RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- When the River Falls football team struggled to throw the ball in the first half at Rice Lake Friday night, the Wildcats turned to their workhorses to carry the load the rest of the game.
The Wildcats pounded the rock for 157 yards and two touchdowns in the second half to pull out a 19-14 victory over the Warriors and move to 2-0 in Big Rivers Conference play. Senior running back Michael Krueuger had 21 of his 34 carries after the break and finished with 215 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with just under six minutes remaining.
River Falls coach David Crail said after the Wildcats completed just one pass and were intercepted twice in the first half, the Cats changed their game plan to feature returning first team All-BRC running back Krueger and the offensive line in the second half.
“When we were inefficient in our passing game we decided to just lean on Krueger and our line and allow him to carry us,” Crail said. “And that’s what happened in the second half. We just got on the shoulders of Michael and the line and let them do their thing.”
Things started well for the Cats when they got a four-yard touchdown run from Krueger on their first possession of the game. But Rice Lake’s defense held River Falls quarterbacks Ronald Sackett and Vito Massa to a combined 2-of-9 passing with two interceptions and came back to tie the score, 7-7, at the break.
After Rice Lake went up 14-7, Krueger carried the ball nine times for 44 yards as the Cats marched 69 yards in 12 plays, ending with a Cole Evavold touchdown run. But the point-after attempt hit the left upright, leaving the Wildcats trailing 14-13 at the end of three.
River Falls took possession with about 10 minutes remaining and went 74 yards on 11 straight running plays, the last a three-yard touchdown run by Krueger. The two-point conversion attempt failed and the Cats’ lead was 19-14 with 5:50 left.
Rice Lake recovered a Wildcat fumble with 2:45 remaining., but the Wildcat defense forced the Warriors to turn the ball over on downs and Krueger iced the game with a first down run to send the Cats into the victory formation.
Crail said the Wildcats did a much better job of controlling the game in the second half.
“Rice Lake, they do what they do and typically they do it pretty well,” he said. “Historically, they’ve been a tough team that’s very disciplined in their approach and they’re very well-coached. And they played very well, but at the same time, I don’t think that we did -- particularly in the first half. We struggled with our execution and even though the game was tied I just didn’t feel like we played our best football.”
After two weeks the Wildcats are the only tea in the BRC that is 2-0, but Crail said the Cats have a lot of work to do in order to improve to 3-0 next week at Menomonie. The Mustangs are coming off a 42-0 victory over New Richmond after losing to Hudson, 30-23, a week earlier.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” he said. “We need to do a lot of things over the course of this week to improve in a number of different areas, and if we do that I expect it to be a really good contest.
Hudson handed first loss at Chippewa
Hudson couldn’t hold on to a 14-0 second quarter lead as Chippewa Falls scored the last 17 points of the game to hand the Raiders their first loss of the season, 17-14, Friday night in Chippewa Falls.
The Cardinals got a touchdown and two-point conversion midway through the fourth quarter to pick up their first win of the season.
“I thought we played flat, even early when we had the lead,” Raider coach Adam Kowles said. “I know it's different with limited fans, but we have to find a way to bring our own energy. Too many missed assignments, missed reads, missed tackles, missed opportunities.”
Hudson struck first with a two-yard touchdown run from quarterback Owen Anderson late in the first quarter and got an eight-yard TD pass from Anderson to Troy Bounting midway through the second quarter to open up a 14-0 lead. But Chippewa Falls scored with 50 seconds left in the second quarter, and after a missed extra point the Raiders took a 14-6 lead into the locker room.
Hudson couldn’t get anything going in the second half, and after a scoreless third quarter, Chippewa got a 43-yard field goal with 11:02 left and an eight-yard touchdown run and two-point conversion with 6:20 remaining to earn the three-point win.
Kowles said the Raiders were “off” the entire game.
“We continue to talk about the fact that we never know what's going to happen this year, so we need to go out and play and practice like every chance we get is our last,” he said. “I don't think we played with that sense of urgency. I'm confident we will bounce back and play with some fire the next time we take the field, but this one was disappointing. I know the guys have been through a lot this year and I know they will respond.”
Anderson completed 9-of-21 passes for 121 yards and Carter Mears had a 25-yard completion while the Raiders were held to 113 yards on the ground, led by Hunter Danielson with 48 yards on nine carries. Bunting ended up catching five passes for 73 yards.
The Raiders return home to host New Richmond (1-1) 7 p.m. Friday.
New Richmond gets wakeup call at Menomonie
New Richmond coach Reggie Larson said if the Tigers learned one thing in their 42-0 loss at Menomonie Friday it’s that there’s still a lot of work to do to consistently compete in the Big Rivers Conference.
“It really showed our kids the level that we need to play at to be successful,” Larson said. “When you look at the grand scheme of things, we’re 1-1. But I think that game really showed that this is what Big Rivers football is about. That’s a team that’s been to the playoffs the last 30 years and that’s a level that we’re striving to get to.”
Larson said the Tigers may have let their guard down a little after beating Rice Lake in their BRC opener the week before.
“I think us beating Rice Lake, maybe we thought oh, this Big Rivers jump isn’t as big as we thought it was going to be,” he said. “So honestly I think it was a little bit of a wake-up call for us. Did we win our first Big Rivers game? Absolutely. I’m very proud of us, we’re 1-1, but that’s not the way that we need to conduct our practices and our season if we’re going to continue to be successful in this league.”
And he knows things won’t get any easier when the Tigers travel to Hudson this week.
“That’s the class of the Big Rivers and that’s what we talk about week in and week out, where we feel good about ourselves after beating Rice Lake, but you have to turn around and get the group ready to go play Menomonie,” he said. “And when that’s done you have to go play Hudson next week. What it comes down to is none of those teams are going to feel sorry for us and none of them should, that’s just Big Rivers football and we need to adapt or it's not going to go well.”