Hottest rivalry in western Wisconsin: The Little Brown Jug Game

By Joe Peine
Posted 9/14/23

Jeff Bjork, self-styled local sports historian, has dubbed the "Little Brown Jug" game the hottest rival trophy game in western Wisconsin. Bjork relates that, although the first game between the two …

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Hottest rivalry in western Wisconsin: The Little Brown Jug Game


Jeff Bjork, self-styled local sports historian, has dubbed the "Little Brown Jug" game the hottest rival trophy game in western Wisconsin. Bjork relates that, although the first game between the two schools was played in 1899, the Little Brown Jug series began in the fall of 1953 when a River Falls student manager thought it would be good to have a trophy between the two heated rivals like Minnesota and Michigan did and still do.

“In the first ‘Little Brown Jug’ game, Hudson entered it undefeated and was highly touted as the bigger, faster, and better team to the undersized Wildcats,” Bjork said. “Led by Jim Finstad's 179 yards rushing and two touchdowns and a two-point conversion, River Falls outgained the Raiders 444 to 171 yards and held Hudson to only six first downs all game and won the first of the Jug battles by a 33-6 score enroute to a conference championship.”

Bjork says that it was not uncommon for crowds of well over 5,000 to attend this game during the 1950's through the '70's and that the word "bitter" may be an understatement. River Falls currently leads the overall series between these two teams 56-49, and they also lead “The Jug” series 37-32.

Bjork also notes this fun fact: Prior to World War II, the nickname of the two schools was the River Falls Westsiders (due to the high school on the west side of town) and the Hudson Tollbridgers (due to the toll bridge over the St. Croix River owned by the City of Hudson). The more you know.

The River Falls Wildcats were thwarted in their pursuit of the Little Brown Jug by the Hudson Raiders Friday night at Ramer Field in River Falls by a score of 47-26.

It was truly a tale of two halves as things moved along evenly throughout the first 24:00 of game play.

River Falls got on the board first with some chunky gains on their opening drive culminating in a 5-yard run by running back Jonah Severson. The missed extra point put the score at 6-0.

The Raiders answered right back with a 39-yard catch and run touchdown. They too missed their extra point attempt, thus the game was tied at the end of the first.

That’s when the fireworks started.

After River Falls punted on a 3 and out, the Wildcats’ defense would put the offense on its shoulders with a forced fumble resulting in River Falls gaining possession at the Hudson 34-yard line.

A 12-yard run, and back-to-back receptions by wide receiver Jack Rock had the Wildcats on the goal line. Severson plunged it in from the 1-yard line for his second touchdown of the game. The 2-point conversion attempt failed resulting in a 12-6 lead.

Hudson took possession from their own 20-yard line, and after two quick passes they were at midfield. Then, on the third play of the drive, the Raiders QB broke loose and rushed the ball 52 yards into the endzone. Their extra point missed, and the game was tied once more.

With 4:00 left in the half, it was 3rd and 9. River Falls quarterback Jacob Range threw a bullet up the seam to wide receiver Mason Novak for a 26-yard connection planting them deep into Raider territory. One quick pass later to Rock had the Wildcats were sitting on the 6-yard line. Severson would do the rest, running it in and completing the hat trick.

This time the 2-point conversion was good, and it looked like River Falls might be going into halftime up 20-12. However, a good kickoff return, a QB sneak and an untimely Wildcat penalty put the Raiders on the 36-yard line of River Falls.

With 1:00 remaining in the half, the Raiders broke off a 35-yard run which set them up for 1st and goal from the 1-yard line. They pushed it in and completed the 2-point conversion attempt, tying it up. River Falls got the ball back with 0:45 remaining in the half and decent field position, but they decided to run out the clock and go into the half tied at 20.

The second half started fast as Hudson wasted no time. After two consecutive run plays to push them out to midfield, the Raider QB broke away again, this time for a 55-yard touchdown. They made the extra point and lead 27-20 with only 49 seconds having expired in the half.

After a punt by each team, River Falls took possession of the ball pinned against their goal line on the 1. They couldn’t escape and had to punt it away with 4:20 remaining in the third. Thus, Hudson took over already in River Falls territory, and they rushed it three times in a row, the third going for 28 yards and into the end zone bringing the score to 34-20.

River Falls went 3 and out, but a bad snap caused the punt to be rushed and Hudson ended up taking over in River Falls territory. With 11:28 remaining in the fourth, the Raiders connected on a 40-yard touchdown pass to make the score 41-20.

The Wildcats were forced to punt it again after starting on their 5-yard line resulting in the Raiders taking over from the River Falls 45-yard line with 8:00 to go. Hudson proceeded to bleed the clock with the run game, eventually pushing one in to make it 48-20 with just over 6:00 left in regulation.

River Falls would put together one more good drive late with Severson getting his fourth touchdown of the game, but with only 2:30 remaining, Hudson ran out the clock and secured the win and the Little Brown Jug with the final score being 48-26.

The player of the game for the Wildcats was clearly Severson who functioned as River Falls’ bell cow rushing for 99 yards and four touchdowns on 28 carries. Range did well in the passing game as well, completing 13/17 passes for 132 yards and contributing 10 rushing attempts.

Severson says that, although it wasn’t a great game, it isn’t something that needs to be dwelled on either.

“We’ve got a lot of double reppers - guys playing offense and defense. We have a small senior class and a small junior class, and I mean, it's just tough with that. We’ve got a lot of young guys playing in these games, and some of them are just really inexperienced. And then the older guys are always just really gassed. The biggest thing is that we have to learn how to fight through that kind of stuff and just move on and keep working,” Severson said. “The second half was a tough one, obviously. But I feel like there's glimpses of where our guys did well. We just got the right push from some of those offensive plays and some of the defensive plays. Some of our young guys are getting in there and getting some hard tackles and some turnovers even. I mean, that's what I think is good. These guys just need to build their confidence throughout these early games.”

When faced with a defeat like this, head coach Ryan Scherz sees more of the big picture.

“We got backed up multiple times, which is hard. We played with good field position in the first half and bad field position in the second. It's the second game in a row where we had to start a series from our 1-yard line, and your options are kind of limited there,” Scherz said. “When you give up 48 points and lose by 22, there’s usually a lot of reasons. That’s what we’ll have to figure out over the next 24-48 hours, where we go from here.”

Little Brown Jug, River Falls Wildcats, Hudson Raiders, football, Big Rivers