SUN PRAIRIE — On the first Friday night of the unprecedented alternate fall football season in the spring, Sun Prairie christened its brand-new football facility with a sterling performance by its defense.
Sun Prairie scored two touchdowns within 44 seconds in the second quarter and relied on a fearsome defensive front in blanking Verona 17-0 in the first football game at the Bank of Sun Prairie Stadium at Ashley Field.
“Our defense was unbelievable tonight,” Sun Prairie coach Brian Kaminski said. “It starts upfront. Our four dudes upfront were dudes tonight. They played well. Our back end played well. We pursued to the football. We gang-tackled. We held in check a great running back tonight.”
The Cardinals stymied the Wildcats’ potent running game — featuring seniors Jackson Acker, a University of Wisconsin commit, and Graham Stier — and applied pressure throughout on Verona junior quarterback Mason Fink.
“Their front six players are pretty good,” Verona coach Dave Richardson said. “We were outmatched there and it’s tough to get things rolling when there is a lot of penetration. Our kids are getting better, and they got better toward the middle and the end. But that’s a good defense. Those are kids that are flying around and having fun. We know where we stand right now and we are going to get better.”
Sun Prairie’s defensive front was led by junior Isaac Hamm and seniors Sammy Smith (a former Madison West player), Austin Knade, Sam Johnsrud and Carter Helt, Kaminski said. Verona finished with 10 yards rushing.
“It’s been crazy,” Knade said. “It’s been a year and a half. I was itching to get back on the football field. I have been anxious all day and I’ve been anxious all week for this. It was great to get back out there and finally hit somebody again. Verona gave us a good battle.”
Madison area teams that didn’t play in the fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic are now able to compete in a seven-week window permitted by the WIAA.
Four teams from the Big Eight Conference’s WIAA football league — Verona, Sun Prairie, Middleton and Beloit Memorial — are playing, while the four Madison public schools are not playing as their respective school teams (a club team with players from those schools has been formed). The games are non-conference games and no Big Eight champion will be crowned.
“It can always be better, but I’ll take the outcome,” said Kaminski, whose team last played in fall of 2019. “We know they are a good football team. It’s been a long time coming, man. … Obviously, we have a lot to clean up. But we played with energy and we played with a passion. … I thought our kids really rose to the challenge tonight.”
Sun Prairie scored first on a 2-yard touchdown on “a fly pass” (a short forward toss) from sophomore quarterback Jerry Kaminski to junior receiver Michael McMillan, who swept around the right end for the touchdown with 3 minutes, 55 seconds left in the second quarter.
The Cardinals gained possession in Wildcats’ territory after Acker fumbled returning the ensuing kickoff. Sun Prairie senior Mekhi Gullens was credited with forcing the fumble and Knade with the recovery at the Verona 22 with 3:45 remaining.
On second-and-9, senior quarterback Brady Stevens fired a 21-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Kamron Gothard, giving Sun Prairie a 14-0 lead 3:11 before halftime. Gothard caught four passes for 81 yards.
“They both played well,” Brian Kaminski said of his two quarterbacks. “For the first game, they did excellent. Brady had a heck of a throw on the touchdown to Gothard. Jerry (the coach’s son) managed things well and threw some good balls. They just have to realize that together they can be great.”
Fink’s 26-yard completion to Stier gave the Wildcats a scoring chance at the Sun Prairie 18-yard line with 47 seconds left in the first half. But the Sun Prairie defense stiffened and kept Verona off the scoreboard.
Senior kicker Owen Konopacki, a U.S. Air Force Academy football commit, kicked a 36-yard field goal with 7:37 left in the third quarter — boosting Sun Prairie’s lead to 17-0.
Stier rushed for 40 yards and Acker had 18 on seven carries, but multiple tackles for loss by the Sun Prairie defense when getting to Fink led to the minimal rushing total for the Wildcats. Sophomore Kolten Walters gained 80 yards on the ground for Sun Prairie.
Photos: Sun Prairie 17, Verona 0