By Eric Rogers
WAUWATOSA, Wis, – The Madison Mustangs were forced to play from behind Saturday night against the Wauwatosa Spartans, but lost their second straight game 13 - 10.
Madison came into the game needing a victory to get back to .500 on the season, but the mistakes kept coming, and Head Coach Adam Smith had some choice words about his team’s performance.
“You can’t win when you’re minus two in the turnover department,” a frustrated Smith said. “This is what happens when this is the way we play. This is the result.”
After one half of their first MidStates Football season, the Madison Mustangs find themselves in an unfamiliar spot: near the bottom of the heap in the division. A 1 - 3 start puts Madison behind the Roscoe Rush and Muskego Hitmen, while still ahead of the 0 - 3 [at time of publication] Lake Geneva Generals, Monona Warriors, and Shorewood Monarchs.
Madison's defense set the tone for the game, as defensive back Jeff Russell picked off Wauwatosa's Tony Henner and returned it across midfield. Quarterback Dave Pietrowiak and the offense chipped away at the yardage, trying to establish some momentum and confidence that seemed to be lacking as of late. Petro and the Mustangs offense were able to muster enough yardage to get Jordan Brown in field goal range. Brown captured the game's first points on a 37-yard field goal.
The Spartans had a similar drive right after, but were without All-Star kicker Charlie Henke. The backup, Greg Rebella, missed on a 37-yard field goal attempt, allowing Madison to savor what would be it's last lead of the game.
Chris Jones intercepted Pietrowiak early in the second quarter, and running back Jaimie Marton nickeled-and-dimed his way to the end zone, putting the former Ironman Football League champions up 7 - 3. Pietrowiak tried to drive his team down the field as time ticked away in the first half, but was sacked twice as the Mustangs finally got in Spartan territory. Madison settled for a Hail Mary as time expired, but the ball fell incomplete and the 'Stangs were down 7 - 3 at the half.
The third quarter was highlighted by defense, as Russ Beier of the Mustangs recovered a fumble as the Spartans drove deep into the redzone. Madison came up empty on the ensuing possession, and Pietrowiak was under constant pressure. He was sacked four times over the course of the game, and protection and timing were to blame.
“It seems like ‘pick your poison’ right now. If it’s on one play, maybe they’re getting a really good bull-rush; another time I may hang onto the ball too long; another time somebody may not be in their route timing-wise or they run the wrong route...It’s just kind of all over the place right now.”
Madison finally started moving the ball and balancing between pass and run. Kyle Brodd and Justin Mashburn shared carries throughout the night and got Jordan Brown in field goal range. Trying to make it a 7 - 6 game, Brown came on to attempt another 37-yard field goal. The snap to Dave Hebgen was high and the backup quarterback had difficulty giving Brown a clean look at the football. The kick was short and Madison still faced a four-point deficit.
The end of the third quarter saw a more steady balance by the Spartans offense, and Henner delivered a strike to former Badger wideout Greg Rebella on a 45-yard touchdown. Rebella, who played on special teams and offense all night, missed the extra point, giving the Mustangs a chance to force overtime.
Madison had to come away with at least a field goal, or risk putting its season on the line. Pietrowiak and the offense had things clicking with 8:30 remaining in the game, but another turnover stalled a promising drive. Petro hit Jesse Canaday for a 20-yard pass, but the receiver was nearly decapitated after making the catch and couldn't retain possession of the football.
Noah Williams and the defense fought all game long to provide their offense another chance to make a comeback. When Madison finally got the ball back from Wauwatosa, there was 4:36 to play and 55 yards to go. Rookie wideout Aunton Terry had five receptions against the Spartans, one of which put Madison at the Wauwatosa 40. Facing third down, Pietrowiak threw the ball in the direction of Mike Gilbertson and a questionable pass interference call gave Madison the break they needed. Petro delivered, finding paydirt and Reggie Davis in the end zone.
With 2:06 in the game, the Mustangs were feeling Déjà vu. The 'Stangs lost in similar fashion to the Racine Threat in week three. This time, Mustangs Head Coach Adam Smith decided to have Jordan Brown attempt an onside kick. Brown squibbed the ball up the middle perfectly, but when the mound of players was sorted out, the Spartans had possession of the football. A first down by backup running back Trevor York and a couple short runs to wind down the clock sealed the victory for Wauwatosa.
The Mustangs are now 6 - 2 all-time against the Spartans, and are 1 - 3 on the season. Madison is at home Saturday night to take on the reeling Lake Geneva Generals at 6:00 p.m.