By Eric Rogers
MONONA, Wis. — The Madison Mustangs fought through adversity Saturday night and etched out a 48-26 win against the Monona Warriors at Ahuska Park.
“1-0.” That’s the motto emblazoned upon the Madison Mustangs’ t-shirts. Coming into the game, it seemed they had written off the Warriors as just another casualty on the list.
It all started well for the Madison franchise as veteran safety Will Smith made a sliding interception on Monona’s very first possession. The Mustangs offense had difficulty moving the football and had to punt, but their misfortune was quickly forgotten when cornerback Anthony Younger stripped the ball from Warrior wideout Preston McCarter. That ensuing drive would also stall out and result in a punt.
After a well-placed punt, Monona quarterback Jeremy Thornton tried to get his team some breathing room by throwing the ball. Mustangs cornerback Jeff Russell waited in the shadows and sniped the ball out of the air for an interception and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown. The score read Madison seven, Monona zero after 15 minutes of play.
After a Monona punt, Dave Pietrowiak and the Mustang offense were set up at the two yard line of Monona courtesy of a 30-yard leaping catch by Mike Gilbertson. Fullback T.J. Dambach finished off the drive with a touchdown, making it a 14-0 game.
The rest of the second quarter was dominated by the Warriors and running back Antwan Anderson. Anderson’s success set up a two yard touchdown run by Thornton on the quarterback keeper. The energy carried over to the Warrior defense, as Devin Evans made an acrobatic, leaping interception over the outstretched arms of Reggie Davis. That would lead to a Tez Malone touchdown catch and a 14-12 ball game at the break.
Only up by two at halftime, Madison was looking to blow open the lead, but a fumbled handoff between Dave Pietrowiak and Kyle Brodd would give Monona a shot to take over the game. The Warriors went back to the ground game with Anderson to chip away at the 60 yards between them and the end zone. Anderson’s efforts led to a 20-yard Thornton and Malone hookup; the second touchdown reception for Malone in the game. A successful two-point conversion gave Monona a 20-14 lead.
At that point, Will Smith’s leadership came into play. He held an impromptu meeting with his team on the sidelines to hopefully recapture the lead. Head Coach Adam Smith was impressed by the veteran safety’s actions.
“I was not aware of it, but it doesn’t surprise me that some of the leaders stepped up and had a talk with the guys,” Smith said. “Everybody responded in the second half, and that’s the thing that I’m most proud of.”
After the talk, the Mustangs only needed three plays before Kyle Brodd found the end zone from 16 yards out. That put Madison back on top 21-20. The momentum stayed with the defense, as linebacker Noah Williams intercepted Thornton and returned it all the way for a score. An illegal block in the back penalty wiped out the touchdown, but Pietrowiak found Auton Terry in the end zone for a 26-yard strike just two plays later. Cornerback Anthony Younger kept it going the next time out on the field, getting a pick six of his own, but this time no flags flew. A Russ Beier two-point conversion made it 36-20 Mustangs.
The end of the third quarter saw a brawl break out between the two teams. Punches were thrown and helmets tossed, but the only penalty assessed was a 15-yarder against the Warrior player who swung a fist.
With seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Mustangs were looking to close the game out. Pietrowiak found paydirt, lofting the football towards the sideline for Reggie Davis who hauled it in, avoided stepping out of bounds, and then torched his defender and got into the end zone for a 61-yard score.
“I was running a fade down the sideline,” Davis explained. “It was a hitch-and-go route. I was running side-by-side with the [cornerback]. Petro put it perfectly on the back shoulder and I was able to turn and head towards the end zone.”
To cap it off, running back Justin Mashburn also got into the promised land from two yards out late in the game. Fullback Jason Wilson of the Warriors found the end zone as well, but it was too little too late and the visiting Mustangs got out of Monona with a hard fought 48-26 win.
Madison improves to 3-3 on the season and hosts the 5-1 Roscoe Rush on Saturday night at 6:00 p.m. from Otto Breitenbach Stadium.