FOND DU LAC — Turning the ball over four times — twice in key situations — is never a recipe for victory.
That’s especially true when it occurs in a WIAA Division 1 state quarterfinal game against the state’s top-ranked team. And that’s the nightmare scenario that played out for the Sun Prairie football team Friday night, when Fond du Lac rolled to a 33-7 victory at Fruth Field.
With the game tied at 7, Fond du Lac turned a tipped pass into a touchdown on an interception return. That play seemed to open the turnover floodgates, as three more second-half giveaways followed.
“Field possession hurt us and putting our defense in a tough spot against a good football doesn’t help at all,” said Sun Prairie coach Brian Kaminski, whose team was the state runner-up in 2017. “Gave up too many big plays and too many turnovers tonight.”
Sun Prairie’s defense came into the game surrendering just 13.6 points per game while Fond du Lac’s offense was averaging 43.3 points per contest. Fond du Lac (12-0) outgained Sun Prairie (10-2) 317-296.
“Like Coach said in the last huddle, ‘Five or six plays and the game’s a totally different ending,’” Sun Prairie senior defensive lineman Maven Kretche said.
Sun Prairie had the ball six times in the second half, and the results weren’t pretty: three turnovers, one turnover on downs, one punt and the end of the game. Sun Prairie didn’t score in the second half.
“We changed our scheme a little because they’re such a zone-run team,” Fond du Lac coach Steve Jorgensen said. “Our coaches did an excellent job on preparation, and we came up with some big plays.”
Sun Prairie wide receiver Colin Schaefer finished with 10 catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. Wideout Cooper Nelson, playing with an injured ankle, was held to two catches for 8 yards.
“We tried a few new things, but there’s just a few big plays that we tried to run and they read it right,” Schaefer said. “Right coverage, wrong time for us.”
Fond du Lac had the ideal offensive start. On its second play, Eben Sauer took a handoff and raced untouched for an 83-yard touchdown just 3 minutes, 30 seconds into the game.
After Sun Prairie had a defensive stand in its territory, the the offense went to work late in the first quarter. Quarterback Richie Gilles connected with Dominick Landphier for a 45-yard gain to set up a Gilles-to-Schaefer touchdown pass covering 4 yards to tie the score.
Sun Prairie’s defense then forced a Fond du Lac three-and-out. But on the ensuing play a Gilles pass, intended for Nelson, was deflected and intercepted by Sam Hernandez — who raced 21 yards for a touchdown that put his team ahead for good.
“We come off a great stop, and for that to happen, it just demoralizes us,” Kretche said.
Fond du Lac didn’t waste any time on its first drive of the second half. Sauer carried the ball on all four plays, the last a 7-yard touchdown. Another Fond du Lac score a couple minutes later put the game out of reach at 27-7. That’s when Sun Prairie turned the ball over on three straight possessions — two interceptions and one fumble by Gilles, who had thrown only three interceptions all year.
“He had a bad right ankle and it was hard for him to push off,” Kaminski said about Gilles. “He’s just trying to make plays on some of them.”
After Sun Prairie dropped its season opener to Madison Memorial, the Cardinals players and coaching staff heard talk the team wouldn’t be any good this year. But 10 consecutive wins later, the Cardinals made it to the quarterfinal round.
“We were 0-1 to start the season and coach said once again, ‘How many people wrote us off?’” Kretche said. “You can count on your hand how many people thought we weren’t going to make it this far. I’m so proud of this team.”
Sun Prairie 7 0 0 0 — 7
Fond du Lac 7 7 13 6 — 33
FdL — Sauer 83 run (Scheberl kick)
SP — Schaefer 4 pass from Gilles (Shanahan kick)
FdL — Hernandez 21 interception (Scheberl kick)
FdL — Sauer 7 run (kick failed)
FdL — Murtha 56 pass from Raddatz (Scheberl kick)
FdL — Sauer 14 pass from Raddatz (kick failed)
First downs — SP 12, FdL 12. Rushing (Att.-Yds.) — SP 30-119, FdL 35-248. Passing yards — SP 177, FdL 73. Passes (Comp.-Att.-Int.) — SP 17-28-3, FdL 4-12-0. Fumbles-lost — SP 1-1, FdL 0-0. Penalties-yards — SP 4-16, FdL 6-59.
Rushing: SP, Schauer 23-96. FdL, Sauer 15-203.
Passing: SP, Gilles 17-28-3-177. FdL, Raddatz 4-12-0-73.
Receiving: SP, Landphier 2-86. FdL, Murtha 1-56.