EAU CLAIRE — The Chi-Hi football team overcame a 24-point deficit in the second half as a part of a 67-65 double overtime victory over Eau Claire Memorial on Friday evening at Carson Park.
The Cardinals (3-2, 1-2) trailed 45-21 with 8:57 left in the third quarter before staging a comeback for the ages capped by a defensive stand on the tying 2-point conversion attempt in the second overtime.
"To be down 24 points in the second half, to come back and win in double overtime. That's a gut check. Bottom line," Chi-Hi coach Chuck Raykovich said. "Your back can't be up against the wall more than 24 points in the second half and to win it in the second overtime on the extra point? Fairytale ending."
Both teams combined for nearly 1,200 yards of total offense in the contest. Chi-Hi ran for 496 yards on the ground as the trio of Tyler Bohland (208 yards), Matt Pomietlo (175) and JD Czech (76) accounted for most of those gains and a combined seven touchdowns rushing. The Old Abes and quarterback Bryson Johnson were lethal through the air as the junior signal caller was 31 of 53 for 442 passing yards and eight touchdowns while adding a score on the ground too.
Joe Reuter's seven-yard touchdown catch from Nolan Hutzler with 45 seconds left in the fourth quarter brought the Cardinals to within two at 51-49 before Pomietlo added the two-point conversion on the ground. Eau Claire Memorial had a chance to win it in regulation but Dane Weiland intercepted Johnson on the final play of regulation.
Johnson found Calvin Tanner for their third scoring connection of the day to open overtime before the Cardinals answered on their first offensive play when Hutzler completed a pass to JD Czech who powered his way into the end zone from 20 yards out. Pomietlo added the two-point conversion to tie the game at 59 and send it into double overtime, where he would break free on Chi-Hi's first play of double OT for a 25-yard scoring run. Pomietlo added the two-point conversion himself to push the Chi-Hi lead to eight at 67-59.
The Old Abes worked their way into the end zone with Johnson's 12-yard touchdown pass to Jack Piper but the two-point conversion pass went off an Old Abe receiver and fell to the Carson Park turf, giving the Cardinals an improbable comeback win.
"It was a team effort tonight," Raykovich said. "It was a long way around but it was a great team effort. I'm proud of the kids. How could you not be proud of kids like that?"
Eau Claire Memorial (2-3, 1-2) scored on eight of its first nine drives but the Cardinal defense would stiffen to keep the Old Abes from adding any points for the final 17 minutes of regulation. That would give the Chi-Hi offense room to rally. Pomietlo's scoring runs of 46 and eight yards closed the gap to eight with 8:16 left in the fourth. The Old Abes had a chance to put the game out of reach on their next possession but Johnson was interceptied by Wyatt Keyeski on a fourth down play in the end zone to give the Cardinals the ball at the team's own 20 with 2:07 to go.
Hutzler and the Chi-Hi offense quickly moved down the field through the air as the quarterback completed several jump-ball throws to big-bodied receivers Reuter and Ben Carani as well as running back Tyler Bohland to move in position for the tying scoring.
The Cardinals fell into an early hole after two lost fumbles in the first four minutes, both turning into scores for the Old Abes. Similar mistakes hurt the Cardinals in conference defeats to Menomonie and Rice Lake to open the league season in the previous two weeks.
"You know what I think it was, as the last couple weeks especially last week fumbling right away the first few times we touched the ball and then tonight the same thing happens. I think the kids just felt 'Hey, this can't happen again. We're better than this'," Raykovich said. "And they just dug in. Memorial played a great game. They did a great job. They have some really good athletes out there."
Bohland broke free on a 74-yard touchdown run on the second play of the ensuing drive to trim the deficit in half to 14-7 with 7:37 left in the first. Johnson added his third touchdown pass of the first quarter later before Pomietlo found the end zone for the first time in the game from 10 yards out as the Old Abes carried a 21-14 lead into the second quarter.
Colton Welke booted a 31-yard field goal to give the Old Abes back a two-score advantage at 24-14 before Bohland trimmed that lead to three with a six-yard touchdown run at the 6:15 mark of the second. Johnson's fourth touchdown pass of the half, his second to Tanner, with 1:06 to go before the break pushed Eau Claire Memorial to its 31-21 halftime lead.
Reuter had 102 yards on six receptions.
"I've been coaching for 44 years and I've never seen anything like that," Raykovich said of the win. "This was unbelievable."
Chi-Hi returns to action next Friday back at Dorais Field against Superior.
"The people that were here tonight got more than their money's worth. Let me tell you," Raykovich said.