With two teams that rely on the ground game, it was the team that made plays through the air that prevailed.
The Menomonie football team had four pass plays of more than 20 yards in the first half as the Mustangs built an early cushion on their way to a 34-8 victory over Medford in a Division 3 level three playoff game at Don and Nona Williams Stadium on Friday.
“It was something we had really worked a lot on — our passing game — during the week,” Menomonie coach Joe LaBuda said. “We were hoping it wasn’t going to be too windy and it wasn’t too bad. We felt our receivers could beat their DBs.”
Menomonie advances to face Menasha — which defeated West DePere 24-14 on Friday — in level four playoff action Friday in Marshfield. The winner will move on to play for a Division 3 state championship on Friday, Nov. 22 at 10 a.m. at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison against the winner of the DeForest/New Berlin Eisenhower semifinal.
It only took two offensive plays for Menomonie to turn a 6-0 lead into a 21-0 advantage.
The defense came up with a huge stop on fourth and one near midfield with the second quarter just underway, giving the ball back to the offense.
Quarterback Tyler Werner found his receiver Davis Barthen, who had beaten his defender and was racing down the sideline. Werner dropped it into Barthen and he took it the distance.
After a three-and-out stop by the Mustangs on the next Medford possession, Jed Ogea found some space on the punt return to give the Mustangs excellent field position on the Medford 39-yard line.
On the next play Kaleb Kazmarek found himself wide open downfield with the entire Red Raiders defense looking for a run. Werner located Kazmarek and he did the rest, giving Menomonie the three-score lead with a little more than nine minutes until halftime.
“It’s something we felt like we could catch their DBs in, so that’s something we went after,” LaBuda said of big plays after a change of possession.
The Menomonie defense faced a big test against a Medford offense which was use to establishing the run. Medford ran for 207 yards on the night but needed 45 carries to do so.
Menomonie forced three turnovers along with three turnover on downs. Ogea and Barthen both pulled in interceptions for the Mustangs in the second half.
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“I thought our defense played phenomenal...Those stops were a big point in the game,” LaBuda said of the turnovers.
Medford scored its only points on a 39-yard run by Ean Wilson in the fourth quarter. Wilson entered the contest with more than 2,000 yards rushing on the season, according to Wissports.net. He finished the game with 29 attempts for 115 yards.
Menomonie added a touchdown on the final play of the first half. On third and one with nine seconds left at the Medord 31-yard line Werner lofted the ball to Barthen in the field of play. Barthen caught the ball at about the 8-yard line, evaded a defender and dove for the corner pylon for the score to cap a dominant first half from the Mustangs.
Menomonie got on the scoreboard near the close of the first quarter as Thomas Poplawksi score the first points of the game on a 5-yard run with 55 seconds to play in the first. The Mustangs kept the scoring drive alive with two third down completions. First Werner completed a 26-yard pass to Barthen on third and six and later the quarterback found Dylan Boecker for 11 yards on third and eight to place Menomonie on the Medford five.
“He’s got a little better each week and his receivers have done a great job for him,” LaBuda said of Werner. “He’s got a really nice core of receivers to throw to.”
Zach DeMarce capped the scoring with a 3-yard touchdown run with a little more than five minutes remaining in the game as Menomonie went up 34-0.
Menomonie held a 329-227 edge in offensive yards. Werner finished the game 8-for-15 for 167 yards and three touchdowns, with 162 of those coming in the first half. Barthen reeled in four catches for 111 yards and two scores.
The Mustangs rushed for 115 yards in the second half. Three running backs had more than 40 yards for the game as Will Ockler had 11 touches for 54 yards, Poplawski had eight for 48 and DeMarce finished at 11 for 45.
The Menomonie defense allowed Medford to complete just one of its seven passing attempts on the night for a total of 20 yards.
“I thought our defensive coaches had a great plan and our kids just executed it well,” LaBuda said.