MCFARLAND — After an opening-week setback, the linemen for the Milton football team had a point to prove on both sides of the ball Saturday.
Milton controlled the line of scrimmage, particularly on defense, for much of a 50-14 victory over Mount Horeb/Barneveld in the WIAA’s alternate fall season in the spring.
The Red Hawks (1-1) erased an 8-0 first-quarter deficit, taking a 35-8 halftime lead en route to scoring 50 consecutive points against the Vikings (0-2) in the non-conference game between Badger Conference schools.
“Last week we got smacked in the face by Fort Atkinson (in a 20-7 loss),” said Milton senior Luke Hessenauer, a 6-foot-3, 255-pound defensive end who’s committed to play football at Bemidji State in Minnesota.
“So, the defense, we had to come back and the whole team had to come back and fight. Our defense and our offense battled each other the whole week (in practice). Practice was one of the best weeks we’ve ever had. It was really a team effort to put this score on the board.’’
All three phases were involved in Milton’s scoring.
Junior quarterback Cayden Zajac, filling in for injured starter Evan Jordahl, ran for two touchdowns and passed for two more.
“Our defense played outstanding,” Milton coach Rodney Wedig said. “With that and our special teams — when your offense only has to go 35, 40 yards, it makes everybody look pretty good. But our O-line, man, did we step up this week. Last week, we struggled. We had to replace all five starters from last year. With Jordahl not 100%, Cayden Zajac came in and just did an awesome job.”
Zajac bounced back after his screen pass on the game’s first series was intercepted by Mount Horeb/Barneveld junior linebacker Gavin Bazala and returned 58 yards for a touchdown with 9 minutes, 20 seconds left in the first quarter.
“Gavin read it and made a good play and got us off on the right foot,” Vikings coach Bret St. Arnauld said. “I think that momentum carried over for most of the quarter.
Zajac connected with junior receiver Ashton Goll for a 15-yard touchdown pass for Milton’s first touchdown with 3:15 left in the first quarter, pulling the Red Hawks within 8-6.
Zajac ran 27 yards for a touchdown, fired a 39-yard touchdown strike to senior receiver Nolan Larson and scored on a 12-yard run during Milton’s 21-point second quarter.
Junior linebacker Zack Bothun’s 15-yard interception return for a score gave Milton the lead for good at 14-8 with 2:40 left in the first quarter.
“(Bothun) had the pick-six; that was key,” Hessenauer said. “It got us going right away.”
Those leading the Red Hawks up front included Hessenauer, senior tackle Travis Cunningham, senior end Jayce Rocha and linebackers Bothun and Logan Knudsen, a senior.
After Red Hawks junior Colin Hefel forced a fumble that was recovered by Rocha at the Vikings’ 30, Milton senior running back Kyle Dehnert capped the scoring drive with a 2-yard run with 7:01 left in the third quarter, making it 41-8.
The Red Hawks’ defense added a safety when sophomore linebacker Quinn Williams tackled Vikings junior quarterback Kolton Schaller in the end zone, putting Milton ahead 43-8 with 48 seconds left in the third quarter.
On special teams, Milton junior Jack Campion returned the kick after the safety 53 yards for a touchdown with 38 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The Red Hawks’ defense held Mount Horeb/Barneveld to negative rushing yardage until late in the third quarter.
“Their defensive line really brought a lot of pressure on us,” St. Arnauld said. “We understand that there are going to be some growing pains (with his team’s offensive line play).”
Schaller, whose favorite passing target was senior receiver Joey Henderson (six receptions), had his best run of the day on a 27-yard scamper to the Milton 9-yard line early in the fourth quarter. But Schaller was injured on the play and didn’t return.
Senior running back Tanner Gassman took over at quarterback and scored on the next play, a 9-yard run that closed the scoring with 8:46 to play.
“I’m just happy to be playing,” said Hessenauer, who showed off a strong leg on kickoffs and extra points. “In the fall, we didn’t know if we were going to be playing. When we were told we had the go-ahead in the spring, we all got excited to play football again.”