SUN PRAIRIE — With a cut to his left, and a sprint down the left sideline, Nathan Schauer set the tone for the second half on Friday night at Ashley Field.
It wasn’t a touchdown, and only led to a field goal that cut his team’s deficit to three points, but with that 67-yard jaunt, Sun Prairie knew something had changed.
“Of course,” Schauer said of the momentum shift. “After that, we were like, ‘All right, here we go. This is it. This is it.’”
Behind Schauer’s 167 rushing yards and the Cardinals’ suffocating defense, Sun Prairie pitched a second-half shutout and reeled off 24 unanswered points to beat Sussex Hamilton 31-13 in a WIAA Division 1 second-round playoff game.
Schauer had 15 yards on six carries in the first half. But with the Cardinals (10-1) pounding the ball, Schauer rolled up 153 rushing yards and three scores in the second half. Schauer credited his entire offensive line, but specifically highlighted the play of left tackle James Zarosley against Hamilton defensive end Cal Botsford.
“Once we decided that we were going to go downhill and start running inside and really pounding them, the line got their hands on them,” Schauer said.
It was a decidedly different second half, after the Chargers (6-5) controlled the first half in building a 13-7 lead. Hamilton’s thunder and lightning backfield duo of University of Wisconsin recruit Jackson Kollath and Josh Meulmans combined for 158 rushing yards and a touchdown.
But in the second half, the Sun Prairie defense took control. The Cardinals forced three three-and-outs, forced one turnover on downs, had an interception, allowed just two first downs and a total of minus-2 offensive yards. Hamilton also lost 10 yards of field position for procedural penalties.
It all came down to energy, Hamilton coach John Damato said. Sun Prairie had it in the second half. Hamilton did not.
“They had a really high energy level and we didn’t,” Damato said. “And that was evident. They just outmuscled us in the second half. And that was very, very evident. Very evident.”
Field position and special teams were also critical in the second half. Sun Prairie’s three touchdown drives started in Hamilton territory, at the 8-, 42- and 44-yard lines, respectively. The go-head touchdown drive was set up by a 46-yard punt return by Sun Prairie’s Colin Schaefer. And as Damato noted, “everything is magnified in the playoffs, 100 percent.”
Sun Prairie coach Brian Kaminski lauded his players in the postgame huddle for their refusal to quit and told them their physicality in the second half turned the tide.
The Cardinals have won 10 straight games since a season-opening loss and have come back from halftime deficits in their first two playoffs games.
“But our kids really flew around the second half and hit, and that’s what it was all about,” Kaminski said.
Sun Prairie wide receiver Cooper Nelson, who was injured in last week’s playoff win over Middleton, played the entire game but did appear hobbled at times. He finished with seven receptions for 79 yards.
Sun Prairie next faces Fond du Lac, the No. 1 team in the state’s Associated Press large school ratings. Kaminski said they don’t know much about their northern Cardinal counterparts and they’ll enjoy Friday’s win before shifting focus. Kaminski closed his postgame remarks to his team by telling them “we aren’t done yet.”
Schauer knows Fond du Lac presents a challenge.
“But we’ve just got to keep playing our brand of football, we’ve got to keep pounding the ball, we’ve got to keep doing our thing,” Schauer said.
Because sometimes it only takes one sprint down the left sideline to flip the script.
Sussex Hamilton 0 13 0 0 — 13
Sun Prairie 7 0 17 7 — 31
SP — Jenkins 8 pass from Gilles (Shanahan kick)
SH — Enneking 8 pass from Erato
SH — Meulemans 19 run (kick failed)
SP — FG Shanahan 22
SP — Schauer 5 run (Shanahan kick)
SP — Schauer 1 run (Shanahan kick)
SP — Schauer 4 run (Shanahan kick)
First downs — SH 6, SP 13. Rushing (Att.-Yds.) — SH 38-149, SP 25-163. Passing yards — SH 8, SP 136. Passes (Comp.-Att.-Int.) — SH 1-15-1, SP 15-27-1. Fumbles-lost — SH 0-0, SP 0-0. Penalties-yards — SH 6-26, SP 4-0.
Rushing: SH, Kollath 18-89. SP, Schauer 24-167.
Passing: SH, Erato 1-14-1-8. SP, Gilles 15-27-0-136.
Receiving: SH, Enneking 1-8. SP, Nelson 7-79.