As bleak as the scenario seemed, Kyle Murphy and his Madison Memorial defensive teammates could have folded up the tent, headed to the warmer sideline and put their playoff lives in the hands of their offense.
That thought, however, never crossed the senior linebacker’s mind — even with the opponent having a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line.
“I’m always confident,” Murphy said. “I’ve got nothing but belief and trust in my boys that we’re going to get it done when it counts.”
The Spartans certainly got it done when it counted, making a goal-line stand to prevent the go-ahead touchdown in the final minutes — Murphy deflected a fourth-down pass that fell incomplete — and host Madison Memorial survived a disputed late fumble to prevail 28-17 in a WIAA Division 1 third-round playoff game Friday night at Mansfield Stadium.
After the Spartans (12-0) made the stand and were prepared to run out the clock, quarterback Jason Ceniti appeared to fumble on the first play of the ensuing drive. The referee, however, apparently ruled that Ceniti was down by contact. Sun Prairie (8-4) had recovered the ball near Memorial’s 10-yard line with 1:50 to play.
“If I had a challenge flag, I’d throw it,” a clearly frustrated Sun Prairie coach Brian Kaminski said afterward. “I saw a fumble; I guess they didn’t. We had the ball, but they said he didn’t fumble.”
On the next play, Spartans senior Kam Marshall scored on an 89-yard touchdown run to the put the game out of reach, sending fourth-ranked Memorial to the state semifinals where it will face top-ranked Muskego.
The Spartans, looking for their first state football crown, haven’t reached the title game since 1984.
“The love between all of us is beyond football,” said Memorial running back Kabaris Vasser, who ran for 178 yards and two touchdowns. “Right now, we just got to focus on the next game in front of us. I’m just so happy right now.”
Memorial trailed 10-7 at the half before putting the ball in the hands of its bruising back Vasser. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior routinely smashed through the Cardinals for extra yardage and undoubtedly inflicted plenty of painful blows on a night when the wind chills dipped into the mid-teens.
Vasser ran for 73 yards on a 14-play, 91-yard scoring drive that put the Spartans up 14-10 before Sun Prairie took the lead back on the next play from scrimmage.
Quarterback Brady Stevens hit senior wideout Dominick Landphier on a 65-yard deep touchdown pass to put the Cardinals back on top 17-14.
Memorial answered right back, taking the lead for good as Vasser pounded it in from 3 yards out to make it 21-17. Vasser had a 20-yard run on the drive and Ceniti, who squats 475 pounds, chipped in a 35-yard run.
“We couldn’t stop their power running game, and in the end, that’s what it came down to,” Kaminski said.
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Sun Prairie 10 0 0 7 — 17
Madison Memorial 0 7 0 21 — 28
SP — FG Konopacki 44
SP — Stone 10 run (Konopacki kick)
MM — Marshall 10 run (Kerkhoff kick)
MM — Vasser 8 run (Kerkhoff kick)
SP — Landphier 65 pass from Stevens (Konopacki kick)
MM — Vasser 3 run (Kerkhoff kick)
MM — Marshall 89 run (Kerkhoff kick)
First downs — SP 15, MM 20. Rushes-yards — SP 35-127, MM 42-354. Passing yards — SP 198, MM 13. Comp-Att-Int — SP 13-22-0, MM 2-6-0. Fumbles-lost — SP 1-1, MM 3-3. Penalties-yards — SP 4-40, MM 3-30.
Rushing: SP, Schauer 19-96. MM, Vasser 24-175. Passing: SP, Stevens 12-19-189-0. MM, Ceniti 2-6-13-0. Receiving: SP, Landphier 3-71. MM, Hoeser 1-15.