River Falls senior defensive back Wyatt Bell checks to make sure he’s on the line of scrimmage during a game earlier this season. Bell came up with a critical interception during the Wildcats’ road game against Eau Claire Memorial that helped keep River Falls undefeated (5-0). Photo by Reagan Hoverman
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Wildcats survive Eau Claire Memorial, remain undefeated

River Falls alone atop Big Rivers Conference standings

The River Falls Wildcats scored the lone touchdown of the fourth quarter to secure a 13-9 victory over the Old Abes and improve to 5-0 for the season and 3-0 in Big Rivers Conference action. The Wildcats sit alone atop the BRC standings through five weeks.

In a game where River Falls turned the ball over multiple times on the road against one of the best defenses in the Big Rivers Conference, the Wildcats would, theoretically, have almost no chance of winning that game on Friday, Sept. 16, against Eau Claire Memorial.

River Falls head coach Ryan Scherz stated it was his team’s resilience and response to adversity that pushed his Wildcats to the low-scoring victory on Friday night. And having a potentially generational defense doesn’t hurt, either.

Eau Claire Memorial got on the board first with a 35-yard field goal with three minutes remaining in the first quarter. The Wildcats responded with a scoring drive of their own. Junior running back Jonah Severson capped ou the two-minute drive with a three-yard touchdown run to take a 7-3 lead over Me morial.

After a defensive stop midway through the second quarter, River Falls got its ouense back on the field and looked to take a two-pos session lead on the road. That was until ju- nior quarterback Jacob Range dropped back to pass, and had the pocket crumble around him. He got popped as he threw and had the pass picked ou by a Memorial defender.

River Falls’ defense responded by forcing a three-and-out which got the Wildcats’ of- fense back on the field less than two minutes later. Coach Scherz spoke about how his de fense has a chance to be generationally great.

“The defense is playing very well right now, though I don't think they've played their best game yet,” Scherz said. “They have the potential to be the best defense I’ve been around in my 16 years of coaching if we keep improving on the details.”

That defense didn’t disappoint the Wildcats faithful on Friday night. The Old Abes got the ball to start the second half, as they trailed River Falls 7-3, and began a long, methodical drive down the field. By the time Memorial got down to the River Falls 31yard line, the Old Abes had chewed more than half of the third quarter away.

That's when Memorial senior quarterback Ryan Thompson launched a ball downfield that River Falls senior defensive back Wyatt Bell picked ou near the endzone. Bell is one of six River Falls captains this season and has provided leadership for a dynamic Wildcats defensive unit which Scherz has spoken of throughout the season.

“The combination of defensive leadership, talent, and athleticism has been what I’d hoped it could be at this point,” Scherz said of his defense.

While the defense was locking down the Old Abes' ouense, the River Falls ouense continued to turn the ball over. The Wildcats had second down at the Memorial 31-yard line with just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter.

That's when Range rolled out of the pocket on a play-action pass while scanning the field for an open receiver. When nothing was open, Range began to get sacked and tried to throw the ball away. Memorial snagged the wobbly pass and returned it more than 50 yards to the endzone for a pick-six. River Falls blocked the ensuing PAT to make it a 9-7 game in favor of Memorial. Scherz provided analysis on the turnovers.

"The first interception was a breakdown in pass protection, and he got hit as he was throwing,” Scherz said. “The second was a really bad choice that resulted from trying to do too much. I told Jacob that he needed to put it behind him and lead us on the subsequent drive. He made some big plays on that drive and responded beautifully.”

Range responded by leading the Wildcats on a four-minute, 56-yard touchdown drive that culminated in a three-yard touchdown rush by Severson. The nine-play scoring drive gave the Wildcats a 13-9 advantage that they held for the remainder of the game. Coach Scherz spoke about overcoming ad versity and that tough Memorial defense.

"Generally speaking we controlled the game, but we made enough mistakes to al low them to hang around. We overcame them through tremendous response to adversity,” Scherz said. “Memorial was 3-1 and allowed only about eight points per game. It was probably the best defense we faced this year. They didn’t allow many big plays, and they played inspired football. Hats ou to their coaches." River Falls improved to 5-0 overall and 3-0 in Big Rivers action with the comeback win on the road against Memorial. Coach Scherz spoke about being undefeated and how the BRC is as deep as it’s ever been.

"We have enjoyed the winning streak, but I’m hopeful that we continue to stay hungry,” Scherz said. “The Big Rivers is absolutely a gauntlet this year. Before each game, I talk with the opposing head coaches, and everyone agrees that the conference is as deep as it's ever been. We can't auord to let up at all." River Falls will host the 0-5 Superior Spartans on Friday, Sept. 23. That game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at David Smith Stadium in River Falls.

September 20, 2022