It was an emotional 10 days for the Wildcat football team. After a heartbreaking two-point loss to Menomonie in the final game of the regular season a week ago Thursday, the Cats responded with a 35-14 victory over La Crosse Logan in the opening round of the WIAA playoffs last Tuesday night. They then saw their season come to an end with a 35-28 loss to Marshfield Saturday afternoon in Marshfield.
"For the team to go to La Crosse Central on Tuesday and dominate that game after a tough loss against Menomonie on Thursday really shows what a mentally tough group of young men we have," head coach John Bennett said. "And then to turn around and play the kind of game they did against a very good Marshfield team at their place -- wow -- you just can't ask for more than that from a team."
Last Tuesday's win over La Crosse Central was the first Wildcat playoff victory since 1995 when most of this year's seniors were in pre-school. The Cats jumped out to a 21-0 lead and led 28-0 in the fourth quarter before settling for the 35-14 win.
Saturday in Marshfield, River Falls led 28-7 late in the second quarter before Marshfield pulled to within two scores just before halftime. The Cats went up 35-14 on Sean Gilbert's second touchdown catch of the day early in the third quarter, but Marshfield's Dipo Fagbemi scored the final three touchdowns of the game to allow the Tigers to escape with a 35-28 win.
The Wildcats end the season with a record of 7-4 while Marshfield improved to 8-3 and moves on to face Menomonie (8-3) in a Level 3 playoff game Friday at 7 p.m. in Menomonie. Marshfield defeated Menomonie, 23-15, in the season opener in Marshfield Aug. 28.
The Cats opened the playoffs with a bang when senior Levi Johnson returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown last Tuesday at La Crosse Central (6-4). Four-and-a-half minutes later, quarterback Marty Herum hit wide receiver Sean Gilbert with a 75-yard touchdown pass and the Cats had a quick 14-0 lead.
Midway through the second quarter, Ben Wunrow capped a 13-play, 80-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run to make the score 21-0. The Cats upped their lead to 28-0 on their first possession of the second half on a 16-yard touchdown run by Johnson.
The Red Raiders finally got on the scoreboard with 9:53 remaining on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Bobby Juan to JJ Blaschke. After their onside kick attempt was covered up by River Falls at midfield, the Cats increased their lead to 35-7 on Johnson's third touchdown of the game, a nine-yard run, with six minutes remaining.
Another Juan to Blaschke touchdown pass, this one from 15-yards out with 4:38 left, made the final 35-14.
Johnson finished with 109 yards rushing in 17 carries while Wunrow carried the ball nine times for 66 yards. Herum completed 6-of-8 passes for 164 yards and no interceptions while Tyler Hunter was successful in his only pass attempt of the night -- a 28-yard completion to Gilbert. Gilbert led the Cats in receiving with three catches for 142 yards.
Wunrow added 10 tackles on defense with a fumble recovery and tipped pass while Zach Pavlichek had nine tackles and broke up a pass. Trevor Ross had a sack and a forced fumble while Eric Friede had an interception.
Saturday in Marshfield, the Red Raiders took a 7-0 lead on a 56-yard touchdown run by Fagbemi late in the first quarter. The Cats tied things up on a one-yard touchdown by Wunrow with 10 seconds left in the quarter.
Marshfield fumbled on its next possession and Wildcat defensive lineman Sam Johnson recovered at the Wildcat 34. Wunrow broke free on third-and-three for a 39-yard gain down to the Marshfield 14, and after another five-yard run by Wunrow, Herum found Gilbert in the back of the end zone to put the Cats ahead 14-7.
Marshfield put together an 11-play, 48-yard drive on its next possession but the Cats forced the Tigers to turn the ball over on downs at the River Falls 24. Levi Johnson took the handoff on the very next play and scampered 76 yards for a touchdown to widen the Wildcat lead to 21-7.
Marshfield made it a 21-14 game at halftime on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Luke Accola to Ryan Danczak, but Gilbert picked off an Accola pass near midfield on the Tigers' opening drive of the second half, and after a 28-yard run by Johnson and a two-yard gain by Ryan Young, caught his second touchdown pass of the day from Herum from 24-yards out to widen the Cats' lead to 28-14.
Fagbemi went on to score three more touchdowns on runs of 5, 30 and 4 yards, the last with 5:16 remaining in the game, to give Marshfield the 35-28 win.
"The boys left every ounce of everything they had on the field against Marshfield," Bennett said. "When you pour everything you have into an effort like Saturday, you put yourself at risk for getting your heart broken. But that is what playing the game at its highest level requires. I am so proud of this entire team for putting their hearts on the line and giving everything they've got for the sake of team victory."
Levi Johnson ran for 197 yards and a touchdown in 20 carries and Wunrow added 65 yards and a score in eight attempts. Herum completed 6-of-8 passes for 88 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Pavlichek caught two balls for 32 yards while Gilbert and Eric Gilbertson each had two catches for 23 yards.
