Bluejays battle, but Red Robins win ?War on 64?
Despite a rough 0-4 start, the Bluejay football team still had a shot at a tie for a runner-up finish in the GNC Football Conference due to its four-game winning streak.
All that stood in the way was another ‘War on 64’ with long-time rival Antigo.
The momentum swirled the way leaves did on the very blustery night before the Red Robins finally pinned down a 27-14 win.
“It was one heck of a football game,” MHS coach Tom Tourtillott said. “It was a lot more entertaining than the (Milwaukee) Brewer game (a 7-1 loss in Game 5 of the NLCS).
“I thought we played our best football of the season, so that was a positive. In the end they made more plays than we did at crucial times. Credit goes to the Antigo kids for playing hard.
“It’s disappointing that we didn’t finish in second place. At the same time we’re in the playoffs so instead of looking behind, we’re looking forward.”
Merrill ended up 3-3 in the GNC, and 4-5 overall, good for a spot in the WIAA playoffs. Antigo finished 5-1 and 6-3, while Medford was 4-2 and 6-3. League-leader Mosinee rated 6-0 and 9-0.
The Jays will visit #3 seed and 4th-ranked Marshfield (6-1, 8-1) in a Level 1 game, at 7:00 p.m on Friday. The winner gets the #2 Menomonie/New Richmond survivor. Tomah, the lowest ranked team of the trio, was given the #1 seed.
Merrill took an early edge in the game when Coty Rajek blasted one yard for a score with 4:29 left in the first quarter. Alex Cordova’s kick made it 7-0.
Antigo bounced back with a pair of 11-yard TD passes in the second quarter from Jake Erickson. Matt Shinners caught the first with 5:46 to go, and Andreas Ezer pushed the Red Robins ahead with just :27 left in the half.
“We had some turnovers at not very good times,” Tourtillott said. “We were up 7-0 and had a turnover and they scored. We drove the ball again and had a turnover again and they scored with 27 seconds left.
“After we tied the game, we had an interception in the third quarter and when we were knocking on the door to score, we fumbled. We were very, very close to beating a very good football team, but if you’re going to win close games you have to find ways to win. Kids have to find a way to make a play.”
Rajek’s three-yard run capped the opening drive of the second half, and made it 14-14 with 8:54 left. Antigo took advantage of the fumble when Ezer dashed 15 yards with 10:12 left in the game, but Tyler Schmidt’s blocked PAT kick limited it to 20-14. Ezer put a serious crimp in Merrill’s chances when he scored from four yards out with 4:48 remaining.
The Jays compiled 183 yards rushing between AustinVoigt (31-165) and Rajek (6-18), and 52 passing from Cordova (5-10, 2 ints.). Nick Peterson (2-35) and Ray Paul (2-17) had receptions.
“Austin ran really hard and the offensive line did a good job of blocking for him,” Tourtillott said. “I was extremely pleased with Tyler Schmidt and Benji Hintze. I thought they played their best games, along with Austin Bonnell and Alex Klug.”
Antigo piled up 271 rushing yards from Ezer (11-101), Erickson (10-65), Alex Payant (10-43), Levi Barske (8-35) and Brett Greening (3-22). Erickson hit on 7-of-11 passes for 48 yards to five different receivers, with an interception.
The Jays played without the services of Alec Oestreich, who had suffered a concussion the previous game.
“He’s our top special teams’ player, outstanding on defense and makes catches on offense,” Tourtillott said. “We definitely missed him.”