CHIPPEWA FALLS — Reed Styer's two-yard touchdown run with seven minutes and 11 seconds to go was the difference at the Menomonie football team outlasted Chippewa Falls in a 21-14 Big Rivers Conference opening victory on Friday night at Dorais Field.
Styer plunged in from two yards out on a fourth-and-1 with more than seven minutes to go before tossing a two-point conversion pass to Kieran Hansen to push Menomonie's new-found lead to seven points.
The Cardinals (2-1, 0-1) got the ball back but were forced to go three-and-out by the Mustangs defense and punted it away and Menomonie (3-0, 1-0) ran off more than five minutes of the clock before Chippewa Falls got one final chance in the closing seconds.
Chippewa Falls quarterback Brayden Warwick scrambled for an 11-yard gain to move the ball to the Menomonie 46-yard line with 1.2 seconds left but his Hail Mary pass attempt was short of the goal line and knocked down to seal the sixth consecutive victory for the Mustangs over the Cardinals.
“That was a huge win," Menomonie coach Mike Sinz said.
Friday's showdown of unbeatens was the 109th time all-time the two programs have met on the gridiron and was another excellent game in the long history of the rivalry.
“Big games come down to three or four or five or six plays and I’m sure you know what the plays are that it came down to and against good teams you can’t make those kind of mistakes," Chippewa Falls coach Chuck Raykovich said. "It’s unfortunate.”
After a scoreless first quarter the Cardinals found the end zone first early in the second. Mason Monarski corralled a one-handed catch from Warwick for a 36-yard gain to help set the Cardinals up in Menomonie territory and after a 23-yard pass from Warwick to Judah Dunham, the Cards reached the end zone on Karson Bowe's 16-yard scoring run at the 9:40 mark.
Menomonie had an answer five plays later when Reed Styer's screen pass to Brooks Brewer went 60 yards into the end zone to even the game at seven. The Mustangs would recover the ensuing kickoff at the Chippewa Falls 18-yard line along the sideline after a miscommunication from the Cardinal special teams.
Four plays later Nick Haviland plunged into the end zone from one yard out to give Menomonie its first lead of the night at 13-7 with 5:58 left in the half. A fumble on the next kickoff gave the ball right back to the Mustangs at the Chippewa Falls 33-yard line. Menomonie moved into the red zone but Beau Snyder stuffed Brewer for a three-yard loss on fourth and one to give the ball back to the Cardinals with 3:10 left.
“Those were two obviously huge plays and we talk to our guys and said you might be a player that only gets in on kickoffs and you have to make it count and we had guys tonight that were flat out getting after it and they were coming up huge for us and I was just so happy to see (it) because some of the guys on the team have worked so hard and I’m so happy for them," Sinz said of the recoveries on the kickoffs.
The Mustangs had the chance soon after to add to the lead by once again moving inside the 20 but Dawson Goodman won a jump ball battle in the end zone with the 6-foot, 8-inch Noah Feddersen for an interception and returned it all the way to the Mustangs 36-yard line with 29.4 seconds left in the half. But the Cardinals couldn't capitalize and turned the ball over on downs and Menomonie kneeled out the final few seconds to send the Mustangs into the half with a 13-7 lead.
The Chippewa Falls offense started the second half with a jolt, embarking on a 13-play drive covering 62 yards that took more than six minutes off the clock before Collin Beaudette powered his way through several Mustang tacklers into the end zone from six yards out to give the Cardinals the lead at 14-13 with 5:34 left in the third. Quarterback sacks ended each team's next drive on offense before the Mustangs started a series that would eventually be the game winner.
Menomonie covered 69 yards on 10 plays including a key pass interference penalty on a third-and-six incompletion to keep the ball with the Mustangs. One play later Styer found Lucas Smith on a 29-yard pass and the Mustangs took it the rest of the way on the ground as after the quarterback was stuffed on third and one he found the end zone on fourth and short to put Menomonie ahead for good.
“It was awesome. I’m proud of our kids. I just told them this game, this win happened at May, June, July at 5:30 in the morning and our kids when you get 65-70 kids lifting (weights) and working hard it’s amazing what can happen," Sinz said. "I’m just proud of them and happy for them. They put a ton of time in and Chippewa is real good and they are tough. The two touchdowns they had, the running back I think broke three tackles each time. They’re a good team.”
Brewer led all rushers with 75 yards on 19 carries for Menomonie. Bowe had a team-high 46 yards while Warwick (43 yards) and Judah Dunham (36) were the leading rushers for the Cardinals.
“We need to get our consistency back," Raykovich said of his team, who defeated Holmen and D.C. Everest in nonconference competition.
Styer threw for a game-high 160 yards while completing 7-of-12 passes to six different receivers.
Menomonie returns home next Friday to host Hudson at Don and Nona Williams Stadium. Sinz is in his first season leading his alma mater after taking over for Joe LaBuda who retired in the offseason.
“It’s cool. It’s still Menomonie/Chippewa and even when I was a manager here and a player and a coach and now head coach it’s all the same," Sinz said of the rivalry. "Chippewa and Menomonie are always classic games, it doesn’t matter what the records are and we knew it was going to be nail biter. I was kidding around with one of our coaches (Thursday) and (said) it’s going to be a one-score game and it landed right on the score that we talked about.”
The Cardinals will look to get back on the winning track as the team is scheduled to face Eau Claire North at Carson Park. The status of that game currently is uncertain after the Huskies had to cancel Friday's game in Superior due to a lack of available players with COVID-19 related concerns within the program.
“I think we’re back at square one," Raykovich said. "I don’t know how we’re going to bounce back from this. I think our character is enough that we will but I hope they come back strong.”