With their backs against the wall the defense for Menomonie football team stepped up.
River Falls recovered a misplay on a kickoff in the red zone but the Mustangs held strong to force a missed field goal.
Three plays later Menomonie converted on a 66-yard touchdown pass to go up two scores as the Mustangs earned a 21-7 Big Rivers Conference win over River Falls on Friday at Don and Nona Williams Stadium in Menomonie.
“The defense played great all night,” Menomonie coach Joe LaBuda said. “To hold a running back of that quality — (Seth Kohel) is one of the best backs in the north end of the state. To hold him down was incredible. Our defense played phenomenal all night long.”
River Falls’s senior tailback ran the ball 10 times for just 24 yards as the Mustangs held the Wildcats to 184 total yards in the game.
“Their defense is tough. They played really well on that side of the ball,” River Falls coach David Crail said of the Menomonie defense. “We had to do some things a little bit differently due to some personal but we just didn’t get it. You have to take the most of those opportunities and we just didn’t quite get it done.”
Menomonie (4-0, 2-0) held a 7-0 lead with seven minutes left in the third quarter and it had River Falls backed deep in its own territory. On second and long Sam Skillings and Will Ockler broke through the line the with Ockler hitting the quarterback and forcing a fumble that Skillings grabbed possession of at the one-yard line.
On the very next play Ockler punched it across the goal line and an extra point kick by Kaleb Kazmarek made it a 14-0 game.
River Falls put together a strong drive in response going 65 yards in seven plays. Quarterback Peter Noreen took it himself on third and five as he found a hole in the middle of the field before cutting to the edge and down the sideline for a 35-yard touchdown run that made it a 14-7 game with 2:30 left in the third.
A miscue on the ensuing kickoff gave the ball right back to the Wildcats at the Menomonie 17-yard line but a pass completion for a loss and then a backwards pass that rolled out of bounds for a five-yard loss backed River Falls up. A short run made it fourth down and the Wildcats failed on a 37-yard field goal attempt.
Menomonie had thrown on each of its first six plays after halftime so facing second down at its own 34-yard line the Mustangs went with a play action pass as quarterback Tyler Werner found his tight end Kazmarek on right side of the field. Kazmarek did the rest racing his way for a 66-yard touchdown that put Menomonie up 21-7 as time expired in the third quarter.
“The defense had really started to pack the box and tried to stop our run so we had worked on that play action pass all week,” LaBuda said.
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Menomonie was able to find the end zone first taking advantage of an early River Falls mistake. The Mustangs were forced into a punt on their first drive but a fumble by the returner was recovered by Evan Sisko at the River Falls’ 24-yard line.
“That fact that we started out that way, is it tough? Yes, its tough...” Crail said. “That mistake is something that happens but you got to move on and we got to continue to battle.”
After two short runs the Mustangs were in a long third down situation just outside the red zone. Werner dropped back and lofted it towards the end zone where receiver Davis Barthen pulled it down over a River Falls’ defender for the first score of the game.
Menomonie didn’t let River Falls gain any momentum in the first half as the Wildcats managed just 31 yards before the break.
The running back duo of Ockler and DeVauntaye Parker saw a bulk of the action offensively for the Mustangs. Ockler carried the ball 14 times for 87 yards and a touchdown while Parker added 19 touches for 71 yards.
Werner was 3-for-4 for 100 yards and two scores along with a fourth quarter interception.
Menomonie returns action next Friday at Eau Claire North.
Despite the hard-earned win the game took a turn for the worst late in the fourth quarter as the senior Skillings suffered an apparent leg injury and he was helped off the field on a stretcher. The team was emotional during the injury timeout and following the game and LaBuda said it’s difficult to focus on the game when a serious injury occurs to a member of the team.
“My mind isn’t on the game and neither is the kids and that’s justifiable so,” LaBuda said. “Our kids minds isn’t on the game so it’s really a bittersweet win.
“You got a great kid like Sam and I just hope and pray he can get back for wresting. It’s a tough deal.”