Craig drops homecoming heartbreaker
JANESVILLE Janesville Craig High School football coach Ben McCormick told his team the sun will come up today after the Cougars fell short Friday in a 40-35 homecoming loss to Madison Memorial.
But the defeat almost certainly will still sting in the daytime. Memorial running back Pitak Thao’s 3-yard touchdown run with six seconds left gave the Spartans the pulsating five-point victory.
“I told the kids that they have two choices. We can either feel sorry for ourselves or get back to work, and I think we’ll choose the latter,” McCormick said. “The sun’s going to come up tomorrow, and we’re going to get back to work.”
The loss still isn’t easy to swallow for the Cougars, who fell into a tie with Memorial and Madison East at 3-3 in the Big Eight Conference.
After the Cougars fell behind 34-27 in the fourth quarter, Craig fullback Austin Schleisner cut the deficit to one point with a 15-yard touchdown run through the heart of the Spartan defense.
The Cougars then lined up for the extra point to tie the game, but changed their mind and went for two after the Spartans jumped offside.
Cameron Wright then swept right and plowed through the Spartan defenders for the two-point conversion, giving Craig a 35-34 lead with 3:26 left.
Wright finished with 256 rushing yards and two touchdowns to lead the Cougar attack.
But the Spartans had plenty of time to answer after that last Cougar score. Junior quarterback Joe Ferguson, who is the grandson of Wisconsin Badgers athletic director Barry Alvarez, led the late-game comeback. Ferguson’s 17-yard pass to Jester Weah at the Cougar 37 preserved the drive on fourth-and-four.
Six plays later, Thao slipped through the Cougar defense for the 3-yard touchdown run.
“On the final drive, they converted two fourth downs,” McCormick said of the Spartans. “Our defense didn’t play poorly; Madison Memorial just made big plays.”
Both teams made big plays from the opening kick.
Craig made the first big play. The Cougars authored a 15-play, nine-minute classic ball-control scoring drive that was capped by Ron Lindgren’s 1-yard touchdown run with two minutes left in the first quarter. That put Craig up 7-0.
But Memorial stormed back with a quick three-play drive, capped by Ferguson’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Jamar Morris to knot the game at 7-7 late in the first period.
Ferguson connected with Morris for three touchdown passes, also covering 22 and 72 yards.
Memorial later made it 14-7 on Ferguson’s 2-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
Wright then led the Cougars down the Spartan 17 late in the second, but ran out of time before capitalizing. Craig made amends in the third period behind Wright’s 55-yard touchdown run and Schleisner’s 1-yard touchdown run to draw the home team even at 21-21 heading into the fourth quarter.
The game remained at a frantic pace the rest of the way.
“It was a great high school football game, no doubt about it,” McCormick said. “It obviously came down to the very end.
“I’m proud of the way our guys competed and battled, but you have to give all the credit to Madison Memorial, who made enough plays to win and have very good athletes.”
MADISON MEMORIAL 40,
JANESVILLE CRAIG 35
Madison Memorial 7 7 7 19—40
Janesville Craig 7 0 14 14—35
Scoring summary: JC—Ron Lindgren 1 run (Monica Speth kick). MM—Jamar Morris, 10 pass from Joe Ferguson (Jeremy Gartland kick). MM—Ferguson, 2 run (Gartland kick). JC—Wright, 55 run (Speth kick). MM—Morris, 22 pass from Ferguson (Gartland kick). JC—Austin Schliesner, 1 run (Speth kick). MM—Morris, 72 pass from Ferguson (Gartland kick). JC—Wright, 3 run (kick failed). Jester Weah, 47 pass from Ferguson (pass failed). JC—Schleisner 15 run (Wright run). MM—Pitak Thao, 3 run (pass failed).
Statistics: First downs—MM 21, JC 31. Yards rushing—MM 19-124, J 62-386. Passing Yards—MM 288, JC 48 Passes—MM 24-15-1, JC 14-4-0. Fumbles—MM 1-1, JC 2-2. Penalties—MM 6-38, JC 7-46.