Key GNC Win
After last week’s slow start in the Menomonie loss, the Bluejay football team vowed to take charge early.
They did exactly that when Medford showed up on Friday night, jumping out to a 28-0 lead before hanging on for a 28-22 victory, the first in the tenure of new head coach Nick Sturm.
“It felt good, very nice,” Sturm said. “It would have been nice if we had played a clean game, but it was nice to get the win.
“The kids played without the same passion in the second half. I think we were coasting a little bit. If we’re going to be a top level team, we’ve got to perform well when we get up, especially when we get up. You have to finish teams off.
“We had way too many penalties. There are things we have to learn as a team and one of them is to play four quarters with emotion.”
Pulling off the win to even their record at 1-1 was important for GNC Football Conference positioning. Medford was one of the early picks for a favorite.
“Definitely there are high expectations for Medford,” Sturm said. “They have a lot of returning players, very good players. I was proud of the boys and their efforts. We made plays when we had to even if we did let them back into it.”
The Bluejays built a 21-0 lead by halftime, then pushed it to 28-0 just 46 seconds into the second half when quarterback Nick Peterson retrieved a hand-off, cut right, and dashed 52 yards for the score.
“Many, many people were faked out by which person had the ball,” Sturm said. “A couple of our coaches said he should have kept that one instead of handing off, but he had (pulled it back) and all of a sudden he broke free and was gone.
“Nick’s really developing. His reads have improved immensely in a short period of time.”
But game momentum gradually shifted after that point. The Raiders converted a fourth-and-inches near midfield on the next possession and drove 56 yards for a touchdown in 12 plays, avoiding a lost fumble when officials ruled the runner down at the Merrill 5. Brian Stockowitz intercepted the two-point try to keep it 28-6.
A Bluejay fumble on the ensuing drive gave Medford a chance but the defense held at the Merrill 13. But Medford held Merrill to a 3-and-out, and the Raiders’ Cole Loertscher dashed 60 yards on the first play following the punt to the Bluejay 2. Loertscher’s ensuing burst and a two-point pass made it 28-14 with 11:30 left in the game.
Merrill worked inside the Medford 30 twice after that but stalled both times, the latter ended with a short field goal attempt. A Tyler Schmidt tackle-for-a-loss on fourth down and a Ty Grunenwald interception killed the next two Raider drives.
With less than 2:00 to go, Medford converted a 4th-and-5 by the nose of the ball.
“There were a number of just-barelys in that game, times that they barely converted on fourth down,” Sturm said.
Two plays later, Medford completed the ole hook-and-ladder for a long TD. The 2-point pass cut it to 28-22 with 1:07 remaining.
“Overall our defense played very well,” Sturm said. “That hook-and-ladder was a little bit of a shocker, but if the boys play like that we’re going to be tough to beat much of the season.”
The Raiders got a nice hop on the ensuing onside kick, but the ball went out of bounds, and Merrill knelt out the game.
Merrill had gotten on the board with 8:47 left in the first quarter when fullback Alex Klug fought the pile and reached the ball over the goal line. The teams battled for the next 18 minutes before Brandon Bartz jumped a route and returned the interception 40 yards for a score.
“Brandon made a great break on the ball,” Sturm said. “That was a huge momentum turner in the game.”
The Jays used their time-outs well in conjunction with stifling defense, and got the ball back with 45 seconds before the half. Merrill moved to the Medford 35 after Bartz drew a pass interference call, and Peterson hit Nick Mootz in the end zone on the next play. Peterson’s third PAT kick made it 21-0.
“We were just trying to get the ball back,” Sturm said. “The more opportunities you get with the ball to make a big play, the better.
“What you’re going to see is kids getting better and better. It’s a learning process. We installed a new offense and made some changes on defense, so familiarity is going to breed confidence.”
Peterson finished with 115 yards on 11 carries (10.5 ypc) with a touchdown to lead the Jays, and he completed 6-of-8 passes for 71 yards with another TD. Mason Reinhardt (12-43), Klug (9-29, 1 TD) and Trey Stevenson (3-1) helped Merrill to 188 rushing yards. Klug (4-29), Mootz (1-35, 1 TD) and Schmidt (1-7)
Pacing the defense were: Ben Hintze (10 solos, 4 assists, 1 TFL); Grunenwald (9 s, 3 a, 1 int.); Stockowitz (6 s, 1 int., 1 PBU); Schmidt (5 s, 3 TFL); Austin Bonnell (3 s, 1 a, 1 TFL, 1 FR); Nick Breaman (7 s, 1 a); Matt Rekowski (3 s, 4 a); Bartz (3 s, 1 a, 1 int. for TD, 1 PBU); Dakota Ress (3 s, 1 TFL, 1 FC); Eric Ball (4 s); Mootz (1 s, 2 a, 1 PBU); James Nohr (3 s, 1 a); and Gabe Nelles (3 s).