Middleton (1-0) at Verona (1-0) - 6:45pm Friday on 100.9 FM and iHeartRadio
Last Year: Same teams, same venue last year when Middleton led 21-3 early in the third quarter before Verona mounted a mini-rally, squelched by a ten-point fourth quarter by the Cardinals. Verona struggled to run the football against Middleton, barely topping 100 yards, while the Cardinals rumbled for 230 of their own and got three touchdowns from James Pabst. Middleton won 31-10, and it was also our Madison Taxi Game of the Week last September (listen here). Verona exited in Level 1 of the playoffs while Middleton was upset on their home turf by Madison West in Level 2.
Last Week: Both teams combined to rout their opponents by a score of 90-2. Middleton got a trio of touchdowns from Kallion Buckner and rolled up 313 yards rushing on Madison East in a 50-0 win for the Cardinals. Bryce Carey threw for two scores as well. Verona had a balanced attack yardage-wise, as Adam Bekx threw for 174 yards and two scores in his first varsity start and Haakon Anderson led the way on the ground with 82 yards and three touchdowns in a 40-2 Wildcats victory over Janesville Parker.
Season To Date: One of the big questions about Middleton was how they'd replace so many outstanding defensive players from a year ago. This year, led by outstanding defensive backs Devin Jackson and Kevin Meicher, the Cardinals have some continuity from a year ago, as Meicher picked up an interception and Jackson made a tackle for a loss in the win over Madison East to start 1-0. Buckner and Carey also performed well in a completely rebuilt offensive backfield, running behind a wall of large offensive linemen. Meanwhile, Verona also had to replace nearly everyone from a season ago, and got big performances from Buckner and Bekx. Dylan Bourne, the lone returning all-conference player from a year ago and perhaps the team's most decorated player academically, made an impact defensively as well. Both teams are 1-0 and will still have to face Sun Prairie, Madison Memorial, Madison West, and Madison La Follette this year, so a loss here would mean they'd need to win at least one of those other four games to clinch a playoff spot.
Coaches' Corner: Tim Simon and Jason Pertzborn are co-head coaches of the Middleton Cardinals this season, and Pertzborn will take over as head coach at the end of the season. Simon's Cardinals under his watch have been frequent regulars in the upper ranks of the conference, and this one has all the makings of another classic between the two schools. Middleton's inexperience at several positions is a negative perhaps, but their sheer size and some of the key returning players bridging the experience gap are what makes them trendy picks as a conference favorite. Hall of Fame coach Dave Richardson usually has teams with a strong identity based in the run game, and that's the goal again this year. Richardson thinks the size disadvantage is an important factor in the game, so if the weather is as bad as the forecast is suggesting, the Wildcats will work on finding ways to move the ball in space and attack the lanes with their stable of talented runners. The pass game is an essential point as well, and they'll be facing one of the top secondaries in the Big 8 this week, one that can force turnovers in bunches, so that'll be another factor in offensive success.
Three Keys: 1. First and foremost, both teams have had to deal with the record-breaking rainfall and flooding in western Dane County all week, forcing both teams to miss practice time ahead of this contest. The good news is that everyone from each team is safe, and that's the most important thing to consider when discussing what happens in a football game. 2. Coach Simon believes that Verona's physicality will be a great challenge for the Cardinals this week, and that it might be the kind of game like last year's Sun Prairie contest in Week 2 that advances development much faster because of the level of talent on the opposing team. 3. Coach Richardson says that the run game (both on offense and defense) will be the key to this game, like it always is for Verona. Last year, Richardson said the inability to run the ball and move the offense cost them in their losses, as did stopping the run against the more talented backs they saw over the course of the season.
Five Players To Watch: It's not quite a battle of the backs, but Kallion Buckner's big opening number for Middleton showed the type of depth you'd expect from a program the size of the Cardinals. With James Pabst and Dion Huff both graduated, the running back position was up for grabs, and after a hat trick in his first varsity start, Buckner is one of a pair of emerging young backs for Middleton, along with Joey Culp... Haakon Anderson likewise didn't lead his team in carries, but he did lead in yards and touchdowns. Verona's offense is predicated on the run game, and multiple backs will get multiple carries on a week-in, week-out basis. Anderson got 82 yards and three touchdowns on just eight carries against Janesville Parker... One of the most important returning players on defense in the entire conference is Kevin Meicher, who along with Devin Jackson forms one of the best tandems in the defensive backfield in the Big 8. Meicher had a punt return score last year against Verona, and already has an interception under his belt for 2018. Meicher did not make all-conference last year... Another very important defender returning is Dylan Bourne. A tackling machine, Bourne is a heady player who is the only returning all-conference honoree for the Wildcats. He'll be counted on to counter the power of the Middleton offense and help control the ground game of the Cardinals... Verona's ace playmaker this year on the outside very well may be Aubrey Dawkins, who had two receiving scores and a 54-yard kick return against Janesville Parker in the opening game of the season. Counted on at a number of important spots in the offense, Dawkins is something of a wild card in the game. He'll be working against a top-notch secondary in the season's second contest.
Listen to the game this Friday night at 7pm on 100.9 FM and thebig1070.com/fm!