Sun Prairie's dominance, Madison West's resurgence, and Middleton's steady season despite a plethora of injuries defined the top of the Big 8 in 2017. Now that last year's outstanding senior class across the conference has graduated, 2018 shapes up to be more unpredictable than last season.
It makes sense to start with Sun Prairie, who all season long looked like a state championship-caliber team. Led by outstanding seniors on both sides of the ball, including some special athletes on defense, the Cardinals rolled all the way until the later stages of the playoffs. A couple of plays didn't quite go their way in the title tilt against Kimberly, and the final score wasn't indicative of how well Sun Prairie competed, but it was certainly a season to remember for the Cardinals. Now, how can they replicate that with most of their core, especially on defense, graduated?
Injuries threatened to derail Middleton's season before it even began, opening the year with six starters already down due to injury. Some of those players eventually worked their way back into the fold, and the Cardinals put together an 8-1 campaign. Middleton held their own for a half against Sun Prairie before succumbing in the second half on the road in Week 2, a game that set the stage for how well Middleton played the rest of the way. A surprising playoff upset to Madison West left the promise of a playoff rematch with Sun Prairie unfulfilled, something they will have to wait until Week 8 for this season.
Madison West's 2017 stands out for two reasons. First, because nobody expected the Regents to be in the upper half of the conference, much less third place. Second, because the Regents only had about 30 players on varsity. Third, because most other teams in the Big 8 have 100-player rosters before you start listing off the freshman class. All the Regents did was scheme to their strengths and got some old-school two-way play out of most of their players, culminating in a big-time playoff upset over Middleton at Breitenbach Stadium in an instant classic.
Verona is a typical pick to contend for a conference crown, as they were coming into 2017. With nearly 40 seniors, but plenty of starters to replace outside of the offensive line, the Wildcats seemed poised for another round of contending for a conference title. However, Verona had a quiet 6-3 campaign and a quick exit from the playoffs.
It seems like every year Madison La Follette plays in some of the most entertaining games on the schedule, and 2017 was no different. While the Lancers had to replace some productive offensive backfield players, they found their next star in Kayvion James-Ragland. La Follette's relative youth kept them from doing better than 4-5 in the conference, but considering how especially talented the 2017 senior class was across the conference, it's remarkable that the Lancers were able to earn a playoff berth.
For a second straight year, it appeared that Madison Memorial was on the verge of a monster season, but the Spartans couldn't keep pace with the upper crust of the Big 8. While Memorial did get a playoff berth, it was one-and-done. Now, the Spartans will be under new management, with former La Follette coach Michael Harris at the helm, and like most years, will have some explosive athletes to help fuel a return to the top half of the league--and perhaps more.
Janesville Craig will be one of the more interesting teams to watch, as the three teams in the middle of the Big 8 all appear to be vying for the role of Big 8 dark horse next year. As it is, Adam Bunderson led the Cougars to the playoffs in his first season as coach. The former Parker quarterback will have it a little more difficult in 2018 since the Big 8 appears to be more balanced on paper heading into next season.
Speaking of dark horses, Beloit Memorial is ready to take that next step in their long rebuilding process. After competing late into the season for a playoff spot, the next item to check off on the list in 2018 would naturally be to secure that bid. It'll be tough sledding, but Beloit has built up some numbers under coach Rodney Wedig, the longitme Big Foot coach who earned half of his wins as head coach in Beloit last season during a 2-7 campaign. His son Matthew will help lead the way for Beloit in 2018.
In what could be a one-year setback, the Janesville Parker Vikings look to rebound from a one-win season in 2017. Likewise, Madison East seems to be acclimating to second-year coach Jeremy Thornton as the Purgolders look for a win in 2018 under their former star quarterback.
