Madison Memorial beats Janesville-Craig for share of Big Eight football title
JANESVILLE — The chorus of “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye” was still ringing out of the visitor’s locker room at Monterey Stadium.
A few minutes earlier, after completing a few quick postgame interviews, Madison Memorial first-year football coach Mike Harris was dragged into the middle of the Spartans’ midfield congregation by one of his assistant coaches.
It took Harris a minute to deduce what was happening before he let out an impassioned “Nooooo!”
This Gatorade bath was happening, whether or not the temperature was hovering near freezing.
Madison Memorial scored 20 points off turnovers and its two defensive touchdowns proved to be the difference Friday night in a 41-27 Big Eight Conference win over Janesville Craig.
The win gave Memorial a share of the Big Eight title, its first since 2009.
“At the beginning of the season, we set a goal,” said senior linebacker Jeremiah Jordan, who scored one of Memorial’s defensive touchdowns. “And we just accomplished that goal (Friday).
“We was all on the same path. Coach Harris came in, he led us ... and we just worked hard and got it done.”
With the weather turning toward playoff temperatures and adding a little more crack to the pads, it was Craig who took control early behind its up-tempo ground attack. A 54-yard touchdown run by Tressin Kussmaul gave the Cougars a 14-7 lead with 1 minute, 4 seconds left in the first quarter. And Craig appeared ready to add to that lead before Jordan made a game-changing play.
Jordan jumped a slant route inside the Memorial 30-yard line and returned it 77 yards, stiff-arming Craig quarterback Ben Coulter as he ran down the left sideline, for the touchdown to send the game into halftime tied at 14.
Jordan called the play to a fellow linebacker, saying the ball was coming to the left.
“I got into my drop and the ball just came right to my hands and I took it back,” Jordan said.
Craig got the ball to start the second half, and Memorial kept the turnover chain going. Tra’vaughn Harper made a sideline interception on an option pass play, and seven plays later Memorial quarterback Jason Ceniti snuck in from 1 yard out to give Memorial its first, and final, lead.
Following another Craig three-and-out, Ceniti hit Lekwan Lewis for a 55-yard touchdown.
With Craig near midfield, the Memorial front stacked up Kussmaul and stripped the ball loose, and junior defensive end Kyle Doll scooped it up at the Craig 42 and raced in for his second defensive touchdown and a 34-14 lead with 3:44 left in the third quarter.
Craig cut its deficit to two scores twice in the final 12 minutes, and Cougars coach Adam Bunderson took a positive in that fact. He took the blame for the pick-6 — “... I just got greedy” — but with a win against Verona offset against struggles against Sun Prairie and Middleton, he was glad to see his team compete for four quarters.
“There was a couple times where I thought the game could get away from us, and our guys responded well. Hopefully that ability to keep responding and keep playing will serve us well next week.”
Both teams entered Friday already having clinched playoff spots. Craig (6-3, 6-3 Big Eight) will wait to find out where it will travel, while Memorial (8-1, 8-1) can hold out hope for hosting a Level 1 opener.
Harris said Memorial made several mistakes that it will have to evaluate and fix going into next week. But in his first year, they wanted to establish a foundation for the program, based on four true core values. The team then made those four core values the week-to-week focus.
“So to say, ‘Yup, conference champs is what we’re going to go for,’ we would say that’s the outcome,” Harris said. “The performance is what we were trying to strive for, so that’s why I’m really happy for them right now.”
Madison Memorial 7 7 20 7 — 41
Janesville Craig 14 0 6 7 — 27
JC — Coulter 5 run (Woelfle kick)
MM — Marshall 6 run
JC — Kussmaul 54 run
MM — Jordan 72 interception (Kerkhoff kick)
MM — Ceniti 1 run (Kole Kerkhoff kick)
MM — Lewis 55 pass from Ceniti (Kerkhoff kick)
MM — Doll 42 fumble return
JC — Kussmaul 2 run (kick failed)
MM — Ellingson 10 pass from Ceniti (Kerkhoff kick)
JC — Kussmaul 1 run (Woelfle kick)
First downs — MM 20, JC 1. Rushing (Att.-Yds.) — MM 33-159, JC 41-206. Passing yards — MM 173, JC 104. Passes (Comp.-Att.-Int.) — MM 15-24-2, JC 9-14-2. Fumbles-lost — MM 1-1, JC 1-1. Penalties-yards — MM 9-59, JC 3-5.
Rushing: MM, Marshall 17-97. JC, Kussmaul 22-87.
Passing: MM, Ceniti 15-24-2-173. JC, Coulter 9-13-2-104.
Receiving: MM, Lewis 6-82. JC, Christiansen 6-78.