Friday’s first round of playoffs marked the end of the road for Merrill football as they ran into Rice Lake for the second straight year. Merrill was able to put up more of a fight this time around losing 35-7 compared to last year’s 41-0 loss.
Rice Lake struck first with an early four yard touchdown run to take a 6-0 lead after missing the extra point. Merrill was able to respond with a touchdown of their own as Zach Mootz ran the ball in from six yards out. Kole Meyer gave Merrill their only lead as he knocked the extra point through to make it 7-6 with a minute left in the first quarter. Late in the second quarter Rice Lake busted a big 62 yard touchdown run and converted for two to go up 14-7 at the half.
Rice Lake picked up right where they left off on the first half as they scored another rushing touchdown early in the third quarter. Five minutes later another Rice Lake touchdown gave them a commanding 28-7 lead with three minutes to play in the third quarter. One more touchdown by Rice Lake with five minutes to play in the game sealed the deal as they gave Merrill the 35-7 loss.
Nate Grefe led the ground game for Merrill as he ran for 79 yards in nine attempts. Grefe was followed by Quarterback Zach Mootz who ran for 66 yards and a touchdown in 19 attempts. The passing game was silent for Merrill as they only attempted three passes, completing one to running back Nevada Laab for eight yards. Merrill’s offense totaled 206 yards in the losing effort. Issac Meyer led the way on the defensive side of the ball with six solo tackles, including a sack. Chase Bonnell wasn’t far behind with five and a half tackles, and behind him with five tackles was Quinn Steckbauer.
The Bluejays end their season with an overall record of 4-6 and a conference record of 3-3 which was good enough for third in the Great Northern Conference. The Bluejay offense ranked first in yards in conference with 2,147. The Merrill defense came in at third in yards given up with 1,416. Senior Zach Mootz was the conference leader in quarterback rating at 99.0 with six touchdowns, three interceptions, and 668 yards through the air. Senior Nevada Laabs came in at sixth in total rushing yards in the conference. Taking just 60 carries on the season, Laabs ran for 499 yards, which led the conference in yards per attempt with 8.3.