The Madison Blaze were looking to end on a high note on Saturday night as they took on the Iowa Crush in their 2016 regular season and home finale at Middleton High School. After losing three of their last four games, the Blaze were determined to put forth one of their best games of the season.
The Blaze won the coin toss and elected to defer to the second half, giving their defense a chance to start off the game and set the tone early. After getting off to a sluggish start, and allowing the Crush offense to move into Blaze territory, the defense came up big on fourth down when Laurie Gott sacked the Crush quarterback for a loss of six yards.
Taking over deep in their own territory, the Blaze offense came out firing, starting the drive with a 14 yard completion by Stefanie Brettingen-Nash to McKenzie Forseth, and a 23 yard run by Akiya Alexander. Two plays later the Blaze found themselves in Crush territory after Kara Haines exploded through the defense for a 30 yard gain which set up a 20 yard touchdown run by Kirsten Madisen. With McKenize Forseth’s extra point, the Blaze jumped out to an early 7-0 lead.
“We wanted to set the tone on offense and get big yardage. Plus we’ve had a bad taste in our mouth from the losses so we were just hungry. The coach told me he was calling a sweep for me so I just wanted to gain as many yards as possible.” Says on Alexander on her big pick up.
"With the big runs we were hoping to set the tone of the game early on." Says Haines.
“I saw that I wasn’t going to be able to go all the way outside so I cut it up a little bit because I knew that they weren’t going to be able to have the right angle to tackle me at that point. Says Madisen on her touchdown run. Just like every game, it’s important to get that first score and set the pace early.” Said Madisen on her touchdown run.
On the ensuing Crush possession, the Blaze defense capitalized on the momentum as Lydia Sujewicz, who has come up with a number of big plays since her move to corner, stepped in front of a Crush pass for the interception to give the football right back to the Blaze.
“Well I knew that #14 was their quarterback’s favorite receiver so I tried to do all that I could to cover her every time she was on my side. On that pass I did what I always try to do, cover, find the receiver, and then find the ball. I saw it go up and fall short so I went after it.” Says Sujewicz
The Blaze offense quickly capitalized on the turnover, as Alexander took the handoff on a jet sweep and raced through the Crush defense for 57 yards and all the way to the end zone to give the Blaze a 13-0 lead.
“I just followed my lead blockers and bounced to the outside. Then as my coach would say I just ran to daylight.” Said Alexander.
Wanting to keep the trend going of making one big play after another, the Blaze defense continued its relentless attack on the Crush offense on the next possession. As soon as the Crush moved into Blaze territory it was Haines who would deliver the next knockout blow by intercepting a pass and out running everyone for an 82 yard pick six to make it 19-0. The score would hold for the rest of the half, as the Blaze held the Crush to a missed field goal on the next drive.
"I saw all of the receivers in front of me and then glanced back at the quarterback and she was getting pressured so I sat back and waited. I knew that it was coming my way because it was her only option. I saw it coming and made a play on it." Says Haines.
Not wanting to waste any time, the Blaze offense came out all guns blazing to start the second half with Haines doing it all herself. After returning the kickoff 22 yards, she followed up with runs of three and four yards before breaking off a 51 yard touchdown run to extend the Blaze lead to 25-0.
"It was important to keep the momentum going and start the half with that touchdown." Says Haines.
Late in the game, the Blaze would add one more touchdown, as Madisen would strike again with a 38 yard touchdown run that, due to a number of tremendous blocks by the offensive line, saw her zig-zag across the field through tacklers on her way to the end zone. The Blaze followed up the touchdown run with a two point conversion on a pass to Kaarina Stehley in the middle of the end zone to give the Blaze the 33-0 lead.
“I wanted another big touchdown run so I just kept thinking to keep my feet moving and just run. If I did that, they weren’t going to catch me. The offensive line got their blocks down quick enough and long enough for me to get through there quick. They really did a great job for me on that that play.” Says Madisen on the touchdown run.
“I was in as the tight end and Stef called a passing play. So I ran the play and they left me wide open. It was kind of exciting even though it was only a two point conversion. Playing tight end was very enjoyable for me. I like blocking for my quarterback and running backs, and catching an occasional pass every now and then.” Explains Stehley on her two point conversion.
