VERONA — After consecutive last-minute losses, the Verona football team looked to turn the page against streaking Madison La Follette on Friday night.
And Verona did just that. The Wildcats broke away from a 13-13 deadlock — scoring 21 points in the final 5 minutes, 53 seconds of the second quarter. In all, the host Wildcats scored 41 unanswered points in celebrating homecoming while defeating the Lancers 54-13 in a Big Eight Conference football game at Curtis Jones Field.
Verona coach Dave Richardson asked his team to focus on La Follette and not dwell on the past two weeks: The Wildcats dropped a 27-21 decision Sept. 20 when Sun Prairie quarterback Brady Stevens scored on a 1-yard sneak with 15 seconds remaining and they lost to Madison Memorial 27-24 on Sept. 27 when the Spartans’ Kabaris Vasser scored on a 3-yard run as time expired.
“On Monday I told them that this would be the last time we talked about Memorial until the state championship,” Richardson said. “I did that for a reason because if we get to the state championship the Memorial game will be the catalyst that created it. I said, `Let’s not talk about it anymore.’ The lesson from that game — that heartbreaker — is to motivate us to be the best team we can be. In the playoffs, you just never know.”
Senior receiver Haakon Anderson and junior running backs Jackson Acker and Graham Stier ran for two touchdowns apiece for Verona (5-2 overall and Big Eight), which became playoff eligible.
The loss snapped La Follette’s four-game winning streak. The defeat dropped La Follette (5-2, 5-2) into a second-place logjam in the conference and allowed first-place Madison Memorial (7-0, 7-0) to clinch at least a share of the Big Eight title.
“They are very fast, they are physical and they are very well-coached,” La Follette coach Scott Swanson said. “They were coming off two tough weeks and it was their homecoming. We knew we were in a tough battle all night.”
Verona scored on all five of its possessions in the first half, taking a 34-13 halftime lead.
“We are pretty good when we move the ball the way we did,” Richardson said. “(The Lancers) beat Sun Prairie last week; we knew they were explosive.”
The Lancers seized the early lead on senior running back Jaylend Brown’s 34-yard touchdown run with 7:52 left in the first quarter.
But the quick-strike Wildcats answered with a five-play, 69-yard scoring drive, capped by Anderson’s 45-yard touchdown run with 6:20 left.
Verona needed only one play to score on its next possession. Acker, a University of Wisconsin recruit, raced 83 yards for a touchdown, giving the Wildcats a 13-7 lead with 1:02 remaining in the first quarter.
La Follette used a balanced, ball-control offense featuring the running of Brown, who had 124 yards rushing in the first half (and 128 overall), and the passing of senior quarterback Ben Probst.
“That’s how we operate,” Swanson said. “We want to control the ball on offense and take the big play on offense when it’s there. We did it for a while, but didn’t sustain it long enough.”
The Lancers responded with a 61-yard scoring drive. Probst threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Dakovin Prather, bringing the Lancers into a 13-13 tie with 8:34 left in the second quarter.
After that, Verona took command. Stier scored on a 6-yard run with 5:53 left before halftime, putting Verona ahead 20-13.
Anderson scored his second touchdown of the game with 1:22 remaining in the second quarter — a 62-yard scamper along the right sideline. Anderson only carried twice — both for touchdowns and 107 yards rushing.
“Both of them were the same, exact play,” Anderson said. “It is a counter move and the greatest thing about a counter move, especially when we have running backs like Jackson (Acker) and Graham Stier, is when it looks like they have the ball, they hand it off to me and it gets the defense flowing. The offensive line did a great job. I saw a hole. The receivers on the outside did a phenomenal job. Aubrey (Dawkins) had a great block and I broke it outside and saw some green light.”
A blocked punt set up Verona at the La Follette 5-yard line. Senior quarterback Adam Bekx connected with senior receiver Aubrey Dawkins on a 5-yard touchdown on a slant pattern 13.6 seconds prior to halftime — boosting the Wildcats’ lead to 21 points.
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“At halftime, we had the mindset that we weren’t going to change anything,” Anderson said. “If anything we were going to ramp it up more. We weren’t going to get conservative.”
Third-quarter touchdown runs by Stier and Acker, who wound up with 169 yards on seven carries, increased Verona’s lead to 35 points and led to a running clock.
Madison La Follette 7 6 0 0 — 13
Verona 13; 21; 14; 6; — 54
MLF — Brown 34 run (Probst kick)
V — Anderson 45 run (Armstrong kick)
V — Acker 83 run (kick failed)
MLF — Prather 6 pass from Probst (pass failed)
V — Stier 6 run (Armstrong kick)
V — Anderson 62 run (Armstrong kick)
V — Dawkins 5 pass from Bekx (Armstrong kick)
V — Stier 3 run (Armstrong kick)
V — Acker 12 run (Armstrong kick)
V — Lokken 11 pass from Fink (kick failed)
First downs — MLF 12, V 14. Rushes-yards — MLF 32-115, V 28-383. Passing yards — MLF 128, V 71. Comp-Att-Int — MLF 12-22-1, V 12-15-0. Fumbles-lost— MLF 3-0, V 1-0. Penalties-yards — MLF 5-40, V 2-20.
Rushing: MLF, Brown 23-128. V, Acker 7-169. Passing: MLF, Probst 11-21-128-1. V, Bekx 11-13-60-0. Receiving: MLF, Prather 6-54. V, Dawkins 5-31.