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SUN PRAIRIE — In a game filled with explosive plays, Sun Prairie senior linebacker Adam Rademacher and junior receiver Colin Schaefer came up with two of the biggest in the second half Friday night.

The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Rademacher returned an interception for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage after halftime and Schaefer scored on a 66-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown pass from senior quarterback Richie Gilles, rallying Sun Prairie to a 42-36 victory over Middleton at Ashley Field.

Third-seeded Sun Prairie (9-1) outlasted Big Eight Conference rival and sixth-seeded Middleton (6-4) — which returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, including a 97-yarder by Kallion Buckner, one of three touchdowns he scored — in a wild WIAA Division 1 first-round playoff game.

Sun Prairie will host seventh-seeded Sussex Hamilton next Friday night.

“I think that game took about 20 years off my life,” Sun Prairie coach Brian Kaminski said. “But it’s just great. It’s fun. It’s a high school atmosphere. The kids were fighting to the end. I couldn’t be more proud of our football team tonight.”

Trailing 30-27 at halftime, Rademacher read the swing pass from Middleton senior quarterback Bryce Carey and grabbed the pass in the flat and took off for the touchdown, giving Sun Prairie a 33-30 lead with 11 minutes, 46 seconds left in the third quarter.

“We practiced it all week. … I saw it and I thought I could get in front of it and I got it,” said Rademacher, credited with a 50-yard touchdown return. “I looked at the 30 and I said, ‘I don’t know if I can get in the end zone, I’m kind of slow.’ But I used to be running back in eighth grade, so it came back to me, I guess. I got into the end zone.”

Said Kaminski: “Unbelievable; I think that changed the momentum of the game. It gave our kids belief again.”

Rademacher later sacked Middleton backup quarterback Drew Teff in the end zone for a safety, closing the scoring with 4:48 to play.

“This makes a kid love football,” Rademacher said after the shootout. “It felt like the game took six hours, and we’re still here. It was a lot of fun to me. It was a playoff game for a reason.”

Sophomore Sawyer Pertzborn kicked two field goals in the third quarter, putting Middleton ahead 36-33.

The 6-0, 160-pound Schaefer filled a major role after Big Eight receiving leader Cooper Nelson was injured in the first quarter.

Schaefer, who caught eight passes for 203 yards, was open behind the secondary on his touchdown pass from Gilles (316 yards passing), giving Sun Prairie a 40-36 lead with 11:17 left to play. Schaefer returned late in the season after injuring his knee playing basketball this summer.

“We ran that play a few times and we tried to come back to it because it was working for us,” Schaefer said. “I had in my mind I was going to step up (with Nelson hobbled). They were going to move me around like Cooper. … It worked out pretty good.”

Middleton dropped a 35-7 decision to Sun Prairie on Oct. 5, but was in the game until the end Friday.

“We knew we’d have to have some explosive plays and we did that,” said Tim Simon, Middleton’s co-coach with Jason Pertzborn. “It was an epic game. We told the kids, `Get ready, no one’s going to give us a chance, but we know we can do this.’ Congratulations to Sun Prairie. They got that final score.”

Junior running back Nathan Schauer, who rushed for 192 yards for Big Eight co-champion Sun Prairie, opened the scoring with a 3-yard run. Buckner, a junior, returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.

After two field goals by Sun Prairie senior Connor Shanahan, Buckner erupted for a 63-yard touchdown run, tying the game at 13 with 8 minutes left in the second quarter.

Sun Prairie regained the lead at 20-13 on Gilles’ 11-yard scoring strike to tight end Ethan Ackley with 4:33 remaining before halftime. But Middleton again answered immediately when Kevin Meicher returned the kickoff 96 yards for the tying touchdown.

“You can’t believe how hard we worked on kick return this year, especially the last couple weeks,” Simon said. “It’s nice to see things work. It gave us a shot in the arm a couple times.”

Middleton then recovered a fumble on the subsequent kickoff, leading to a 33-yard field goal by Pertzborn and a 23-20 lead with 2:11 left in the second quarter.

Gilles scored on a 4-yard touchdown run with 55 seconds left. But Middleton regained the lead at 30-27 when Buckner took Carey’s screen pass and raced 60 yards for a touchdown with 24 seconds left before halftime.

Middleton 6 24 6 0 — 36

Sun Prairie 10 17 6 9 — 42

SP — Schauer 7 run (Shanahan kick)

MID — Buckner 97 kickoff return (kick failed)

SP — FG Shanahan 27

SP — FG Shanahan 30

MID — Buckner 63 run (Pertzborn kick)

SP — Ackley 11 pass from Gilles (Shanahan kick)

MID — Meicher 96 kickoff return (Pertzborn kick)

MID — FG Pertzborn 33

SP — Gilles 5 run (Shanahan kick)

MID — Buckner 60 pass from Carey (Pertzborn kick)

SP — Rademacher 50 interception return (kick failed)

MID — FG Pertzborn 34

MID — FG Pertzborn 25

SP — Schaefer 66 pass from Gilles (Shanahan kick)

SP — Team safety

TEAM STATISTICS

First downs — MID 7, SP 26. Rushing (Att.-Yds.) — MID 28-110, SP 47-240. Passing yards — MID 121, SP 316. Passes (Comp.-Att.-Int.) — MID 5-15-1, SP 18-25-0. Fumbles-lost — MID 0-0, SP 3-3. Penalties-yards — MID 6-25, SP 8-51.

INDIVIDUAL LEADERS

Rushing: MID, Buckner 14-113. SP, Schauer 29-192.

Passing: MID, Carey 5-15-1-121. SP, Gilles 18-25-0-316.

Receiving: MID, Buckner 1-60. SP, Schaefer 8-203.

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Jon Masson covers high school sports for the Wisconsin State Journal. He has covered a variety of sports — including the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin men's and women's basketball and volleyball — since he first came to the State Journal in 1999.