A potemtial GNC championship game – a ‘Clash of the Titans’ – came to a head in Medford last Friday night.
The Bluejay football team slugged it out with the Raiders and when the dust settled, left town the proud owners of a 19-12 triumph.
In looking at the two programs this season, such hype and anticipation should be anticipated, and then some.
Both teams came into the contest at 4-1, sporting flawless conference records while boasting very similar, potent, run-heavy offenses and stingy, unforgiving defenses.
While the ‘Jays were flying high in the wake of a 41-6 homegrown pummeling over Rhinelander, the Raiders were riding a buzz of their own after pulling off a wild 44-35 shoot-out win over fellow GNC powerhouse Mosinee.
The game would prove to be everything it was hyped up to be as the two GNC heavyweights slugged it out to a scoreless stalemate in the first. Then midway through the second, Medford drew first blood as quarterback Ben Meier snapped off a 34-yard scoring run, but a missed extra point left the Raiders with a 6-0 lead.
Three minutes later, Bluejay quarterback Drew Hoff answered with a run of his own from 2 yards out, but another failed extra point locked it up at 6 headed into the half.
The Raiders would once again land the first blow in the second half with another 34-yard scoring run, this time from burly fullback Josh Thiede.
Down, but far from out, the ever-potent Merrill offense answered yet again when Hoff galloped in from eight yards out. Ryan Golisch’s extra point set the Jays up with 13-12 with just over seven minutes left in the game.
With the Raider offense moving the ball and moving it well, a score was quite feasible as well as Medford stealing away with a narrow win.
Feasible until Bluejay senior defensive back Scott Wallace closed in on a Ben Meier pass, snagged it for himself and gave his offensive comrades the opportunity to put the game away.
Sophomore Nevada Laabs would be the one wielding the hammer in the end.
With just over a minute left in the game, and the Jays ahead by a single point, the fleet-footed running back took a Drew Hoff hand-off, cracked back inside on a counter play to the right then broke it outside to green space sealed off by the bodies of right tackle Connor Kleinschmidt and right guard Brody Zocher.
Once in the open field, the 6’0 185 pound Laabs found the same overdrive gear he has been cruising in all season and took it 50 yards to the house, driving the nails into the Raider coffin with the 19-12 final.
“I’m glad we came out with a win,” Sturm noted. “Medford proved to be an eye-opening experience for us defensively. They are an extremely physical, powerful, well coached football team and we haven’t really seen that sort of team in a few weeks. I think our team grew up a bit Friday night, especially our defense.
“I’ve been saying all year they are a young squad which is getting better every game, and they really pulled it together Friday night. I was so proud of how they kept their cool when they were down in the fourth quarter.”
Despite the road being a bit tougher than that of previous weeks, the Bluejay offense still managed 268 yards of total offense, 193 yards coming on the ground.
MRL: 0 6 0 13 -19
MFD: 0 6 6 0 -12
Passing: Drew Hoff (4/8, 75 yds). Rushing: Nevada Laabs (10/86, TD); Hoff (13/54, 2TD); Jake Collinsworth (9/28); Braeden Dorn (7/19). Receiving: Austin Reissmann (2/40); Scott Wallace (1/31); Laabs (1/4).
Defense: Collinsworth (8S, A); Christian Kleinschmidt (7S, A, TFL); Ben Tabor (4S), Elijah Emmer (3S, TFL, 2 sa); Nate Grefe (5S, 2A); Wallace (Int, PBU).