Madison Memorial upends defending Big Eight champion Sun Prairie in season opener
Mansfield Stadium’s new lights shined brightly on the Madison Memorial football team and first-year coach Michael Harris on Friday night.
Junior quarterback Jason Ceniti scored on a 1-yard sneak with 3 minutes, 35 seconds remaining, propelling the host Spartans to a 32-26 comeback victory over defending Big Eight Conference champion Sun Prairie in the season opener.
Ceniti ran for two touchdowns and threw for two more and senior Cade Ellingson returned the second-half kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown as Memorial overcame 18-13 and 26-19 deficits against Sun Prairie, which was last year’s WIAA Division 1 state runner-up.
The Spartans, who were 4-6 last year, prepared for this moment ever since Harris, who coached Madison La Follette from 2008 through the 2013 season, first met with the players last winter, Ceniti said.
“We have been working for this every day,” said Ceniti, who threw for 160 yards, including a 73-yard scoring pass to junior receiver Max Hoeser that led to a deadlock at 26 with 9:03 left to play. “We were prepared. That is a comforting feeling for a player — that the coaches believe in you.”
Said Harris: “I’m very excited. I’m very happy for our boys. They really worked hard to earn this opportunity. (Sun Prairie) coach (Brian) Kaminski is a fantastic coach. We know Sun Prairie has a great program. We are happy to come away with a win tonight.”
Ceniti’s winning touchdown was set up by senior Dryden Schaefer’s diving 27-yard reception at the Sun Prairie 1-yard line.
“I knew he was going to be open,” Ceniti said. “We dialed up that play, knowing he was one-on-one with a linebacker. It was a wet ball. Dryden made a spectacular catch. It just shows how we have each other’s back.”
Memorial scored the final 13 points after Sun Prairie senior Ethan Ackley caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Richie Gilles, putting the Cardinals ahead 26-19 with 10:12 to play.
Ellingson’s kickoff return opening the second half pulled the Spartans within 15-13.
“It was just a weird game,” said Kaminski, thwarted in his bid to win his 100th Big Eight game. “Things were going back and forth. They’d have a big play and then we’d have a big play. We were able to get up by eight but we gave up a big kickoff return.”
Sun Prairie led 18-13 after a 22-yard field goal by Connor Shanahan with 8:19 left in the third quarter.
But the Spartans responded. Senior Will Sprout came up with a sack, halting a Sun Prairie drive.
Memorial then drove 66 yards in four plays. Ceniti scored on a 3-yard run around left end, putting Memorial ahead 19-18 with 3:19 left in the third quarter. The drive started when sophomore Jr. Mitchell ran 36 yards and sophomore Kabaris Vasser followed with a 30-yard run to the Sun Prairie 6.
The Cardinals trailed 7-2 in the second quarter but scored 13 points in the final 1:20 of the first half.
Senior receiver Cooper Nelson, who grabbed nine passes, caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Gilles as time expired in the first half, giving Sun Prairie a 15-7 lead. The touchdown was disputed over whether the play started before the game clock expired and whether Nelson had crossed the goal line.
Prior to Nelson’s touchdown, the Cardinals had taken possession at the Memorial 42-yard line after the Spartans elected to go for it on fourth-and-2 at their 44 and Ceniti fumbled the snap and lost 2 yards.
Sun Prairie gained an 8-7 lead on Gilles’ 1-yard scoring run with 1:20 left in the second quarter. The Cardinals drove 11 yards on five plays after a 2-yard punt by Memorial.
Sun Prairie’s Joey Halsted opened the scoring, sacking Ceniti for a safety with 10:49 left in the second quarter.
Memorial junior defensive back Chauncey Cannon intercepted Gilles’ pass intended for Nelson and raced 36 yards to the Sun Prairie 11 with 10:16 left in the second quarter. The Spartans scored on the next play, grabbing a 7-2 advantage. Ceniti rolled right and fired a 11-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Michael Cerniglia in the right corner of the end zone with 10:10 left in the second quarter.
Sun Prairie 0 15 3 8 — 26
Madison Memorial 0 7 12 13 — 32
SP — Team safety
MM — Cerniglia, Jr. 11 pass from Ceniti (kick good)
SP — Gilles 1 run (kick no good)
SP — Nelson 35 pass from Gilles (kick good)
MM — Ellingson 92 kickoff return (run failed)
SP — Shanahan FG 22
MM — Ceniti 3 run (run failed)
SP — Ackley 4 pass from Gilles (2-pt good)
MM — Hoeser 73 pass from Ceniti (kick good)
MM — Ceniti 1 run (kick failed)
First downs — SP 12, MM 12. Rushing (Att.-Yds.) — SP 32-118, MM 32-160. Passing yards — SP 118, MM 154. Passes (Comp.-Att.-Int.) — SP 12-26-1, MM 7-15-0. Fumbles-lost — SP 0-0, MM 3-3. Penalties-yards — SP 11-92, MM 2-20.
Rushing: SP, Davis 4-52. MM, Vasser 9-65. Passing: SP, Gilles 12-26-0-118. MM, Ceniti 7-15-0-154. Receiving: SP, Nelson 8-101. MM, Hoeser 1-73.