Since bottoming out in a Week 4 loss to Sun Prairie, the Janesville Craig High football team had been steadily gaining momentum.
Wins remained elusive, but the Cougars were hanging tough. Last week, Craig rallied to force overtime before coming up short against Madison East.
The Cougars went backward Friday night.
Craig dropped a 42-7 result to Middleton at Monterey Stadium in the final Big Eight Conference meeting between the two schools.
The Cardinals (5-2) clinched a playoff berth for the 24th straight season—currently the longest active streak among Division 1 teams—while Craig dropped to 1-6 in its farewell tour through the Big Eight.
Middleton (2nd, 229.7 rushing yards per game) and Craig (3rd, 223.7) entered play as two of the best rushing teams in the Big Eight.
Both had also struggled to contain opposing rushers, with the Cardinals and Cougars ranking sixth and seventh, respectively, in the league in rushing yards allowed.
So it wasn’t hard to puzzle out what both teams were going to do Friday.
The Cardinals compiled 151 rushing yards and 275 yards of offense. The Cougars didn’t gain much offensive traction until their final drive against Middleton’s reserves and finished with 131 yards of offense, including 84 on the ground.
“We had guys in position to make some plays,” Craig coach Adam Bunderson said. “but we missed some tackles.
“We had guys hustling to the ball and our defense played pretty well.”
Middleton’s Kallion Buckner reached the 100-yard threshold for the ninth straight game dating back to last season, totaling 128 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries—all in the first half.
Buckner’s best effort came late in the first quarter, when he weaved through multiple defenders before winning a sprint to the right pylon for a 28-yard touchdown.
Buckner also took a screen pass from Drew Teff 12 yards for a score with 10 seconds left in the second quarter to give the Cardinals a 28-0 lead at halftime.
Running behind an experienced offensive line that includes a Division 1 recruit in senior right tackle Billy Johnson (Air Force), Buckner leads the Big Eight with 983 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns.
Craig scored on its final possession, with senior running back David McWilliams finding the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1 with 1:34 left.
McWilliams led the Cougars with 41 rushing yards on seven carries.
“We were happy for him. He’s a great kid who does everything we ask,” Bunderson said of McWilliams, who had logged four varsity carries prior to Friday.
Craig quarterback Eric Hughes, who accounted for three touchdowns and ran for 128 yards last week against Madison East, was intercepted twice and finished with 8 yards on three carries.
Throw in a lost fumble, and Craig committed multiple turnovers for the fifth straight game.
“We struggled to run the ball,” Bunderson said. “When we do that, it makes it tough (for our offense).”
The Cougars will face seventh-place Madison West next Friday on the road before closing the regular season Oct. 18 against unbeaten Madison Memorial.
“We’re going to treat it just like Week 1,” Bunderson said. “Our guys are excited to have two weeks left. We have good senior leadership. They don’t just want to mail it in.”
MIDDLETON 42 JANESVILLE CRAIG 7
Middleton 14 14 7 7—42
Craig 0 0 0 7—7
Scoring: M—Kallion Buckner 1 run (Sawyer Pertzborn kick). M—Buckner 28 run (Pertzborn kick). M—Buckner 3 run (Pertzborn kick). M—Buckner 12 pass from Drew Teff (Pertzborn kick). M—TJ Bauer 1 run (Pertzborn kick). M—Nolan Franzen 29 interception return (Pertzborn kick). JC—David McWilliams 1 run (Chip Dose kick).
Statistics: First downs—M 14, JC 7. Rushing—M 29-173, JC 112. Passing yards—M 124, JC 47. Passes—M 17-9-0, JC 12-4-2. Fumbles—M 0-0, JC 1-1. Penalties—M 3-25, JC 6-40.