Oct. 23—MUKWONAGO — The final score wasn't worth worrying about.
The way Janesville Craig coach Adam Bunderson sees it, Friday's WIAA Division 1 playoff game against Mukwonago already was a victory before the opening kickoff.
Predicted before the season as a potential winless team, the Cougars instead made it to the postseason for the first time since 2018.
And even though their playoff meeting with second-ranked Mukwonago was a lopsided one—to the tune of 48-7—Bunderson talked to his players about pride and accomplishment in the postgame huddle.
"We never thought we'd make it this far. I'm very proud of our guys," Bunderson said of his Cougars, who went 3-7 overall and 3-4 in the Badger Large Conference. "We have 14 seniors who I'm really proud of."
The game was indeed a lopsided one, with Mukwonago (9-1) opening a 31-7 halftime lead and scoring two quick touchdowns in the third quarter.
Coach Mike Gnewuch's Mukwonago team threw a monkey wrench into Bunderson's game plan right off the bat, leaning heavily on its passing game to great first-half success—after everyone involved with the Craig program spent the week preparing for a run-heavy attack.
After all, the Craig defense had given up more than 1,000 rushing yards in its last three games alone, and Mukwonago's top two rushers had produced 1,855 yards rushing between them during the regular season.
But when the Cougars packed eight players in and around the line of scrimmage to stop the run, Mukwonago junior quarterback Evan Herbig was picking apart the pass defense, throwing over and around the opposition. He completed all of his first 13 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns, both caught by Jake Timmers.
"We thought they were going to try and punch it down their throats, but instead they went through the air," Craig junior linebacker Jake Schaffner said.
Herbig did make one mistake late in the first half, though. He underthrew a mid-range pass toward the left sideline—and it went right into the hands of Schaffner, who zipped across the field for a 38-yard touchdown on an interception return.
"He kind of threw it right at me," Schaffner said. "My eyes were open this wide when I saw it coming my way."
But Mukwonago marched down to finish the first half with a 43-yard field goal by left-footed kicker Sam Sonnenberg—and then opened the second half with a five-play, 53-yard touchdown drive.
Mukwonago's defense then held Craig to negative yardage on its next possession, and Zach Pitzel blocked Klietz's punt and Gavin Adams recovered in the end zone to make it 45-7 with 8:26 left in the third quarter, engaging the running clock.
Craig's offense never really threatened to get into the end zone. The Cougars were held to 183 total yards and seven first downs. In the second half, they managed only 64 yards.
On the other hand, Herbig completed 16 of 18 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns, and Mukwonago piled up 220 yards on 20 rushing attempts—with 134 of those rushing yards gained after halftime.
Mukwonago rushing leader Jake Adams totaled 64 yards on nine carries and scored twice.
Caleb Brager, a Craig senior co-captain, said his team would soon be able to shrug off the loss and reflect on the overachieving Cougars' complete season.
"Having the chance to make the playoffs was a lot of fun, and it showed people we're going to play tough and fight to the end," said Brager, who caught four passes for 38 yards. "We'll have lots of good memories."
JANESVILLE CRAIG 7
M—Jake Adams 5 run (Sam Sonnenberg kick). M—Jake Timmers 8 pass from Evan Herbig (Sonnenberg kick). M—Timmers 13 pass from Herbig (Sonnenberg kick). M—Adams 4 run (Sonnenberg kick), 6:01. JC—Jake Schaffner 38 interception return. M—Sonnenberg 43 field goal. M—Wynn Stang 5 run (Sonnenberg kick). M—Gavin Adams recovered blocked punt in end zone (Sonnenberg kick). M—Sonnenberg 37 field goal.
First downs—JC 7, M 27. Rushes-yards—JC 21-19, M 20-220. Passing yards—JC 164, M 218. Passing—JC 16-26-1, M 17-19-1. Fumbles-lost—JC 1-0, M 2-0. Penalties-yards—JC 4-23, M 4-35.