Last-second sack denies Bluejay comeback
With the clock running out on Friday’s road football game with Medford-possibly the GNC Football Conference championship deciding game-the Bluejays worked within three short yards of victory, and still held at least a shot at a tie and overtime.
But the Red Raiders sacked Bluejay quarterback Nick Peterson before he could get rid of the ball, and the clock died on a hard-to-swallow 15-12 defeat.
“It was a really good high school football game,” MHS coach Nick Sturm said. “Obviously we’re disappointed with the result. Our kids played hard and with a lot of heart. We shot ourselves in the foot. We had a couple of penalties that hurt us. We had opportunities throughout the game. We did a lot of good things. We just didn’t finish. Our motto for the week is, ‘Finish.’ “
Both teams scored two touchdowns, but the difference was Medford converted a PAT kick and a two-pointer, while Merrill failed in one of each.
“We had a poor snap at the end of our first touchdown, and then we had to go for two the next time and didn’t make it,” Sturm said. “Those things come back to haunt you. Otherwise we could have just lined it up and kicked it at the end.
“You never know what’s going to happen in overtime, so you never want to go to overtime. It came down to the last play with nine seconds left. We were going to throw it and if it was incomplete, we were going to kick a field goal.
“They did have a good rush. We had a little miscommunication with our offensive line. In those situations, if you’re under pressure, hey, get rid of it, too.
“You never want to pin it on one play. But in key situations, we didn’t execute or we could have won that game. Hopefully, we learned a lot of good lessons for the rest of the year, to have a lot more pride executing the little things in the crunch.”
Merrill scored on a five-yard run from Alex Klug with 7:40 left in the first half, but the Red Raiders matched it with a 23-yard pass from Austin Salzgeber to Connor Baumann with just :26 left to intermission. Colton Niewolny’s two point run gave Medford an 8-6 edge.
It took Merrill less than two minutes of the second half to regain the lead, with Peterson dashing 16 yards to the end zone. Mason Reinhardt was stopped short on the two-point conversion.
Less than four minutes later, Salzgeber hit Niewolny with a 15-yard scoring strike, and Baumann kicked the extra point for the 15-12 lead.
But Merrill continued to fight, with a Klug sack leading to a late Medford punt. The Jays started at their own 20 with 2-1/2 minutes to go. Two quick passes to Jake Anderson put the ball in red zone, and Merrill pushed it to the three-yard line with nine seconds left before the Red Raider sack ended it.
“That’s a very good Medford team,” Sturm said. “They kept battling. Their skill kids on the perimeter are very athletic and their linebackers were very good. Their quarterback had a very good presence in the pocket and he threw the ball very well.”
Merrill also impressed Sturm.
“All our backs, Nick, Mason, (Nick) Hoffmann, Klug, had very good games,” he said.
“We had a hard time at the end of the game with their inside running game, but overall our defense played very well. We were without one of our best players in (inside linebacker Ben) Hintze, but Wyatt (Strombom) came in and performed very well. Ben had a foot sprain. I sure hope he’s ready for our next game.”
The Jays held a 348-289 advantage in yardage gained, including a 291-195 difference on the ground. Merrill was paced by Reinhardt (12-117), Klug (21-74), Hoffmann (10-60) and Peterson (16-40). Peterson completed 5-of-8 passes for 57 yards. Anderson caught 3 for 57.
The defense was paced by: Tyler Schmidt (5 solos, 4 assists, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery); Ty Grunenwald (6 S, 5 A); Nick Breaman (5 S, 4 A, 1 sa); Matt Rekowski (4 S, 4 A); Wyatt Strombom (2 S, 7 A); Klug (3 S, 1 A, 1 sa); Chaz Mootz (3 S, 3 A); Brandon Bartz (1 S, 1 A, 2 passes broken up); Gabe Nelles (1 S, 4 A); Dustin Dengel (1 S, 1 tackle for loss); Cole Rajek (2 S); and Brian Stockowitz (1 int.).
The next contest features Antigo at Merrill on Friday.
“It’s always a big rivalry,” Sturm said. “Antigo has very big and strong athletes. That will be two good football teams going at each other. It should be quite a contest. They lost 28-7 to Mosinee, but they had a couple of guys not playing that will play against us.”
Medford improved to 2-0 in the GNC and 3-1 overall, while Merrill fell to 1-1 and 2-2. Mosinee is 1-1 and 3-1 while Antigo is 1-1 and 1-3.