warhawks will both be fighting for the chance to create everlasting memories along with the chance of capturing something rarely attained, the perfect season.
Both the Cardinals and the Warhawks enter Friday afternoons contest with spotless 12-0 records thanks in large part to the team’s defensive prowess this season, along with equally dominant offensive attacks.
For starters, Arrowhead, a team that is no stranger to the big game in Madison, will be making the teams eleventh state championship appearance since 1993. The Warhawks won titles in 1993, 1994, 1996 and in 2007 while being runner-ups in 2000, 2003, 2006, 2008 and in 2010.
This season, Arrowhead rolled through the Classic Eight Conference with a perfect 7-0 mark with ease. The Warhawks allowed just two conference opponents to score over seven points in a ball game, while also giving up no more than 15 points only twice this season. In week one against Minnetonka and last weeks game against Hudson.
This defense is regarded as one of the toughest in the entire state. Arrowhead has held opponents scoreless in two games this year, while also holding eight of 12 opponents to under seven points in the game. Led by players like linebacker Matt Seitz, defensive back Jackson Abresch and defensive lineman Billy Hirschfeld, this Warhawk defensive squad was the perfect compliment to this teams explosive passing game this season.
On offence, the 6’6’’ 225 pound quarterback Brady Kelliher has helped this ‘Hawk team sore all year long. This young man has thrown for 2,403 yards on 153 completions for 21 touchdowns and only five interceptions. His 68% completion percentage and other compiled stats mirror that of Green Bay Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
In last weeks contest against Hudson in the semifinals, Kelliher put the team on his back and threw for 427 yards, his career high, and three touchdowns in the 43-20 victory.
Kelliher also has an added dimension of running the ball when needed. This season he compiled 334 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on the ground.
Given that this team utilizes the passing game, wide receivers Ricky Finco and Brandon Kim have been the two top pass catchers for this offense. Finco enters the championship game with 968 receiving yards, 255 of which came in last weeks contest, and 11 touchdowns on the year. Kim adds 519 yards receiving and five touchdowns this season.
Head coach Greg Malling will get his first crack at a state championship since being hired in 2011. He enters this game with a 20-2 record.
On the other sideline sits the undefeated Sun Prairie Cardinals who also rolled through the teams conference schedule, as well as playoff run, with effortless dominance that begins and ends with this teams defense.
Allowing a total of just 86 points this entire year, an average of just over seven points per contest, this Sun Prairie squad has stonewalled almost every opponent they have gone up against.
The Cardinals officially shutout four opponents this season, while adding an additional “unofficial” shutout in the first round of the playoffs against Madison Memorial, a team that scored 20 points in the fourth quarter against the second string defense.
Also, the Cardinals defense allowed only five touchdowns in the first half this entire season while also shutting out five teams in the second half of ball games as well.
Players like Craig Evans, a defensive lineman and UW recruit, lead this defense along with linebackers Vernon Mems, Michael Garvey and Shane Seiter and defensive backs Dylen Carter and Jeremiah Bradley all are critical pieces to the states best defense.
Not to be outdone, on the offensive side of the ball this Cardinal squad also features some studs.
Junior quarterback Ryan Curran has had an unbelievable year throwing the football while leading his team into battle. Curran has amassed 1,562 yards and 18 touchdowns while throwing for a 64.2% completion rate. Many of his passes find the hands of fellow junior, Michael Marchese who has 538 yards receiving and three touchdowns.
Running back Donte Starlin-Merriam has been, without question, the Cardinals workhorse this year rushing for 1,486 yards on 243 attempts and 16 touchdowns. Sun Prairie relies heavily on the legs of Starlin-Merriam to establish the running game early on, and then attack through the air as the passing lanes open up later in ball games.
The last time this team was in the state championship game the Cardinals won back in 1995. (Or I guess you could argue 2012. The Cardinals baseball team, which featured quarterback Ryan Curran, won last years D-I title.)
Head coach Brian Kaminski was sitting in his dorm room watching the game on his TV as the snow fell on Camp Randal back in ‘95 and recalls the game fondly.
Kaminski is 75-32 in his tenure and is searching for his first perfect season.
This contest will be as close as a battle may get for a championship game. Both teams feature dominant defenses that will have to contend with equally explosive offenses. It could be seen as a coin-flip type game where either team could win, but each will hope this week’s preparation and this season’s journey ends with a gold ball, and a ring on the finger.
Prediction: Sun Prairie Cardinals: 24 Arrowhead Warhawks: 21
By: Tyler Zavadsky Twitter: TylerZonESPN
Prep Reporter ESPN 1380
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