A time-consuming run game and a bend-but-don't break defense carried the Chi-Hi football team to a 17-7 win over Hudson on Friday night at Dorais Field in a Big Rivers Conference matchup to close out the regular season.
"I knew the kids would play like this tonight," Chi-Hi coach Chuck Raykovich said. "It could be their last game and they weren’t going to lay an egg out here tonight. All we asked them to do was their best and they did."
The victory gave the Cardinals a winning record on the season (5-4, 3-4) and was enough to earn a spot in the Division 1 playoffs with next Friday's matchup to be determined on Saturday.
An early special teams play set the tone. The Cardinals got a blocked punt by Kyler Holmlund that set the team up on their first possession at the Hudson 48-yard line.
Matt Pomietlo ran for 12 yards on his first attempt and he and the Cardinals run game pushed their way deep into Hudson territory. A personal foul penalty on 3rd-and-six kept the Chi-Hi drive alive and Pomietlo took advantage with a 3-yard touchdown run with 7:51 in the first to go up 7-0.
Hudson had a long drive going in response when the Cardinals defense stepped up, something they did on multiple occasions in the win.
Chi-Hi got a tackle for loss on first down at the Cardinals 21, putting the Raiders behind schedule. Three plays later on fourth down, Dane Weiland sacked Hudson quarterback Keyser Helterbrand to give the ball back to the offense.
The Raiders were driving once again the next time they had the ball but they were undone by a mistake and a big Chi-Hi defensive play. Nearing the red zone, the Raiders lost eight yards on second down after a fumble they recovered. Two plays later Hudson went for it on 4th-and-18 but Rico DeLeon sacked Helterbrand for the second turnover on downs for Hudson.
Each team traded punts with the Cardinals starting their final possession of the half at their own 1-yard line. A 7-yard run by JD Czech gave the team some cushion and Pomietlo later had runs of 30 and 17 yards to bring the Cardinals into the red zone with a minute left in the half.
Pomietlo completed the 13-play drive with a 5-yard run with just 15.5 seconds left before the half that put the Cardinals up 14-0.
The Cardinal showed their determination on the first drive after the half.
Chi-Hi embarked on a 21-play drive that covered 67 yards and nine minutes, and 43 seconds of time off the clock. Nate Custer made a 22-yard field goal to put the Cardinals up 17-0.
Chi-Hi's lone mistake came early in the fourth quarter. On 3rd-and-seven in their own territory, quarterback Nolan Hutzler overthrew his intended target over the middle and was picked off.
Hudson took advantage to score their only points of the game. Helterbrand ran in from three yards out to cut their deficit to 10 with 6:20 remaining in the game.
The onside kick by Hudson failed and the Cardinals continued to melt the clock away.
Nine run plays later, the Cardinals drove near the red zone but faced a 4th-and-eight. Hutzler's pass fell incomplete and Hudson took over at the Chi-Hi 24 with about two minutes left.
After a first-down run by Helterbrand on the first play, the Cardinals tightened up the defense. After an incomplete pass, Chi-Hi tackled Helterbrand for no gain and a short loss on back-to-back plays to set up a fourth down. The pass bounced off the Hudson receiver and Chi-Hi took over.
The Cardinals ran the clock out to added another Big Rivers win.
"They played their hearts out," Raykovich said. "They left nothing on the field."
Hudson's loss gave River Falls an outright conference championship as the Wildcats defeated Eau Claire North on Friday night.
Pomietlo led the way offensively with 124 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns. Czech earned a hard-fought 52 yards on 13 attempts and Tyler Bohland ran the ball 15 times for 51 yards.
Hutzler completed 3 of 12 passes for 20 yards with an interception.
Helterbrand for ran for 90 yards on 21 carries for Hudson. The Cardinals defense held the Raiders running backs to a total of 7 yards on 12 carries.
Helterbrand had 21 pass attempts with nine completions. Charlie Pierce was on the other end of four of those completions gaining 66 yards.
"We’re hoping it will come true because we really are just now hitting our stride," Raykovich said of a postseason game before news of the team's playoff selection.
In the final game at Dorais for the Cardinals, Raykovich was satisfied with the team's performance with the Cardinals peaking at just the right time as they head into the postseason.
"It’s just a great win, a great win for our kids," he said.