Cats claw Tigers in season openerThere may be a lot of new faces on the Wildcat football team this season, but the Cats picked up right where they left off last season in a 37-7 season-opening victory at New Richmond Friday night.
By: Bob Burrows, River Falls Journal
There may be a lot of new faces on the Wildcat football team this season, but the Cats picked up right where they left off last season in a 37-7 season-opening victory at New Richmond Friday night.
The Cats got off to a 1-5 start a year ago before finishing the season with three straight wins. They continued that trend Friday night behind a high-powered passing attack and an advantageous defense that kept the Tigers off the scoreboard until the final minute of the game.
The win avenged a 26-7 loss to the Tigers in the season opener last year at Ramer Field.
“We’re real happy with the win, especially after last season,” second-year coach Jason Wolf said. “We wanted to come out strong and not dig a hole for ourselves by going 1-5 like last year. We talked about building off the end of last season and keeping it going.”
Quarterback Ryan Kusilek was the only returning starter on the Wildcat offense Friday night and held up his end by throwing for 135 yards and three touchdowns. Kusilek completed 8-of-10 pass attempts without an interception in his first action of the season. He also was perfect in five extra-point kicks.
The Cats had more yards passing (135) than they did on the ground (130). And while Wolf said he was pleased with the outcome, there is plenty of room for improvement.
“The score was good, but when you look at all things, we have to get better,” he said. “Our running game was not very effective, so it was a great thing that our passing game was good.”
The Cats capitalized on a bad Tiger snap on a punt in the first quarter, recovering the ball deep in New Richmond territory before Kyle Hargrave dove over from one yard out.
Another bad snap by the Tigers sailed over the punter’s head and he kicked it out the back of the end zone for a safety and a 9-0 River Falls lead with 1:30 left in the first quarter.
“They gave us some opportunities early and we took advantage,” Wolf said.
The Cats erupted for three touchdowns in the second quarter, starting with Eric Wunrow’s diving catch in the end zone on the first play of the second quarter for a 32-yard touchdown reception from Kusilek.
Josiah Harris added a one-yard touchdown run midway through the quarter before the Cats put together a 15-play, 76-yard drive at the end of the half that culminated with a 5-yard TD hookup from Kusilek to Wunrow with 19 seconds remaining to put River Falls up 30-0.
Jake Knotek hauled in a Kusilek pass along the sideline and went the distance for a 41-yard touchdown for the Cats’ only touchdown of the second half.
Wolf said he was most excited about the energy the Cats displayed in the first game of the season.
“You could see a strong energy around the whole team,” he said. “We kept telling the kids, if you play with energy you can make up for a lot of mistakes and that’s what happened.”
Knotek finished with four catches for 70 yards and a touchdown while Wunrow caught two passes, both for touchdowns, totaling 37 yards.
Hargrave finished as the Cats’ leading rusher with 39 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. Harris carried the ball five times for 21 yards and a score while Connor Christensen had six carries for 21 yards and Tanner Qualls carried the ball once for a 24-yard gain.
Wolf said the team is excited about this Friday’s home opener against Ellsworth.
“They want to keep it rolling,” he said. “With so many first-time starters, they are very excited about the upcoming game. We were happy to get off to a good start; it was a good confidence builder.”
The Cats will host Ellsworth this Friday at 7 p.m. at Ramer Field in their home opener.