With a defensive unit delivering a gem, members of Janesville Craig’s offense knew that a performance filled with turnovers and untimely penalties could let a winnable game slip away.
A loss would have been the second in a row for the Cougars, putting a dent in any postseason aspirations.
Good thing the thought in the Craig huddle was straightforward.
“We’ve got to score,” senior tailback Tressin Kussmaul said. “That’s the number one goal. We’ve got to score.”
The Cougars did, thanks to Kussmaul’s power runs in the fourth quarter. They set up Trevion Moore’s 10-yard touchdown run with 2:23 remaining, and Craig overcame four turnovers to escape Lussier Stadium with a 17-10 Big Eight Conference victory over Madison La Follette on Friday.
There were long stretches where Craig (4-1) simply couldn’t get out of its own way. At one point, three consecutive second-half drives ended in a fumble after two or fewer plays, giving the Lancers (3-2) prime field position deep in Craig’s territory.
After twice failing to capitalize on the gifts, the Lancers tied the score, 10-10, at the beginning of the fourth quarter on a 31-yard touchdown catch by Charlie Kunkel.
“This was a must win,” Kussmaul said. “We need to hold on to the ball. That’s what we really need to work on.”
With 5:16 remaining, Kussmaul—who scored on a two-yard touchdown early in the third quarter—became the battering ram for the offense, evident by a 17-yard run that took a host of Lancers to bring him down. Two plays later, the offense capped the 7-play, 88-yard drive with Moore sweeping around the right side of the line and finding the end zone.
La Follette never got the ball back, as Craig sealed the win by recovering the ensuing kickoff on its own 36 and methodically running out the clock.
“We’ve got a competitive group, and they’re not going to stop until the whistle’s blown,” said senior defensive lineman Keeanu Benton, a Wisconsin commit. “They are going to keep going and keep winning.”
Craig’s defense had something to prove after a 49-0 loss to Sun Prairie in Week 4. Instead of wholesale changes to the game prep, head coach Adam Bunderson made the decision to not make any rash changes.
“Trust your assignment, do your job, trust the guy next to you,” he said.
His group answered the bell. Thanks to the fumbles, seven consecutive La Follette drives ventured onto Craig’s side of the field, five of which started in the Cougars own territory, and the defense yielded only the 10 points.
“Our defense bailed us out,” Bunderson said. “It would have been easy to give up a couple touchdowns when La Follette had the short field.”
Off to their best start since 2014, the Cougars now know they can win ugly, which is a good trait to have in the rugged Big Eight.
“If nothing else, this (win) will help us in the fourth quarter when things aren’t going our way, because for three quarters they didn’t go our way,” Bunderson said. “They were able to keep their heads and wits about them and finish the fourth quarter.”
Craig can clinch a playoff spot with a victory next week at Madison East.
CRAIG 17, LA FOLLETTE 10
Janesville Craig 0 3 7 7—17
Madison La Follette 0 3 0 7—10
Scoring: C—Mitchell Woelfle 28 field goal. L—24 field goal. C—Tressin Kussmaul 2 run (Woelfle kick). L—Charlie Kunkel 31 pass (kick). C—Trevion Moore 10 run (Woelfle kick).
Statistics: First downs—C 14, L 9. Rushing—C 51-276, L 25-39. Passing yards—C 0, L 111. Passes—C 1-0-1, L 23-10-1. Fumbles lost—C 3, L 1. Penalties—C 8-40, L 5-41.