SUN PRAIRIE — Once Brady Stevens was named Sun Prairie’s quarterback entering this season, the junior left-hander and senior receiver Colin Schaefer have worked hard to establish a connection.
Stevens and the 6-foot, 170-pound Schaefer have become a formidable duo, and entered Friday night’s Big Eight Conference showdown with Verona leading the league in passing yardage and receiving yardage, respectively.
Stevens and Schaefer combined on two first-half touchdown passes, then Stevens scored on a 1-yard sneak with 15 seconds remaining in the game at Ashley Field as Sun Prairie rallied for a 27-21 victory over previously undefeated Verona, ranked sixth among large schools in The Associated Press state football poll.
The Cardinals (4-1 Big Eight, 4-1 overall) came back from a 21-14 fourth-quarter deficit.
“Anytime you play a team like Verona that is coming in undefeated and with all the weapons they have on offense, for our kids to play the type of ballgame that they did is unbelievable,” Sun Prairie coach Brian Kaminski said.
Verona senior Haakon Anderson scored his second touchdown on a 30-yard run and gave the Wildcats (4-1, 4-1) a 21-14 lead with 8 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
But the Cardinals answered with a game-tying, 46-yard touchdown drive, capped by senior running back Nathan Schauer’s 4-yard run with 5:57 left. Schaefer, whose kick return set up the drive, had a key 20-yard catch to the Verona 7-yard line.
“The first week we were a little rocky because we had been trying to figure out who the quarterback was,” said Schaefer, who had seven catches for 146 yards. “Now we are (five) games in, we are starting to gel more — (with) short stuff. We are starting to figure out how to get underneath defenses, because they aren’t letting us go deep.”
Sun Prairie’s defense stopped Verona at the Cardinals’ 47 on the next series, forcing a punt. The Cardinals, beginning their series with 2:37 left, then drove 80 yards for the winning score.
“Our line did a great job,” Kaminski said. “Brady did a great job with some RPOs (run-pass options) and taking what they were giving us. Colin Schaefer, man, is a football player. He’s one of the more underrated players around, I think. … He is a tremendous asset for us right now.”
Schaefer had a 26-yard reception to the Verona 38 and senior running back Jamel Stone gained 11 yards to the 27 and 9 yards to the 18. Schauer’s 7-yard run to the 1 set up Stevens’ sneak. Stevens finished with 226 yards passing.
“Their offense, all credit to them, they finished the game,” Verona coach Dave Richardson said. “They did what they wanted to do. They looked like we looked in the third (quarter) and the beginning of the fourth quarter. They had some urgency to them. They just overcame our defense.”
Verona relied on the running game out of the Wing formation and a short passing attack coming out of halftime, and covered 80 yards on a scoring drive. Anderson ran the final 24 yards, pulling the Wildcats into a 14-14 deadlock with 7:04 left in the third quarter.
“My play calling was a little too cute in the first half and we didn’t establish what I hoped to establish with Jackson (Acker),” Richardson said.
The Cardinals drove 68 yards for a touchdown on the game’s first series.
Stevens scrambled to his right and threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Schaefer in the right corner of the end zone with 9:56 left in the first quarter.
Verona used a special-teams play to rally later in the quarter, blocking a Sun Prairie punt to set up an extremely short field.
Verona junior James Rae partially blocked Sun Prairie junior Owen Konopacki’s punt from the end zone and Wildcats junior Tyler Laham was credited with a recovery at the Sun Prairie 6-yard line and return to the 2-yard line.
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On the next play, Verona junior running back Jackson Acker powered in on a 2-yard run, tying the game at 7-all with 6:23 left in the first quarter.
The Cardinals broke the deadlock as Stevens again connected with Schaefer, this time on an 11-yard touchdown strike on a slant pattern with 2:18 left in the second quarter. Sun Prairie drove 87 yards on that scoring march.
Verona’s offense was hampered in the first half by the loss of 6-6, 290-pound lineman Adam Vandervest, who went out with back spasms, Richardson said. Despite his absence, the Wildcats’ line came together in the second half. Acker, after rushing for 59 yards on seven carries in the first half, finished with 122. Anderson had 91.
Verona 7 0 7 7 — 21
</&SPAGStrong>Sun Prairie 7 7 0 13; — 27</&hspag2>
SP — Schaefer 30 pass from Stevens (Konopacki kick)
VER — Acker 2 run (Armstrong kick)
SP — Schaefer 11 pass from Stevens (Konopacki kick)
VER — Anderson 24 run (Armstrong kick)
VER — Anderson 30 run (Armstrong kick)
SP — Schauer 4 run (Konopacki kick)
SP — Stevens 1 run (kick blocked)
First Downs— VER 18, SP 15. Rushes-Yards— VER 35-244, SP 28-93. Passing Yards— VER 226, SP 115. Comp-Att-Int— VER 14-25-1, SP 14-22-0. Fumbles-Lost— VER 0-0, SP 0-0. Penalties-Yards— VER 10-64, SP 5-20.
Rushing: VER, Acker 22-122. SP, Schauer 16-70.
Passing: VER, Bekx 14-25-115-1. SP, Stevens 14-22-226-0.
<&SPAGStrong>Receiving: VER, Dawkins 4-42. SP, Schaefer 7-146.