Mustangs prevail in possible playoff precursor
Just two games into the season, the Bluejay football team experienced playoff football.
Merrill visited Menomonie, a frequent post-season player, and left with a Thursday’s 23-0 loss.
“They’re a very good football team,” MHS coach Nick Sturm said. “We didn’t play very well, but they’re polished, fast, very aggressive, physical.
“We made too many mental errors. We’ll have to clean them up. It wouldn’t shock me to see them down the road in the playoffs.
“A lot of it was because our younger guys were unsure of themselves. It’s a whole different ballgame when you play a top-level program. The game moved a lot faster for some kids, and they have to learn how to handle a different speed.
“We have a good football team. We will get better as the year goes on. It was a good learning experience. I look at it as a positive thing. I always like playing a good program so we know here we have to aspire to be.”
The Mustangs scored once in each of the four quarters while holding Merrill scoreless.
They converted a fourth down on the way to a 20-yard pass from sophomore QB Nate Stanley to brother Luke Stanley. After a fourth-down sack stopped a solid Bluejay scoring chance, Menomonie drove 73 yards for another 20-yard passing tally from Stanley to Colton Tarter and led 12-0 at intermission.
Merrill came up with a 49-yard Mason Reinhardt run and 48-yard Jake Anderson reception from Nick Peterson on consecutive drives in the third quarter, but both failed to finish in points.
A long Mustang run set up Derek Kahl one-yard blast for a third-quarter touchdown, and a two-point pass made it 20-0 with 5:01 left.
Menomonie converted a fourth down with a 33-yard fake punt run, and closed the scoring with a 29-yard A.J. Naatz field goal.
The Mustangs finished with 167 rushing yards and 124 passing, while Merrill managed 105 rushing and 91 passing.
“Our defensive pursuit by the front 7-8 (players) was very good,” Sturm said. “It was not an easy road for their offense, and they have a good offense. Even in the secondary, we made some nice strips. We didn’t give up a ton of big plays. I thought we played pretty solid.”
The Merrill offense didn’t perform up to its potential.
“We really couldn’t establish anything in our running game,” Sturm said. “We struggled getting to our blocks. We tried to use the perimeter, but they were very fast.
“We also shot ourselves in the foot repeatedly with penalties. We didn’t execute at all. We’ve got to get better, especially in our offensive front, but that will come. We’ve got a lot of young kids up there.
“We played a solid game against Onalaska, but we didn’t against Menomonie.”
Leading the defense were: Tyler Schmidt (6 solos, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery); Dustin Dengel (5 s, 5 assists); Ty Grunenwald (7 s, 1 a); Ben Hintze (7 s, 1 a); Chaz Mootz (2 s, 3 PBU); Brandon Bartz (4 s); Matt Rekowski (3 s); Nick Breaman (2 s, 1 a); Seth Tautges (1 FR).
Peterson completed 8-of-17 passes for 98 yards. Anderson made 3 catches for 69 yards to lead the receivers and Schmidt had 1 for 8. Reinhardt (5-45) paced the rushers, backed by Klug (12-25), Peterson (6-24) and Nick Hoffmann (6-11).
The Bluejays will host Rhinelander at 7:00 p.m. on Friday. The Hodags upset Merrill last year 14-13 to keep the Jays out of a tie for first place in the GNC Football Conference.