Craig football scares Point before falling
Before heading to WIAA Division 1 playoffs, the Wisconsin Valley champions overcame their only nonconference opponent of the season by turning back Craig’s upset bid, 28-14, Wednesday at Goerke Field.
That boosted Stevens Point to 9-0 and left Craig, also a Division 1 playoff qualifier, at 5-4 after the Cougars tied with Janesville Parker and Middleton for third place at 5-3 in the Big Eight Conference.
Stevens Point had to deal with four turnovers and its first deficit since playing once-beaten D.C. Everest in September, but the Panthers’ defense rose to the challenge and forced three turnovers out of a pass-oriented Craig team.
“We prepped all week for the pass,’’ Panther defensive standout Danny Maultra said. “We knew they liked to run a lot of shotgun, spread stuff.”
Maultra had two interceptions and shut the door on Craig with a 42-yard interception return for a fourth-quarter touchdown.
“I just saw open grass and was gone from there,” Maultra said. “It was a great win for us.”
And it wasn’t bad night for Craig, which gave coach Bill O’Leary some proud moments before suffering its third loss in four games.
“I’m thrilled that we got ahead of a very good team for a while. I wish we could have kept it going,” O’Leary said. “We went into halftime and said we were playing Craig Cougar football—this is what we aspire to play every time.”
Led by third-year quarterback Charlie Roherty, Craig completed 22 of 46 passes for 199 yards. Stevens Point, not having seen such a high volume of passes this season, responded by covering the deep pass and trying to contain Craig underneath. That resulted in some extended drives when the Cougars were able to convert.
Craig was most dangerous early in the third quarter, when the Cougars recovered a fumble by Stevens Point quarterback Adam Kolbeck and turned it into an 11-play, 52-yard drive. That culminated in a 5-yard touchdown catch by Tyler Uschan, giving Craig a 14-7 lead.
“Our defense was not put in a good position from the turnovers. When you look at that touchdown, that was on the offense,” Stevens Point coach Pete McAdams said. “We went up against a very good football team, and we were in a battle from the start.”
And when the Panthers got down, it took them a while to respond. They finally got the tying touchdown late in the third quarter after Craig muffed a punt.
“You have to take care of the ball, no matter where it is, and we didn’t,” O’Leary said.
Stevens Point recovered the ball at Craig’s 21-yard line. Two plays later, Mitch Sutton went one yard for his second of three touchdowns, and Nick Krutza’s extra point boosted the Panthers into a 14-14 tie.
“We came in, faced adversity, and we overcame it. That’s big,” said Sutton, who finished the best season in Wisconsin Valley history with 35 rushing attempts for 208 yards and a 1,917-yard total.
STEVENS POINT 28, CRAIG 14
Janesville Craig 7 7 0 0—14
Stevens Point 0 7 7 14—28
Scoring summary: SP—Mitch Sutton, 23 pass from Adam Kolbeck (Nick Krutza kick). JC—JoJo Pregont, 13 pass from Charlie Roherty (Sean Davis kick). JC—Tyler Uschan, 5 pass from Roherty (Davis kick). SP—Sutton, 1 run (Krutza kick). SP—Sutton, 13 run (Krutza kick). SP—Danny Maultra, 42 interception return (Krutza kick).
Statistics: First downs—JC 15, SP 17. Rushing—JC 19-48, SP 43-223. Yards passing—JC 199, SP 101. Passes—JC 46-22-2, SP 18-10-1. Fumbles—JC 1-1, SP 4-3.
Game at a glance
The play: Danny Maultra returned a fourth-quarter pass interception 42 yards for a touchdown to seal Stevens Point’s come-from-behind victory.
The player: Charlie Roherty, Craig’s third-year quarterback, led a 199-yard passing attack that theatened to upset the state’s top-ranked large-school team.
The quote: “We went up against a very good football team, and we were in a battle from the start.”—Stevens Point coach Pete McAdams.
The significance: Stevens Point trailed for first time since September before emerging with its first unbeaten regular season since 1951.
The agenda: Both teams head into the WIAA Division 1 playoffs next Tuesday.
Final Big Eight standings
Msn La Follette 7-1, 8-1
Sun Prairie 7-1, 8-1
Parker 5-3, 6-3
Middleton 5-3, 6-3
Craig 5-3, 5-4
Msn West 2-6, 3-6
Msn East 2-6, 2-7
Msn Memorial 2-6, 2-7
Bel Memorial 1-7, 2-7
Janesville Parker 35, Madison East 0
Stevens Point 28, Janesville Craig 14 (NC)
Madison La Follette 36, Beloit Memorial 0
Sun Prairie 35, Madison West 21
Middleton 44, Madison Memorial 18