The Wildcat football team has done some good things in its first two games of the season. Head coach David Crail would just like to see more of them.
In their home opener Friday night, Aug. 25, against Ellsworth, the Wildcats took the second half kickoff and marched 72 yards to cut the Panther's lead to six on a 1-yard touchdown plunge by sophomore Seth Kohel. But that's as close as they could get in a 13-7 loss that dropped their record to 0-2 to start the season.
"We struggled all night with the exception of that drive," Crail said. "We had some things that we did well and some things we did not so well. It comes down to execution, and that's something that over the course of the first two games we have to do a better job of coaching up."
The Wildcats picked off Ellsworth quarterback Drake Flom three times, including once in the end zone by junior defensive back Adam Feyereisen on the Panthers' opening drive of the game. Flom hooked up with Logan Benson for a 36-yard touchdown pass later in the quarter and found Ryan McGregor from 17-yards out in the second quarter to stake Ellsworth to a 13-7 halftime lead.
River Falls started the second half at its own 28 yard-line and went right to work with senior quarterback Ryan Flanagan finding junior Nate Rixmann and sophomore Payton Flood to move the ball to midfield and Kohel breaking through on a fourth down run into Panther territory.
Facing 4th-and-6 at the Ellsworth 7 yard-line, Flanagan hit Rixmann who was brought down at the one before Kohel went up the gut for his first touchdown of the season. Luke Nelson added the extra point and the Cats were within six, 13-7, with 7:15 remaining in the third quarter.
Flanagan completed 12-of-23 passes for 107 yards in the game while junior quarterback Logan Graetz was 6-of-13 for 95 yards. After attempting just nine passes in the season opener at New Richmond, Crail said the Cats were looking to air things out more against Ellsworth.
"We came in with the thought process that we were going to throw the ball more and use both Logan and Ryan," the coach said. "But when it got to be the third and fourth quarter and you're still down it became a little more of a necessity."
Following Kohel's touchdown, senior defensive back Joey Davis intercepted a long pass by Flom at the Wildcat 41 yard-line but a second down sack resulted in the Cat's punting the ball away on 4th-and-19.
Ellsworth got as far as the Wildcat 11 yard-line early in the fourth quarter but Flom's fourth down pass intended for McGregor in the end zone was broken up by junior defensive back Jacob Miller.
"Hats off to our defense," Crail said. "We gave up a lot of yards but made solid plays when we needed to."
After a Wildcat three-and-out, Davis picked off Flom for the second time at his own 20 yard line but River Falls couldn't capitalize.
After coming up short on 4th-and-7 at the Panther 43 and forcing Ellsworth to punt with 2:26 remaining, Graetz found Flood deep down the sideline for a 30-yard gain out to midfield, but the Cats couldn't move the ball from there and Graetz's fourth down sideline pass intended for Flood just beyond the first down markers was off the mark, allowing the Panthers to run out the clock for the win.
Flood caught five passes for 67 yards and Rixmann had five catches for 55 yards while Stoffel caught five balls for 48. Kohel was the Wildcats' leading rusher with 78 yards in 25 attempts.
Feyereisen led the defense with seven tackles while Davis, Jackson Cleveland and Mitchell Williamson registered one sack each.
Crail said the Wildcat focus in practice this week will be simple.
"Our key this week is going to be on consistency," he said. "New Richmond, we played a great first half and dominated the line of scrimmage and played well, then the second half wasn't so great. If you look at Ellsworth, we had times we did some things really well but other times we didn't and it cost us.
"I really like the way the kids are playing," he added. "Our intensity level has been good in both games. We just need to be more consistent in our level of play."
Friday's game was the first between the Panthers and Wildcats since 2011, and marked Ellsworth's first win over River Falls since 2006.
The Wildcats head to Menomonie this Friday, Sept. 1, to open Big Rivers Conference play against the Mustangs. Menomonie is coming off a 49-14 victory over Holmen and is ranked sixth in the Wissports.Net Coaches poll.