Adding to the outstanding performance by the Blaze defense throughout the game, Jamine White recorded a sack late in the fourth quarter that resulted in a 12 yard loss. The sack, White said, was dedicated to her grandmother, who was in attendance with the aid of her health agency from Racine. It was White’s fourth sack of the season, which led the team.
“Our defense was extremely successful against Iowa. We changed our defense up in practice and those changes that we made allowed our defensive line to get lower and be explosive off the ball. That freed up other defensive players to see the backfield, read there keys and make spectacular plays.” Says White.
“In regards to the sack itself, I wanted to make my grandmother proud. She is my biggest supporter and the biggest supporter or women’s sports, especially football. She is an amazing woman. I went into the game with the mindset that I would get a sack for her and when I saw that the quarterback was trying to roll right on that play, I knew that I would get her. When I got my hand on her, I just told myself that this was for my grandmother and dragged her down the ground. I even managed to tip a punt in this game too. Having her and the rest of my family there made this the most memorable game that I have ever played.” She adds.
Following the sack by White, it was Pam Close who put the official seal on the 33-0 Blaze victory and ended the game with the third Blaze interception of the day.
“Time was running out in the game so we knew that Iowa had to pass the ball if they were going to score but the defense was determined to not let that happen. We hadn’t had a shutout since the first game of the season and we wanted to end the regular season with a shutout and carry the momentum into the playoffs.” Says Close.
“Earlier in the game I thought I had good coverage on my receivers but didn’t get my head around to see the ball and they complete some passes that I might have been able to make a play on. Coach Tsusa reminded me to first get in good position with the receiver and then look back at the quarterback to locate the ball. I made the adjustment in the second half and waited for my opportunity.” She explains.
“On that play I backed up 5 yards which allowed me to see the routes of both receivers on my side. The outside receiver ran a slant across my zone and was picked up by Kaarina. The slot receiver ran a wheel route which I covered until she left my zone and was picked up by Ali. Once the receiver was past my zone I turned, settled into my zone and looked for the ball. All week in practice we had worked on going after the ball, so when I saw it in the air I went for it.” She adds
The Blaze players firmly believe that it was important to end the regular season on a high note with a solid game on both sides of the football and that they will be able to use the confidence and momentum that they gained as they begin to prepare for their first playoff game.
“It’s definitely a step in the right direction for the playoffs. We hope to take this as a boost and come ready to play in North Carolina.” Says Stehley.
“A win is always a confidence booster. It solidifies us knowing that we can do it and that we can win. Keeping the team moral high with a season ending win is a great way to head into the playoffs.” Says Sujewicz.
“It’s definitely a confidence booster, especially considering that we just suffered back to back losses. Plus this game gave our great fans one great home game, with great weather to end the season. Victory is always a good feeling.” Says Alexander.
"The win is definitely a confidence builder, and gives us confidence as we head into the playoffs. It was important for us to win that game because losing isn't our style. It's not the Blaze manner." Adds Haines.
“I thought this was one of our more balanced games on both sides of the ball. The offense was moving the ball and scoring, and the defense was stopping the opponent from scoring. Ending the regular season with a shutout in front of our home crowd provided us with some much needed confidence heading into the playoffs. We were coming off a tough road loss in Minnesota, so ending the regular season with a win was important. We have a lot of work ahead of us to get ready for the playoffs but we are up for the challenge.” Says Close.
“A victory like this is a great motivator for the entire team. Our offense scored more points than our season average, and our defense played very well as a functioning unit. It felt great winning at home for our amazing fans. I think this win will be the catalyst for us to be a very successful team in the playoffs.” Says White.
Statistical leaders for the Blaze included Haines with 126 yards rushing, and Alexander with 80 yards rushing on offense, and Tonya Shaver with 5 tackles, and White and Stehley with 4 tackles on each on defense.
With the victory the Blaze finish the regular season 5-3 and in second place in the Midwest Division. Up next for the Madison Blaze, they will travel to North Carolina to play the Carolina Phoenix on July 9th for a chance to play in their third straight Founder’s Bowl.