RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- This has been anything but a normal season for high school fall sports, but even Covid wasn’t going to stop the 103rd meeting between the Hudson and River Falls football teams.
In one of the oldest rivalries in the state, the Raiders and Wildcats played another classic in the annual battle for the Little Brown Jug Saturday, Oct. 24 in River Falls, with Hudson scoring two touchdowns in the final eight minutes to post a 31-20 victory and reclaim the jug after a one year absence.
The Little Brown Jug, the traveling trophy that goes to the winner of the annual Hudson-River Falls football game, had spent the past year in River Falls after the Wildcats snapped a 10-year losing streak to the Raiders in last season's matchup. But Hudson got a 4-yard touchdown run from Mateo Bonnin with 7:56 remaining Saturday to take the lead for good, and Owen Anderson scored from two yards out with 4:25 left to bring the trophy back to Hudson.
Hudson coach Adam Kowles said you could throw strategy and scheming out the window when the Raiders and Wildcats meet for the Little Brown Jug.
“I told the guys before the game, I said this kind of game is not about Xs and Os,” he said. “It’s really not even about execution. It’s about your will and your fire inside and making plays. And that’s what the guys did. I’m so proud of them.”
The Raiders made plenty of plays early by scoring on their first two possessions of the game. Anderson found Bonnin at the goal line from 33-yards out four minutes into the contest before Bonnin scored on a seven-yard run two minutes later to give the Raiders a quick 14-0 lead.
For River Falls, it was their first game since Oct. 2 due to COVID quarantining, but head coach David Crail didn’t want to use that as an excuse for the Wildcats’ slow start.
“We obviously started off really, really slow,” he said. “We couldn’t get any stops defensively and they were able to just take the ball down the field and pretty much do whatever they wanted. I don’t know if that is a byproduct of not having played in a couple of weeks and just getting three practices in, but that energy level just wasn’t there. And getting used to the speed again was obviously something that we struggled with in that first quarter.”
The Wildcats finally got going by converting a 4th-and-2 near midfield at the end of the first quarter and a pair of first down runs by Michael Krueger before quarterback Vito Massa hit Michael Schurman from 11-yards out to make it a 14-6 game after the Raiders blocked the extra point.
Hudson extended its lead to 17-6 with a 23-yard field goal from Alex Muenich midway through the second before Jaden Schwantz returned the ensuing kick out to midfield and Massa and Isaiah Gray hooked up for a long gain. Gavin Kohel punched it over from the one to cut Hudson’s lead to 17-13 with 1:52 remaining in the half.
The Wildcats kept the momentum on their side with a Sam Cleveland interception right in front of the Hudson bench, and with time running out Massa got off a pass under pressure that was hauled in by Logan Zyduck at the Raider 10, and Zyduck dove for the pylon as the clock hit zero but was ruled out of bounds at the one.
Cleveland came up with his second interception to end a Raider drive in the red zone at the start of the third quarter but Hudson returned the favor when Jordan Spann picked off a 30-yard pass intended for Gray in the end zone to preserve the Raiders’ four-point lead. But Massa found Gray in the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter to give River Falls’ its first lead of the game, 20-17.
After Bonnin’s go-ahead score with 7:56 left the Raiders snuffed out a fake punt attempt by the Wildcats at their own 27 which led to Anderson’s two-yard TD run with 4:24 remaining. River Falls had two more chances but a 4th-and-13 pass fell incomplete with 3:31 left, and Massa was sacked by Hudson’s Evan Tyler on 4th down with 1:39 remaining.
Kowles said it’s been tough on his players to not see the Little Brown Jug in the school’s trophy case the past year.
“It was different because guys weren’t walking by it in the hall all the time and they don’t see it,” he said. “Everything right now with high school is not the same. They’re missing out on homecoming and dances and pep fests and seeing people in the hallway and not having masks on. They’re missing out on a lot of things. But when you play football, it’s football. This is the one piece that’s kind of normal, and I’m just happy for these guys.”
Bonnin finished with 202 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries and caught three passes for 38 yards and a score while Anderson completed 6-of-9 passes for 94 yards and added 39 yards on the ground.
Massa finished 11-of-21 passing for 143 yards and two touchdowns for River Falls while Krueger carried the ball 22 times for 84 yards.
Despite the loss, Crail said Saturday’s game is what rivalries are all about.
“Over the course of the last few years it’s turned into a really fun game, and we look forward to it,” he said. “And with us being so close and our schools being so competitive in other sports and these kids knowing each other-- it’s fun. It’s fun to get together and have those games be competitive and have it come down, at least in this case, to the last few couple possessions. That is the type of rivalry game you want.”
The Wildcats, now 2-1 on the season, will play a makeup game at Menomonie this Friday, Oct. 30, while Hudson will host Wisconsin Rapids.
Late TD lifts Tigers over Chippewa
New Richmond coach Reggie Larson said the Tigers learned a lot from their two Big Rivers Conference losses to Hudson and Menomonie. And they used those lessons to pull out a 13-10 BRC victory at Chippewa Falls Friday night.
Andrew Trandahl busted loose for a 76-yard touchdown run with 6:41 remaining to give New Richmond a 13-10 lead, and Drew Effertz came up with a huge interception on Chippewa Falls’ final drive to snap the Tigers’ two-game losing streak and even their record at 2-2 on the season.
“Looking at the film from the Hudson and Menomonie games, we knew we needed to come out faster and stronger and more physical,” he said. “We can’t keep spotting teams 21 points and expect to win.”
For the first time in three games it was the Tigers who struck first, with Seamus Scanlan and Sully Weiss connecting for a 19-yard first quarter touchdown to take a 7-0 lead.
Chippewa got a touchdown on its first possession of the second half and took a 10-7 lead with a 27-yard field goal with 5:14 remaining in the third quarter before Trandahl took a direct snap and broke free from 76 yards out with 6:41 remaining and the Cardinals blocked the extra point to keep it a three-point game.
The Tigers forced the Cardinals to punt on their ensuing possession and ran more than four minutes off the clock before Effertz’s interception with under a minute remaining sealed the deal.
Larson said the Tigers did a great job of executing on Trandahl’s game-winning run.
“It was kind of a quarterback counter where he faked a handoff to our other fast running back and took off,” Larson noted. “And once he takes off not many people are going to catch him. He’s a special player and we’re lucky to have him.”
Trandahl finished with 159 yards on 13 carries while Scanlan completed 10-of-13 passes for 82 yards. Trandahl also paced the Tiger defense with nine total tackles.
The Tigers will visit Baldwin-Woodville this Friday, Oct. 30.