2017 Conference Standings: Sun Prairie easily won the conference at 9-0 and wasn't seriously challenged during the season for a full four quarters until Level 4 against Muskego. The Cardinals lost the state title game to Kimberly... Middleton was the one team that gave Sun Prairie a scare, but Sun Prairie pulled away in the second half at Ashley Field to put away Middleton for Middleton's only conference loss of the regular season. Middleton lost to Madison West in Level 2. The Regents, meanwhile, never seriously threatened either Cardinals team during the regular season, and despite a varsity roster of under 30 players, competed all the way through Level 3, a 7-2 regular season and 9-3 overall season including the playoffs... Verona had a 6-3 conference record in 2018 but couldn't get it done against more experienced teams ahead of them in the standings... Janesville Craig, Madison La Follette, and Madison Memorial all made the playoffs at 4-5, but none of them got a first-round win on the road as low seeds. All three teams return a good portion of their starting lineups however, so it could be interesting in the middle of the Big 8 this season... Beloit Memorial was 2-7, but the Purple Knights snapped a long conference losing streak and appear to be headed towards playoff contention, perhaps as soon as this season... Janesville Parker beat Madison East and nobody else, finishing 1-8, with East rounding out the conference at 0-9.
2017's Top Games: Working backwards from the playoffs: Sun Prairie had to hold off upset-minded Muskego, the Cinderella of the D1 bracket, 26-21 to advance to state in Level 4... if you scroll slightly up on this page, you can listen to one of the area's top games in 2017, Madison West's shocking upset of Middleton in Level 2, 30-27. Keishawn Shanklin scored with about 15 seconds remaining to give the Regents one of the biggest wins in the entire playoff field... Madison La Follette played in a couple of barnburners earlier in the season. In Week 4, the Lancers lost to Madison Memorial 28-26, when their two-point conversion try was unsuccessful in the fourth quarter after scoring a touchdown... In Week 3, La Follette held off a wild rally by Beloit Memorial, who they led 28-2 at one point, 36-34. There were plenty of one-score games but nothing in the fourth quarter or overtime.
All-Conference Honors: All told, 32 players in the conference return with some form of All-Conference recognition from last year, led by Sun Prairie with six. Only half of those players, however, made first- or second-team, and only six were first-team all-conference last year. Sun Prairie had an additional 15 players get all-conference honors (for 21 total players and honors) to lead all Big 8 squads. Three first-team players are back: Ben Johnson (OL), Cooper Nelson (WR), and Hakeem McCullers (LB). Middleton had 17 total All-Conference honors, but only three players are back, including Kevin Meicher (DB), Bryce Carey (WR), and Gavin Adler (OL). Both Cardinals squads lost plenty to graduation, although Middleton's injuries in 2017 allowed younger players to step in and play bigger roles than what the nominal depth chart would have normally allowed. Madison West graduated a big chunk of their production from 2017, but will bring four players back that made the all-conference lists, including first-team offensive lineman Patrick Horvath. Madison La Follette is graduating a relatively small class, but a class packed with outstanding performers from last year. Back will be two-time All-Conference running back (and linebacker) Kayvion James-Ragland, as well as Gary Barnes on the defensive line. Madison Memorial might not have placed many on the All-Conference ranks last year, but the Spartans have some serious talent back for 2018, including Jeremiah Jordan at linebacker, Mike Cerniglia at tight end, and Jason Ceniti, who didn't make all-conference (but did make all-city), but played several positions in 2017. Janesville Craig will try for another run at the playoffs behind some big returning players on defense, including defensive lineman Keeanu Benton and defensive back Tegan Christiansen, both who made second-team. Beloit Memorial will still have Matthew Wedig, first-team all-conference at linebacker and punter, in the fold for next year, as well as defensive lineman Christian Winfield, who was second-team All-Big 8. Verona will only have one player back from the Big 8's first team, linebacker Dylan Bourne, while graduating 14 others who earned honors in a class of nearly 40 seniors. Janesville Parker loses a half-dozen players total with All-Big 8 awards, and brings no one back from a 1-8 team. Madison East didn't get a victory in 2017, but found some two-way contributors to build with into 2018, with four all-conference honorable mention players back, led by all-city linebacker Charles Dean.
