#3 (WSN-D1), #4 AP (Large) Sun Prairie (6-0) at Madison West (5-1) - 6:45pm Thursday
Last Year: Sun Prairie breezed past the Regents, getting over eight yards per carry and 243 yards rushing, and pitched a shutout defensively while getting into double-digit sack totals, en route to a 36-0 victory for the Cardinals.
Last Week: Sun Prairie rolled up five rushing touchdowns and tossed their second shutout of the season in demolishing Madison Memorial 50-0... In a celebration of the 40th anniversary of their 1977 state championship, the Regents beat up cross-town rival Madison East 41-7 thanks to a monster game from Jaden Stephens, and claimed their second straight City Championship.
Season To Date: Sun Prairie has more takeaways (27) than points allowed (25) through six games. No team has notched more than seven points against the Cardinals, and no team has kept Sun Prairie under 34. While Sun Prairie has faced only one team with a winning record as of Week 7 thus far, the Cardinals took down Middleton with a dominant second half back in Week 2, 34-6... Madison West has leaned on its defense to close out games, earning their first four victories by an average of 11.7 points per victory, before opening it up against East in a big win last week on offense. Defensively, they've given up 38 points in their five victories, and 36 points in their Week 3 loss to Middleton. West is also out-rushing opponents by about 60 yards per game.
Coaches' Corner: Much has been said and written about Sun Prairie's defense, led by defensive lineman Josh Dinga, linebacker/edge rusher Marty Strey, defensive back Kaden Kauppinen, and others. The Cardinals have pounded opponents, limiting them to under a touchdown per game. Of the four touchdowns allowed by the Cardinals, two came in the first quarter on long gains, a 75-yard run by Parker and a 65-yard pass by Beloit Memorial. One came against Middleton on a deflected pass from 11 yards out a couple of plays after a blocked punt. And, one was by Craig on a 31-yard pass play in the fourth quarter of a 41-7 Sun Prairie win. The Cardinals, when they allow teams inside the 20, are lights out. The offense isn't so bad either, with plenty of running back depth and big receivers who battle for the ball, and one of the best kickers in all of Wisconsin... Madison West is at 5-1, picking up their biggest and most surprising win by toppling Verona 23-17 a few weeks back, after leading 23-10 until late. The Regents only have 37 players listed on their varsity roster, but get it done defensively, after bringing back virtually everyone from last year's playoff-qualifying team. That includes returning first-team all-conference quarterback Keishawn Shanklin, who directs an offense that is nearly 4:1 run:pass. Shanklin has thrown three touchdown passes, run for two scores, and has also caught a touchdown pass. Shanklin is also one of the defense's biggest playmakers, with two interceptions, a forced fumble and fumble recovery, and is sixth on the team in tackles. Jaden Stephens leads the team in rushing and interceptions, and is one tackle behind Shanklin on the leaderboard. Madison West has 18 takeaways this year.
Three Keys: 1. Both teams are adept at forcing turnovers. Sun Prairie does it to the tune of 4.5 turnovers per game, in fact, while Madison West has forced three per game of their own. The difference is the Cardinals have been getting interceptions, something they may only get a handful of opportunities to do against a team that has thrown just 47 times in six games. West has recovered 11 fumbles this season. 2. Sun Prairie can't let West hit on the big play. The Cardinals have been burned by a few of them this year, which may be the lone crack in the diamond so far for the Sun Prairie defense. West was more adept at this in 2016, but are much more ground-and-pound this year. 3. Speaking of ground and pound, West will shorten the game with a deliberate running attack, but still boast the talents of Keishawn Shanklin, who has the arm and ability to make some big throws when called upon. Jaden Stephens and Armani Warfield will shoulder the load to move the ball for West, and each will need to keep the chains moving for the Regents.
Five Players To Watch: It all starts defensively with Sun Prairie, and while you could make a case for any of the outstanding defenders, expect Marty Strey to have his name called often. Against a team that rushes about 78% of the time, there won't be much opportunity for the defensive backs to rack up pass deflections or pick the ball off, so the linebackers will be extremely busy... The Cardinals' defense will be keying on Jaden Stephens of Madison West, who can turn games into downright slug-fests when he gets going. In five games, Stephens has racked up over 600 yards rushing and seven scores, with another touchdown through the air... Offensively, Draven Peeples has only played in three games for the Cardinals, yet has six rushing touchdowns on only 20 carries. With so much depth now at running back, with Brian McKenzie and Colin Fluno getting all the work in the first few games, Peeples will have the ability to pick his spots against tired defenses late in games, which will only help his almost 10 yards per carry average... Keishawn Shanklin, as mentioned above, seems to make plays wherever he lines up on the field. He'll need his all-around game to help find some cracks in the Sun Prairie defense, and turn the tide defensively with a well-timed turnover... Jack Zander has had an incredibly efficient season behind center. Zander has a 15:2 touchdown to interception ratio passing, and has added three rushing scores for the Cardinals.
Listen to the game this Thursday night at 7pm on The Big 1070! You can listen on 100.9 FM or on iHeartRadio by going here.