BELOIT - While Friday's pregame shower ended by kickoff, Janesville Craig still rained on the Purple Knights' parade on opening night at Jacobson Field.
Determined to pick up where it left off after a three-win season in 2017, Beloit Memorial's football team struggled in many of the same areas which have consistently been its downfall: too many turnovers, no running game and shaky depth.
It added up to a 27-7 victory for the visiting Cougars in both teams' Big Eight Conference opener.
"We can't throw careless picks and we have to get the ball to our playmakers more," Beloit head coach Rodney Wedig lamented. "A lost fumble and a 20-yard drive plus a pick-six. That's the first half and we had a ball that if we catch, it's a touchdown."
The Knights' key fumble came on the second play of the game and the Cougars scored five plays later on a 4-yard touchdown run by Parker Glissendorf. Craig made it 14-0 with 3:30 remaining in the first quarter when Eric Hughes picked off a pass by Beloit's Gannon Rand and returned it 57 yards for a score.
Beloit did little offensively, botching their best play when Matthew Wedig's tackle-breaking dash on a fake punt for a first down was nullified by a penalty.
Still, thanks to Fredrick Davis recovering a fumble to kill a Craig threat, the Knights were hanging in there. But in a space of four plays in the third quarter they lost defensive linemen Christian Winfield (shoulder) and Kevin Griffin (leg cramp).
"Once Christian and Kevin went down (the Cougars) notice it and started gashing us up the middle," senior Wedig said. "I was playing inside backer with two dudes in my face."
"Our defense was doing a pretty good job until we lost the guys on the line and their replacements were getting pushed back into the linebackers," Coach Wedig said. "We don't have the depth. We don't have enough guys who have been dedicated in the weight room in the off-season."
Craig's Tressin Kussmaul scored on an 8-yard run to make it 20-0 with 5:55 remaining. Tegan Christiansen tacked on a 19-yard run score as Craig opened up a 27-0 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Kussmaul gained most of his 120 yards rushing (on 20 carries) in the second half as the Knights' defense continued to battled attrition, fatigue and cramping.
"I had four bananas and I was still cramping up like everybody else," linebacker Wedig said.
The Knights never got Eric Bridges in gear. He finished with 15 carries for 37 yards. Rand was the second-leading carrier with 12 yards. He finished 10-of-33 for 102 yards and two interceptions. Zequan Ulmer had three receptions for 34 yards and Matthew Gibson had three for 33, including a 13-yard TD reception with 7:39 left. Ryan Valenzuela's PAT made the final 27-7 with neither team scoring after that.
"With an inexperienced offensive line, it's hard to get our running game going," Coach Wedig said. "At the same time we can't keep turning the ball over. We preached all week that we have to win that battle."
But they didn't. The coach's son said the team won't let one loss sink them.
"We just have to get back at it," Wedig said. "I know we play (at) Sun Prairie, but I think we can beat anybody. Just not if we play like this. It's pretty simple. We have to stay fired up and not let this get the best of us."
JANESVILLE CRAIG 27, BELOIT MEMORIAL 7
Janesville Craig.....14 0 6 7 - 27
Beloit Memorial...... 0 0 0 7 - 7
JC - Parker Glissendorf, 4, run (Mitchell Woelfle kick)
JC - Eric Hughes, 57, interception return (Woelfle kick)
JC - Tressin Kussmaul, 8, run (run failed)
JC - Tegan Christiansen, 19, run (Woelfle kick)
BM - Matthew Gibson, 13, pass from Gannon Rand (Ryan Valenzuela kick)
Rushing - JC, Kussmaul 20-120, Alderson 4-21. BM, Bridges 15-37, Rand 1-12. Passing - JC Coulter 2-4-0, 22. BM, Rand 10-33-2, 1-2. Receiving = JC, Christiansen 1-10, Alderson 1-12. BM, Gibson 3-32, Ulmer 3-34, Garrett 2-22, Wedig 1-14.