All-Region Honors: Plenty of Big 8 players made the Southwest Region team. Matthew Wedig of Beloit Memorial, a junior last season, was honored as a punter, although he also contributes as a linebacker and receiver for the Purple Knights. H-back Luke Malmanger of Janesville Craig was honored as well. Anthony West, who played defensive back on one side of the ball while starring at receiver on offense before injuries to the Lancers' top three quarterbacks pressed him into emergency service, got a nod as a utility player on the All-Region team. Madison West was represented by Jaden Stephens, who was ultra-productive out of the spread-option as a running back, and by stud linebacker David Maravilla, who routinely pushed for 20 tackles each contest. Middleton had some injury woes this season, but not on defense, where defensive lineman Ryan Lewis and linebacker Shane Bick earned All-Region honors. Verona defensive back Bui Clements got an All-Region nod, after helping to lead a ball-hawking Wildcats secondary. Naturally, Sun Prairie placed several on the All-Region team. In addition to the five mentioned in the next section for All-State (who also made All-Region, naturally), the Cardinals got recognition for defensive back Kadon Kauppinen as well as juniors Ben Johnson (offensive line) and Cooper Nelson (receiver).
All-State Honors: Sun Prairie landed a handful of players on the WFCA's All-State team. Offensive tackle Anthony Villanueva was one of 11 picked up front. The Cardinals' defense had three players represented: defensive lineman Khalan Coleman, defensive end Josh Dinga, and linebacker/edge rusher Marty Strey. Finally, Alex Oakley was the state's All-State kicker. Oakley routinely hit moving cars on the street well beyond the west end zone at Ashley Field with his extra-point tries.
A Quick Look Ahead: We'll have a full preview of each team, and the conference, coming up as we get closer to the start of the season on August 17. We'll be broadcasting the Sun Prairie-Madison Memorial season opener, with Middleton at Verona on tap for Week 2. The playoff rematches this year are the afore-mentioned Sun Prairie-Madison Memorial Week 1 game, a rematch of a Level 1 match-up; Middleton visiting Madison West in Week 3, the first meeting for the teams since the Level 2 upset by the Regents; a replay of Madison West-Sun Prairie from Level 3 last year in the final week of the regular season; and Middleton visits La Follette in Week 9 in a Level 1 rematch. Look for individual team previews to roll out in July, with full conference previews to come in August.
2018 High School Football Preview Schedule
Late June/Early July: 2017 In Review (by conference)
Mid-July: Team-by-team previews
Early August: Conference previews
Coming Next: July 13: High School Football 2017 In Review
Daily High School Sports Content Schedule
June 28: Throwback Thursday - Top 2017 Games #5: Waunakee 14, Brookfield Central 13
June 29: Capitol South 2017 In Review
July 2: Capitol North 2017 In Review
July 3: Rock Valley 2017 In Review
July 5: Throwback Thursday - Top 2017 Games #4: Stoughton 30, Oregon 27
July 6: Greater Madison Area 2017 In Review (everything outside of Big 8, Badger, Capitol, Rock Valley)
July 9: Badger South 2017 In Review
July 10: Badger North 2017 In Review
July 11: Big Eight 2017 In Review
July 12: Where Are They Now: Class of 2015
July 12: Throwback Thursday - Top 2017 Games #3: Cambridge 25, Belleville 19
July 13: 2017 High School Football In Review
July 16: Start of Team-by-Team Previews (multiple per day)
July 19: Where Are They Now: Class of 2016
Julu 19: Throwback Thursday - Top 2017 Games #2: Madison West 30, Middleton 27
July 26: Where Are They Now: Class of 2017
July 26: Throwback Thursday - Top 2017 Games #1: Lodi 17, St. Croix Central 10
August 2: Where Are They Now: Class of 2018
August 6: Start of Conference Previews (one per day)
August 9: Where Are They Now: Classes 2013 and Earlier
August 13: Prep Report and Game of the Week content begins