Game of the Week Preview: Sun Prairie at Madison Memorial

posted by Jimmie Kaska - 

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Sun Prairie (0-0) at Madison Memorial (0-0) - 6:45pm Friday

Last Year: Sun Prairie dominated Madison Memorial in two meetings, first 50-0 in the regular season and then 35-0 in the first round of the Division 1 playoffs three weeks later as the Cardinals rolled all the way to state, while the Spartans exited the playoffs with a 4-6 overall record on the 2017 campaign. Sun Prairie has won three in a row in the series and 12 of the last 14 head-to-head match-ups, including two playoff wins.

Last Week: It's the season opener, but Madison Memorial's season ended last year in the WIAA playoffs with a loss to Sun Prairie (as noted above). Sun Prairie started out the D-1 title game with a 7-0 lead, but became the latest victim in Kimberly's nation-leading 70-game winning streak, losing 27-7 and finishing the season as the runners-up in Division 1.

Season To Date: Sun Prairie and Madison Memorial have both navigated camp with relatively few injuries. Sun Prairie sophomore Owen Konopacki was injured in camp, and he was projected to start as the kicker and kickoff specialist. Madison Memorial has moved around several players under new head coach Michael Harris, but none are readily apparent as injury-related.

Coaches' Corner: Sun Prairie will have to replace several members of an outstanding defense, as well as their entire backfield on offense. However, the cupboards aren't bare by any means. Three linebackers who started a year ago return to man the middle of an odd-front defense, although the pieces around that trio will be new varsity starters. On offense, the returning players are led by receiver Cooper Nelson and guard Ben Johnson, which gives some stability to an offense that will otherwise have to replace nearly all of their rushing and passing yards from a season ago. Brian Kaminski is 13-5 against Madison Memorial as head coach of the Cardinals... Madison Memorial on the other hand brings back plenty from last year, and will have starters from three different classes in their lineups. The Spartans also mostly shifted their players to a two-platoon setup, letting players such as two-time Big 8 all-conference offensive lineman Sam Jessup focus on his middle linebacker role, while freeing up Mike Cerniglia to work on offense out of the tight end spot. Back at quarterback is Jason Ceniti, who started three games into his sophomore season last year after beginning the year as the rush end for the Spartans. Madison Memorial will have some beef up front as well, with all five linemen tipping the scales at 235 or heavier. That represents a change in part due to the offense moving to a pro-style setup out of the spread that was run last year. Michael Harris was 20-35 in six seasons as head coach of Madison La Follette, where he went 0-6 against Kaminski and Sun Prairie, but is in his first game as head coach at his alma mater.

Three Keys: 1. Coach Harris told The Big 1070 that the key for the Spartans will be to run the football effectively, and move the ball in general. In both games last year, Sun Prairie dominated the line of scrimmage, which kept the Spartans off the board. 2. Coach Kaminski told The Big 1070 that the biggest thing for this team is to get over last year's success and focus on what's in front of them, starting with Madison Memorial. The Cardinals are replacing all but a handful of starters. 3. One of the biggest things about the first week of the season is all of the unknowns. How will Sun Prairie's new starters handle Friday night lights? What will Madison Memorial do under new head coach Michael Harris? Week 1 can frequently be sloppy, so managing mistakes and overcoming adversity will be big factors in this opening number.

Five Players To Watch: There's little question that Cooper Nelson is one of the top players in the state of Wisconsin. At 6'5", he can reach over defenders and get to footballs that most other players can't. With a brand-new backfield (and quarterback), and an added role as the starting punt returner for Sun Prairie, it may take a bit for Nelson to get going statistically, but fans are in for a treat when he goes up for a back-corner fade.,.. Madison Memorial's two-platooning means a focus on one side of the ball for Jason Ceniti, who was an aggressive edge rusher for the Spartans in the early going of 2017 but will (for now) play only at quarterback. However, after his move to the starting quarterback role in the early part of last season, Ceniti was moved further back, into the defensive backfield, where he earned all-city honors as a sophomore at defensive back despite playing barely half the season there. Ceniti led the Spartans with five rushing touchdowns last season... Sun Prairie's three returning starting linebackers will get plenty of attention on the defensive side of the ball, but what might be different about this year's Cardinals defense is that they won't feature overwhelming length and size, but speed instead. Jaharee Weah, a track athlete at Sun Prairie, will take over one of the outside edge rusher spots vacated by the graduation of Marty Strey. Weah was primarily a defensive back last year, but will be able to man the outside contain spot of the odd-front alignment for the Cardinals... One of the most outstanding players in Wisconsin is edge rusher/linebacker Jeremiah Jordan, who will play college ball at D1 Illinois State. Jordan, who is also in the mix at running back, stands out in a crowded field of linebackers in southern Wisconsin as one of the best, excelling at manning his spot and forcing plays away from where they are designed... The most decorated returning lineman on either team is Ben Johnson of Sun Prairie. The massive guard will anchor an offensive line that will be nearly all brand-new around him, as well as at most of the skill positions. The first-team all-conference lineman last year will start at right guard.

Listen to the game this Friday night at 7pm on The Big 1070!

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