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Prep Football: Carson Park trips nearly 20 years apart lead to memorable contests for Chi-Hi
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Prep Football | Chi-Hi Cardinals

Prep Football: Carson Park trips nearly 20 years apart lead to memorable contests for Chi-Hi

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Chi-Hi football at Eau Claire Memorial 9-14-18

The Chi-Hi football team gathers after defeating Eau Claire Memorial 67-65 in double overtime during a game on Sept. 14, 2018, at Carson Park in Eau Claire.

Chuck Raykovich has seen more than his fair share of memorial football games during his more than four decades coaching the sport.

A few of those contests and performances are easy to find in the state’s prep football record book.

Overall, the Chi-Hi program can be found on four occasions in the chronicle of the best players, teams and performances in the state’s history, a collection maintained by Kevin Patrowsky that can be found at WisSports.net.

The Cardinals and Eau Claire Memorial scored a combined 132 points in a contest on Sept. 14, 2018, with the combined total tied for third most in a single game in state history. The teams also combined for 1,193 total yards of offense, the sixth most in a game in state history.

Rewind 20 years earlier and another trip to Carson Park also led to plenty of fireworks on offense as Chi-Hi put up 700 total yards of offense in a 51-23 triumph over Eau Claire North on Oct. 2, 1998, the fifth highest total in Wisconsin history. The combined 1,154 yards from the Cards and Huskies in that meeting is eighth most in state history.

Two performances two decades apart that stand the test of time and above nearly all the others.

“It’s been an unbelievable experience being part of all of this,” Raykovich said.

High water

Chi-Hi’s 700 total yards against the Huskies was impressive for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, the Week 6 contest featured two of the upper-echelon teams in the conference that season. Both squads entered the game with winning records, each at 4-1, and the Huskies were tied with rival Eau Claire Memorial for first in the league standings.

It was also hardly the only offensive outburst for a bruising Chi-Hi offense that season. The Cardinals put up at least 442 yards of total offense seven times in 1998. Running backs Luke McDonell and Jordan Hedrington each eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark while offensive linemen Mike Bestul and Tom Seaholm earned Associated Press all-state honors and Doug Custer, Jon Reit and Jim Weaver were named to the All-Chippewa County team.

“That really was the high-water mark for now,” Raykovich said of the 1998 team’s offense. “Everything we do now is compared back to those times when we were racking yards up those 700-yard games. If you look at those stats carefully you’ll see there weren’t many yards in the air.”

The team had at least 499 rushing yards on four different occasions, starting with 499 in a season-opening win over Medford, in which McDonell had 206 yards and five scores on just 13 carries. Chi-Hi added 529 against New Richmond and 536 in a 46-24 playoff victory over Green Bay East when McDonell (304 yards) and Hedrington (187) ran wild.

Kelly Foster and Chad Dachel each had two touchdown runs in the first half after Hedrington opened the scoring with a 12-yard TD to help the Cardinals take a 35-7 lead into the break against the Huskies. Foster added his third scoring run of the day in the second half before Hedrington found the end zone in the fourth quarter.

All in all, the Cardinals ran for 650 yards on 72 attempts, good for an average of more than 9 yards per carry. Foster had a team-best 153 yards and was one of three backs to eclipse 100 yards, with Hedrington (131) and McDonell (120) also surpassing the century mark. Brian Blaskowski and Justin Boiteau had 73 and 72 yards, respectively. Ryan Jensen added 69 yards on five carries, and Dachel chipped in 33 yards as a part of the dominant performance.

“It was an awesome game to be a coach of because it was one of those games where everything works,” Raykovich said.

Eau Claire North’s Kevin Christenson had 157 yards and Nate Stafford added 98 on the ground in a game that was predominantly decided in the trenches. The victory moved Chi-Hi into a three-way tie for second place in the conference with Menomonie and Eau Claire North, all one game back of the Old Abes. Menomonie and Memorial would go on to tie for the league title with the Cardinals finishing one game back.

Chi-Hi won its Division 1 playoff opener with another powerful ground performance against Green Bay East before falling to state-ranked and unbeaten Appleton East in the second round of the playoffs.

Kelly Foster

Chi-Hi fullback Kelly Foster charges into the end zone with help from Luke Schleppenbach (36) and Jon Reit (52) against Eau Claire North on Oct. 2, 1998 at Carson Park in Eau Claire.

Something you’ll remember

Nearly 20 years after the matchup with the Huskies, it was the Big Rivers Conference’s other Eau Claire team that was one half of another memorable contest as the Cardinals overcame a 22-point deficit to earn a double overtime victory.

The matchup was a clash in styles as the Cardinals played mostly on the ground with close to 500 yards rushing against an Old Abes team with plenty of talent through the air, led by quarterback Bryson Johnson, who threw for 442 yards and eight touchdowns.

“For some schools that’s a season,” Raykovich said of the yardage total. “That was an unbelievable game, and I was just so proud of our kids. I thought Eau Claire Memorial had some really, really decent talent and we had a hard time matching up with their receivers and they had a very good quarterback. At that time he was only a junior, and our kids hung in there.”

The Old Abes raced out to a 31-21 halftime lead and extended the advantage to 51-29 with five minutes left in the third quarter on a scoring run from Johnson. But the Cardinals scored three touchdowns throughout the rest of regulation, as Matt Pomietlo ran for scores from 46 and eight yards before Nolan Hutzler connected with Joe Reuter for a 7-yard touchdown pass with 45 seconds left in regulation. Pomietlo added a 2-point conversion run to tie the game at 51.

Defensively, the Cardinals kept the Old Abes off the scoreboard over the final 17:03 of regulation to help in the rally.

“It was unbelievable feeling on the sideline after 40-some years of doing that. … I’ve been on sidelines where you’re down three touchdowns in the third quarter and sometimes you feel like you’re lucky you’re only down three and sometimes you feel like you don’t have much hope,” Raykovich said. “But it was totally different on that sideline that night. It was almost like don’t worry, we’ve got it under control and all the credit goes to those kids because they could’ve folded their tent easily.”

Johnson’s eight touchdown passes make him one of four players in state history with eight scoring tosses in one game.

The teams traded touchdown tosses in overtime as Johnson found Calvin Tanner for the score and 2-point conversion before Hutzler connected with JD Czech on a 20-yard scoring pass and Pomietlo plowed into the end zone to move the game to a second overtime. The Cardinals had the ball first and wasted no time as Pomietlo broke free for a 25-yard score before adding the conversion to move the Cardinals ahead 67-59.

Johnson found Jack Piper for a 12-yard score to bring the team within two, but the Old Abes were unable to convert the tying conversation and the Cardinals prevailed. Tyler Bohland and Pomietlo led the Cardinals with 208 and 175 yards, respectively, on the ground.

“I just think it’s one that if you’re a high school football fan and you were at that game, it’s something you’ll remember forever because I know those kids will,” Raykovich said.

Home away from home

Both games were played at Carson Park, a venue the Cardinals have had plenty of memorable games at over the years.

“We love playing there. That’s not an away game for us,” Raykovich said of Carson Park. “We dress at home, we get there (and) we’re dressed, ready to go and it’s a cross-town game for us. It’s not like having to go to Superior, I’ll tell you that.”

Raykovich ranks 10th in state history in games coached (422) and said those games still are fresh in his mind.

“Those stats and all of those games are ingrained in my memory and they will be forever and for those boys reading the article — I still remember,” Raykovich said.

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