Madison Memorial (7-1) at Janesville Craig (6-2) - 6:45pm Friday on 100.9 FM and iHeartRadio
Last Year: Madison Memorial hung tough for three quarters, but the Janesville Craig Cougars put up a 10-spot in the fourth quarter to pull away and double-up the Spartans, 24-12 Janesville Craig. Memorial's offense accumulated 250 yards, but 80 of it came on one run. Craig got that yardage in rushing alone, with as many rushing plays as Memorial total plays run.
Last Week: Madison Memorial routed Janesville Parker 48-6. The Spartans piled up nearly 500 yards of offense and held Parker to 102 yards, their lone score coming on an 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. Jason Ceniti threw touchdown passes to three different receivers, and the tandem of Kam Marshall and Kabaris Vasser averaged over 11 yards per carry and three scores on just 26 carries... Janesville Craig's defense stymied Madison West, keeping the Regents in check as they played with a reserve quarterback, and the Cougars ran 53 times for 260 yards in a 39-6 win for Craig over West. Ben Coulter and Tressin Kussmaul each had two touchdowns rushing in the win.
Season To Date: Madison Memorial has played in some tough contests with exciting finishes against the other top Big 8 squads this year, winning on a Hail Mary against Middleton, holding off Sun Prairie in the opener, and falling to Verona as the Wildcats scored twice in the fourth quarter in the Spartans' lone loss of the year. Memorial has also looked very good in sweeping the Madison schools and in dominating wins over Beloit Memorial and Janesville Parker the past two weeks since their loss to Verona. The difference this year from last year? Identity. Since the opener, Memorial has made no secrets about what they like to do on both sides of the ball, and the overall execution by a relatively young team has been outstanding... Janesville Craig has suffered one true blowout loss, to Sun Prairie in Week 4. Despite the final margin, the Cougars played reasonably well in a 42-7 loss to Middleton, but the game got away from them late. Their crown jewel this season in terms of wins is a Week 3 triumph over Verona, which Craig has followed up with big wins over La Follette and West, both playoff teams a year ago (La Follette is also likely a playoff team this year). The 6-2 record is a little surprising, but most of that surprise stems from their win over Verona, as the Wildcats were coming off of a win over Middleton the week prior.
Coaches' Corner: Madison Memorial's first-year head coach, Mike Harris, who previously coached at Madison La Follette, has established an identity for the program, which the Spartans have acclimated to in short order. Harris says that they haven't discussed any sort of championship this season, even in the preseason, and that it's mostly off the table this week as the Spartans prepare for what could be their 10th-ever conference title (which they would earn at least a share of with a win)... Janesville Craig's identity is fairly well-known too, as Adam Bunderson's Cougars run a complicated offense that takes years to learn. Bunderson joked in our interview this week that he feels bad for freshmen stepping into it for the first time, because the playbook is thick and there are actually dozens of formations to learn. However, the varied looks set up varied option schemes and running lanes, and that approach keeps defenses on their heels. It also doesn't hurt to have some standouts defensively, with a few of the best players in Wisconsin on that side of the ball.
Three Keys: 1. Madison Memorial dominates the first and third quarters, having given up one score in each frame apiece all season. The Spartans chew up tons of clock, and as a result, scoring becomes more frenetic in the second and fourth quarters, where the margins are identical. Memorial out-scores opponents 78-50 in the second and fourth quarters, but a whopping 108 to 13 in the first and third quarters combined. The Spartans have a rep as a fourth-quarter team, where they have capped off big rallies against Sun Prairie and Middleton. However, the third quarter could be the key, as Craig has been outscored by 16 in that frame this season to date (the only quarter they're minus scoring). 2. It's no secret that Janesville Craig rarely passes--in fact, only 65 attempts in eight games, or about eight passes per game. However, on the ground, they double up their opponents easily, and have also scored 21 touchdowns rushing the football. Janesville Craig averages the same amount of yards per pass as per rush. 3. Madison Memorial is one of the most balanced teams in the area, scoring 17 touchdowns rushing and receiving. That extends to defense as well, where Memorial is remarkably stingy, giving up just 4.3 yards per pass attempt and only six touchdowns through the air (two in the opener against Sun Prairie). The Spartans also only give up 3.5 yards per carry, and their 44 defense is led by a deep and fast linebacker corps. They also boast a shut-down corner (see below) and plenty of edge rushers that create plays and turnovers on the outside.
Five Players To Watch: Memorial's defense is the real deal, and while players in the linebacker group, such as Jeremiah Jordan, will get most of the recognition due to past work, talent, and statistics, Chauncey Cannon has been an absolute stud at cornerback. With 13 pass breakups and two interceptions this season, as well as a sack and three tackles for a loss, Cannon has been one of the biggest playmakers in the entire Big 8 this season... We can't mention Jordan, a D1 recruit (Illinois State), without mentioning future Wisconsin Badger Keeanu Benton of Janesville Craig, who is also one of the state's top wrestlers. Benton, who plays both ways on the lines, is third on the team in tackles from the interior line, a remarkable feat.... While Jason Ceniti and the deep stable of pass catchers on the Spartans have been very impressive, the balance on the offense belongs to workhorse Kam Marshall of Madison Memorial, who has more rushing attempts alone than team passing attempts for the Spartans. Marshall is 76 yards short of a 1,000-yard season in the Big 8, and has scored six touchdowns, tied for the team lead with Ceniti. Marshall also has a receiving touchdown... In the flexbone offense, the quarterback is often the key, but how about the work of Tressin Kussmaul alongside his QB, Ben Coulter, in the Janesville Craig backfield, as Kussmaul himself is 102 yards short of a 1,00-yard season himself, and has scored 11 touchdowns to boot... Tegan Christiansen of Janesville Craig is a do-everything player. He's rushed, caught, and returned a punt and interception for a touchdown, all while entering the season as one of the seniors to watch as a defensive back prospect. Don't be surprised to hear his name mentioned all night long as he lines up in the backfield on both sides of the ball and returns kicks for the Cougars.
Listen to the game this Friday night at 7pm on 100.9 FM and thebig1070.com/fm!