Craig loses lead, game, playoff hopes
MADISON Janesville Craig’s game of keep-away worked wonderfully at the start of Friday night’s Big Eight Conference football game against Madison Memorial at Mansfield Stadium.
Then the Cougars played give-away in the second half with five turnovers, and the Spartans pulled away for a 44-21 victory in a game that took three hours to complete.
The loss knocked Craig out of the WIAA playoff hunt. The Cougars are 1-5 overall and in the conference.
The Cougars took a 21-7 lead midway through the second quarter, scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions.
Then Spartan quarterback Joe Ferguson and the Spartan offense took command, with the help of Craig turnovers.
Craig took the opening kickoff and marched 70 yards in 14 time-consuming plays. When Michael Whitaker capped the drive with a three-yard scoring run, just 4:20 was left in the first quarter.
The 7-minute, 40-second drive was kept alive by a 20-yard run by quarterback Tom Gabower on fourth-and-7 to the Memorial 19 and three five-yard penalties against Memorial.
Another Spartan penalty on the ensuing kickoff wiped out a Jester Weah return to near midfield and put the ball on the 11.
Then Ferguson showed why keeping the ball away from the Spartans is important.
After a sack of Ferguson, the Spartans were forced back to their own 4. But Ferguson, the grandson of University of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, directed a game-tying drive from there.
Memorial converted three long third-down situations, and Ferguson ran up the middle for the final two yards to tie the score at 7-all early in the second quarter.
A nice return by Trevon Hall set the Cougars up at their own 42. But a fumble on the first play gave the ball back at the Cougar 48. But the Craig defense rose and stopped the Spartans on a fourth-and-2 play when a Ferguson pass went incomplete.
Craig then went 60 yards to take the lead. After several nice runs from Whitaker and Jared Krueger, Gabower kept the ball and rolled untouched from 21 yards out to put the Cougars back in front. Sam Plutchak’s extra-point conversion put Craig up, 14-7.
An interception by Plutchak set up Craig for its third touchdown in as many possessions. Plutchak picked off a Ferguson pass and returned it to the Memorial 10.
Memorial’s eighth penalty of the half put the ball on the 5, and it took Grabower two runs to cap the drive. Plutchak’s kick made it 21-7 with 3:08 left in the half.
That was the end of the Craig fun on the evening.
That comfortable margin lasted less than 30 seconds, as Ferguson hit Weah with a short pass. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior broke one tackle and went 71 yards for the TD.
The Spartans tied the score on the first possession of the second half. Ferguson found Brendon Ortiz all alone from 26 yards out on a second-and-18 play just two minutes into the third quarter. The pass capped a 7-play, 62-yard drive.
The game then turned into a series of errors, and the Spartans capitalized to pull away.
A minus-3 yard punt gave the Spartans excellent field position deep in Craig territory, but Memorial gave the ball right back to the Cougars on a fumble.
But Craig fumbled the ball immediately to Spartans, who were stopped. On fourth down, Craig’s Drew Grassi got through the middle of the line and blocked Jeremy Gartland’s field-goal attempt.
The Cougars then fumbled again at their own 35. A crossing pattern to Daurice Fountain—who later concluded the scoring with a 70-yard interception return—put the ball on Craig 3, where Ferguson scored on a run on the next play to give the Spartans their first lead at 28-21.
A 14-yard TD, a 27-yard field goal by Gartland and Fountain’s 70-yard interception return accounted for the final margin.
MEMORIAL 44, CRAIG 21
Craig 7 14 0 0—21
Memorial 0 14 14 16—44
Scoring summary: JC—Michael Whitaker, 3 run (Monica Speth kick). MM—Joe Ferguson, 2 run (Jeremy Gartland kick). JC—Tom Gabower, 21 run (Speth kick). JC—Gabower, 1 run (Speth kick). MM—Jester Weah, 71 pass from Ferguson (Gartland kick). MM—Brendon Ortiz, 26 pass from Ferguson (Gartland kick). MMFerguson, 14 run. MM—FG, Gartland, 27. MM—Fountain, 70 interception return (kick failed).
Statistics: First downs—C 16, M 11. Rushes—C 46-151, M 26-79. Yards passing—C 117, M 251. Passing—C 22-8-2, M 34-13-1. Fumbles—C 4-3, M 2-1. Penalties—C 1-10, M 14-103.