Craig can't stop Verona's ground attack
After the Cougars gave up 226 yards last week to Madison West, first-place Verona pounded out 276 yards on the ground Wednesday night to gain a 28-14 win over Craig High and a share of the conference football championship in the Wildcats’ first Big Eight season.
Verona, with only one regular-season loss in the last three years, finished 8-1 to share the title with Middleton. Craig slipped to 5-4 but will join the Wildcats in the WIAA playoffs, which begin Tuesday.
While Cougars take a two-game losing streak into the postseason for the second straight year, Verona advances on the “wings” of a tough ground game.
“The Wing-T is a very difficult offense to defend,” Craig coach Bill O’Leary said of the Wildcats. “They run it very well.”
The 10th-ranked Wildcats scored touchdowns on their first three drives, and Craig could not rally all the way back.
The Cougars got within 21-14 by halftime, following senior quarterback Zach Bayreuther’s fourth-down fade pass to JoJo Pregont in the back of the end zone with 1:57 left in the second quarter.
But after Craig went three-and-out on its first series of the second half, Verona covered 55 yards in eight plays in its next possession. That gave the Wildcats their 28-14 lead after Matt Kessenich hauled in Trevor Burmeister’s 15-yard touchdown pass.
Meanwhile, Craig’s offense stalled. The Cougars reached Verona territory only twice in the second half, and both drives ended at the Verona 45.
The first drive ended with an interception. The second ended after a fourth-down incompletion midway through the fourth quarter, leaving Verona with a night to celebrate.
“This is pretty sweet,” Verona coach Dave Richardson said of sharing the conference title. “We’re pretty proud of what we accomplished for being a new school (in the conference).’’
Cameron Bathe led the way for Verona with 149 yards on 22 carries and opened the game with a 50-yard touchdown run up the middle on the Wildcats’ first possession.
Craig took the opening kickoff and drove to the Verona 14 before attempting a field goal, but Mike Valentine’s 32-yard kick sailed wide left.
Bayreuther provided the bulk of the Craig offense, completing 21 of 37 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns. That lifted him to 1,945 passing yards for the season, breaking Charlie Roherty’s school record of 1,914 that was set last season.
Bayreuther opened the Cougars’ scoring with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Joey Kennedy with 11:12 left in the second quarter, which cut the Verona lead to 14-7.
Keegan Kelly finished with 97 yards on 18 carries to lead Craig’s ground game, but the Cougars were left to think about getting back on the winning track in the postseason.
“Tuesday, we’ll be back at it again,” O’Leary said. “Whoever gets us is going to have their hands full. But we’ve got to play better on defense.”
VERONA 28, CRAIG 14
Janesville Craig 0 14 0 0—14
Verona 14 7 7 0—28
Scoring summary: V—Cameron Bathe, 50 run (Adam Means kick). V—Mason Meyer, 32 from Trevor Burmeister (Means kick). JC—Joe Kennedy, 11 pass from Zach Bayreuther (Mike Valentine kick). V—Ryan McDonald, 5 run (Means kick). JC—JoJo Pregont, 7 pass from Bayreuther (Valentine kick). V—Matt kessenich, 15 pass from Burmeister (Means kick).
Statistics: First downs—JC 14, V 15. Rushing—JC 22-78, V 45-276. Yards passing—JC 160, V 91. Passes—JC 37-21-1, V 11-6-0. Fumbles—JC 0-0, V 0-0. Penalties—JC 5-55, V 4-30.