You can’t make mistakes against good football teams. And River Falls found that out the hard way in a season-ending loss Friday night, Nov. 1.
Medford parlayed a long pass play for one touchdown, and interception return to set up another, and a bad River Falls snap on a punt that resulted in a safety into a 16-14 victory over the Wildcats in a WIAA Division 3 Level 2 playoff game in Medford.
The loss ended the Wildcat’s season with a record of 8-3 while Medford improved to 11-0 and advances to the state quarterfinals to face Menomonie (10-1) Friday night, Nov. 8, in Menomonie.
“We put ourselves in some tough spots, and in the playoffs against a good team like Medford who is undefeated, you can’t do that,” River Falls’ coach David Crail said. “They didn’t make mistakes and we did. And it ended up biting us pretty hard.”
The Cats went into the game looking to slow down the Raider’s strong run game, led by bruising running back Ean Wilson. Wilson had a three-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to give the Raiders a 14-6 lead, but only after Medford picked off a Wildcat pass and ran it all the way back inside the River Falls’ five yard-line.
The Cats seized momentum early when Arsenio Black picked off a Raider pass in the end zone, his fifth interception of the season, on the Raider’s opening drive, and River Falls marched 80 yards ending with a 1-yard touchdown run by Michael Krueger. But in a sign of things to come the extra point attempt went wide and the Cats had a 6-0 lead six minutes into the game.
Medford quarterback Logan Baumgartner, who went just 2-for-5 passing in the game, hit Doug Way for a 26-yard touchdown early in the second quarter to give the Raiders a 7-6 lead.
The defenses took over for the rest of the second quarter and deep into the third with the Wildcats getting some key fourth down stops and the Raiders grabbing a pair of interceptions, including one to set up Wilson’s three-yard touchdown to extend Medford’s lead to 14-6 with 3:29 remaining in the third.
But the Cats came right back with quarterback Peter Noreen finding tight end Joe Stoffel in stride for a 60-yard touchdown to pull the Wildcats within two, 14-12.
The Cats dug into their bag of tricks for the two-point conversion try when Noreen handed off to Jaden Schwantz and Schwantz pitched the ball back to Payton Flood, who found a wide open Noreen in the end zone to tie the score, 14-14, at the end of three.
After holding Medford to a three-and-out to start the fourth quarter, the Wildcats took over at their own 21-yard line, but on 4th-and-8 a high snap sailed over punter Stoffel’s head and he was forced to kick the ball out the back of the end zone for a safety and a 16-14 Medford lead with just under nine minutes remaining.
River Falls forced a punt on Medford’s ensuing possession, and following an 11-yard run by Krueger, the Cats had a 1st-and-10 at Medfords’ 43. But Noreen couldn’t find an open receiver on 4th-and-9 before being pushed out of bounds, and the Raiders took over with 1:52 remaining and needed just one first down to seal the win.
Crail said the Wildcats did a lot of things well in the game, and stressed that Medford played a really good football game, but the Wildcat mistakes, which had been largely avoided during the regular season, were too much to overcome.
“They were errors we hadn’t made during the course of the season,” he said. “It was a series of things, and from my perspective there were maybe some coaching things that we would do differently. It’s not easy when those things end your season but that’s football. And that’s life as well. Things don’t always go as planned but you have to live with it.”
Crail, in his third season as Wildcat coach, said he felt particularly bad for the team’s 19 seniors.
“This is such a good group of kids, and the senior group has been so much fun to be around,” he said. “Most of those seniors have contributed on some level over the last two years and some played as sophomores. They worked hard and did everything we asked them to do, on and off the field. It’s tough to see them play their last game when they’ve been such a big part of what this program is all about. They’re truly good individuals and good people and they’re going to be missed.”