La Crosse uses second wind to knock out Jays
The 6th-seeded Bluejay football team was in prime position for a Level 1 playoff upset on Friday, leading host and 3rd seed La Crosse Central 20-17 at halftime, despite a last-second field goal from the Red Raiders.
In the meantime, likely second-round opponent Menomonie, in the #2 spot, was having difficulty with 7th-seeded La Crosse Logan, and would end up losing in the first round for the first time since 1991.
But Central would dominate the second half of the contest, capturing a 38-20 victory to end Merrill’s season at 5-4.
“We started out fairly strong,” MHS coach Nick Sturm said. “From there things didn’t go our way. If you don’t play up to your ability, you’re not going to beat a good football team.
“They were very fast and athletic. We knew going in that we were going to have to control the ball and keep them off the field and we did that in the first half fairly well. In the second half, the had some big, explosive runs. We had a couple of injuries and breakdowns, and it wasn’t pretty.”
A 36-yard TD run by Nick Peterson offset a 46-yarder by LCC’s QB Dan Callahan in the first quarter.
And a two-yard blast from Alex Klug neutralized an 18-yard passing score with 4:01 left in the half. But Klug’s 3-yard tally pushed it to 20-14 with 1:17 left.
Central did drive and kick a 25-yard field goal with just :01 on the clock to cut it to 20-17.
The Jays opened the second half with the ball, but were stopped at the Central 31. A Ty Grunenwald fumble recovery, Merrill’s third of the game, got the ball right back at the 39, but LCC stopped the Jays on downs at the 33. Eight plays later, with a converted 4th-and-6 of their own, the Raiders made it 24-20 with an 11-yard Aron Klos run.
Klos would also score from 39 yards with 1:01 left in the 3rd, and Mitchell Johnson reached the end zone from 30 yards out with 8:52 left in the game for the 38-20 final.
Merrill finished with 328 yards, including 250 rushing and 78 passing. Klug (36 carries for 146 yards) led the Jays, and Peterson (11-60), Brandon Bartz (4-23), Matt Rekowski (5-15), Grunenwald (1-3) and Tyler Schmidt (1-3) helped out. Peterson completed 4-of-11 passes for 29 yards and Grunenwald hit on a 49-yard halfback option pass. Nick Mootz (1-49), Grunenwald (1-13), Garret Pagel (1-11) and Trey Stevenson (1-8) gained yards.
Defensive contributions came from: Grunenwald (11 solos, 1 FR, 1 PBU); Ben Hintze (10 s, 1 assist, 1 FC, 1 FR); Peterson (4 s, 1 a, 1 int.); Schmidt (4 s, 1 TFL); Bartz (3 s, 1 int.); Gabe Nelles (3 s, 1 TFL); Mootz (2 s, 1 FR); Eli Knoblock (3 s); Dakota Ress (1 a, 1 FC); Klug (2 s); and Rekowski (2 s).
“It was a pretty good season,” Sturm said. “Our kids gave their best effort. In many ways we over-achieved. We only had 12 seniors, but we’ll be sad to see them go.
“Next year we could be pretty good, but nothing comes easy. We’ll return a lot of starters-we had five seniors that started-and we have some very good sophomores coming up. The JV had a very successful season, only losing two games all year. A lot will depend on how willing they are to work before next season.”