Know the enemy: Sun Prairie Cardinals
Nick Sunderland-Saied of Madison.com answered some questions about Arrowhead's foe in the state championship football game Friday, Sun Prairie.
Q Sun Prairie will be the underdog in this game despite a perfect record and a pretty impressive run through the playoffs. Are the Cardinals playing up the underdog role? What assets do the Cardinals have that should at least give Arrowhead fans pause?
A One of Sun Prairie coach Brian Kaminski's favorite sayings is, "We're playing Sun Prairie every Friday night." What he means is his players believe only they can beat themselves. I talked with several of the Cardinals players on Monday, and none of them said they feel like underdogs entering this game. But, obviously, they know Arrowhead is the most-complete team they'll have seen this season.
I still believe we have yet to see this team deliver a complete four-quarter performance. Junior Ryan Curran is probably the best quarterback in our coverage area and was a contributing member of Sun Prairie's 2012 Division 1 state-title winning baseball team. So he's excelled in pressure situations before, and that really showed in the second half against Badger.
He and wideout Michael Marchese are an explosive duo, even if the stats haven't really shown that this year. What truly makes Curran so dangerous is his mobility. He makes a lot of plays with feet.
When Sun Prairie gets close to the goal, Kaminski loves to give 330-pound Craig Evans the ball in the backfield. He's got six rushing TDs this season and even hurdled a defender during the Cardinals' 21-13 win over Badger. I'd be very hard-pressed to pinpoint a glaring weakness on this Sun Prairie squad.
Q What makes Donte Starlin-Merriam such a good running back? Do you consider this offense balanced?
A Sun Prairie fields by far the most-balanced offense I've seen this season. A lot of that has to do with the success of their offensive line. Kaminski broke in four new starters at the beginning of the season, and the unit has really gelled with Starlin-Merriam. He's not a flashy runner but always seems to be going north and south.
Q What would you say separated Sun Prairie from Badger last week?
A I think anybody who watched that game would be quick to credit Lake Geneva Badger for quite a gutsy effort. The Badgers came in down several starters and even lost a few players during the game but managed to make it interesting all the way down to the final minute.
I've been to six Sun Prairie games this season and outside of its season-opening win over Verona, I'd say this was the Cardinals' sloppiest performance to date, with numerous dead ball personal fouls and other miscues. Curran was clutch when it mattered, though.
Q Who are some of the team's standouts defensively?
A It all starts up front with 6-foot-3, 330-pound junior defensive tackle Craig Evans. The University of Wisconsin recruit anchors Sun Prairie's defense and does a great job of opening up the game for his teammates. He's a very interesting kid outside of football, too, and has overcome a lot to get to this point.
Junior linebacker Michael Garvey always seems to be around the ball, much like Chris Borland usually is for the Badgers. And in the secondary, junior cornerback Jeramiah Bradley has come up with key turnovers time and time again over the course of the season. The Cardinals had a streak of 19 straight shutout quarters going before Madison Memorial scored a touchdown against their second-stringers in the fourth quarter of their Level 1 game.
Q Sun Prairie has only played one game against a non-Big Eight foe this season. How would you rank the Big Eight overall, relative to other conferences you've seen/know about?
A I'm extremely biased on this subject, since I've only covered two games (McFarland at Jefferson in Week 2 and Walworth Big Foot vs. Lakeside Lutheran in Level 3) all season that didn't feature at least one Big Eight Conference team. What I do know is all the coaches of the playoff-qualifying squads in the league were very disappointed to see all their teams bunched in the same postseason grouping.
I don't think anyone will question is the overall depth of the league. You've got 10 Division 1 teams, six of which (including 3-5 Madison La Follette) were definitely playoff caliber squads. Regardless of what happens, Sun Prairie will be stacked yet again heading into next season. The Cardinals have a loaded junior class.
Check out Nick Sunderland-Saied experiencing the force of Sun Prairie lineman Craig Evans head-on in his Madison.com video.
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