Fagbemi carried the ball 31 times for 209 yards and four touchdowns while Accola completed 15-of-22 passes for 224 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
River Falls 14 7 7 7--35
Central 0 0 0 14--14
RF--Levi Johnson 90-yard kickoff return (Marty Herum kick), 11:47.
RF--Sean Gilbert 75-yard pass from Marty Herum (Marty Herum kick), 7:09.
RF--Ben Wunrow 4-yard run (Marty Herum kick), 8:14.
RF--Levi Johnson 16-yard run (Marty Herum kick), 6:27.
LCC--JJ Blaschke 12-yard pass from Bobby Juan (Bobby Juan kick), 9:53.
RF--Levi Johnson 9-yard run (Marty Herum kick), 6:00.
LCC--JJ Blaschke 15-yard pass from Bobby Juan (Bobby Juan kick), 4:38.
First Downs 17 12
Rushing 44-261 34-137
Passing 7-9-0-185 11-29-1-142
Offense 446 279
Fumbles 0 1
Penalties 3-25 1-10
RUSHING: Levi Johnson 17-109; Ben Wunrow 9-66; Mitch Webb 6-23; Sean Gilbert 1-21; Ryan Young 3-17; Oscar White 2-14; Dan Keller 1-11; Tyler Hunter 2-5; Henry Higgins 1-3; Spencer Meyers 1-2; Marty Herum 1-0.
PASSING: Marty Herum 6-8-0-164-1; Tyler Hunter 1-1-0-21-0.
RECEIVING: Sean Gilbert 3-142; Eric Gilbertson 2-23; Levi Johnson 1-14; Will Johnson 1-6.
PUNTS: Marty Herum 3-70.
TACKLES (Solo-Assist): Ben Wunrow 10-0; Zach Pavlichek 7-2; Eric Friede 6-0; Sam Johnson 5-0; Eric Gilbertson 3-1; Luke Johnson 3-0; Trevor Ross 3-0; Dylan Dock 1-2; Lance Westberg 2-0; Tyler Hunter 2-0; Sean Gilbert 2-0; Spencer Meyers 2-0; Marty Herum 1-1; Mark Bennett 0-2; Henry Higgins 1-0; Tony Mishek 1-0; Zach Bennett 1-0; Will Johnson 1-0.
TACKLES FOR LOSS: Trevor Ross.
FORCED FUMBLE: Trevor Ross.
FUMBLE RECOVERY: Ben Wunrow, Mitch Webb.
INTERCEPTIONS: Eric Friede.
TIPPED PASS: Lance Westberg, Sean Gilbert, Ben Wunrow, Zach Pavlichek.
River Falls 7 14 7 0--28
Marshfield 7 7 7 14--35
Mar--Dipo Fagbemi 56-yard run (Jordan Koranda kick), 4:17
RF--Ben Wunrow 1-yard run (Marty Herum kick), 0:10.
RF--Sean Gilbert 9-yard pass from Marty Herum (Marty Herum kick), 8:49.
RF--Levi Johnson 76-yard run (Marty Herum kick), 4:05.
Mar--Ryan Danczak 9-yard pass from Luke Accola (Jordan Koranda kick), 1:28.
RF--Sean Gilbert 24-yard pass from Marty Herum (Marty Herum kick), 10:23.
Mar--Dipo Fagbemi 5-yard run (Jordan Koranda kick), 5:27.
Mar--Dipo Fagbemi 30-yard run (Jordan Koranda kick), 10:48.
Mar--Dipo Fagbemi 4-yard run (Jordan Koranda kick), 5:16.
First Downs 15 25
Rushing 41-260 35-213
Passing 7-11-0-82 15-22-1-224
Offense 342 437
Punts: 5-192 2-84
Returns Yds. 4-60 4-22
Fumbles 0 2
Penalties 4-50 8-65
RUSHING: Levi Johnson 20-197; Ben Wunrow 8-65; Tyler Hunter 4-7; Zach Pavlichek 1-6; Ryan Young 1-2; Mitch Webb 1-0; Sean Gilbert 1-(-4); Marty Herum 5-(-13).
PASSING: Marty Herum 6-8-0-88-2; Tyler Hunter 1-2-0-(-6)-0; Levi Johnson 0-1-0-0-0.
RECEIVING: Zach Pavlichek 2-32; Sean Gilbert 2-23; Eric Gilbertson 2-23; Zach Bennett 1-(-6).
PUNTS: Marty Herum 4-159; Lance Westberg 1-33.
KICKOFF RETURNS: Levi Johnson 3-45; Zach Bennett 1-15.
FORCED FUMBLE: Luke Johnson, Sam Johnson.
FUMBLE RECOVERY: Luke Johnson, Sam Johnson.
INTERCEPTIONS: Sean Gilbert.