In case you missed it: Wildcats are 'Ghost Busters'
One play didn't win the game for River Falls Saturday afternoon, Oct. 21, against Kaukauna, but one play was all people were talking about when it was over.
Jared Creen took a handoff on a counter sweep on 4th-and-2 with 5 minutes, 19 seconds remaining and raced 54 yards untouched for a touchdown to provide the margin of victory in the Wildcats' 25-21 WIAA Level 1 playoff victory over the Galloping Ghosts at David Smith Stadium.
It was the first playoff win for River Falls since 2008 and keeps the Wildcats at home for a second round playoff game against Pulaski this Friday night, Oct. 26.
Creen's touchdown came three minutes after Kaukauna had taken a 21-18 lead. But there were plenty of other big plays by the Wildcats. Like Payton Flood's 53-yard catch and run for the first touchdown of the game. Or Paulson's blocked extra point after Kaukauna's first score. Or Logan Graetz's pass to Nate Rixmann to set up a Seth Kohel touchdown run. Or any one of Kohel's first-down carries on an 83-yard scoring drive. Or Chance Kamrowski's two sacks on Kaukauna's final possession of the game.
Head coach David Crail said it all came down to the Wildcats' resiliency.
"This is playoff football," Crail said. "It's a different animal, and sometimes that pressure increases a little bit just because it's one and done. But that's one thing about this group. They're confident and calm. They've worked so hard and they know they can perform, and I have complete trust in them and their abilities."
The Wildcats struck first when Graetz scrambled to his left and checked down to Flood, who caught the ball along the sideline, sidestepped a Kaukauna defender, and outran the rest of the Galloping Ghosts' defense 53 yards.
The extra point attempt was wide, but after Kaukauna took advantage of a short field to score a touchdown, Paulson busted through the line to block the extra point and keep the game tied, 6-6.
River Falls came right back, and after a pass interference penalty on Kaukauna, Graetz hit Rixmann for a 13-yard gain down to the two yard-line and Kohel carried over on the next play to give the Wildcats a 12-6 lead with 8:15 remaining in the half.
The Wildcat defense forced Kaukauna to punt on its next two possessions and took the six-point lead into the locker room but Kaukauna scored on its first drive of the second half and added the extra point to take a 13-12 lead.
River Falls came up short on a fake punt from their own 35 yard-line on the ensuing possession but the defense forced another Kaukauna three-and-out, giving the ball back to the Wildcats at their own 17. Kohel then did the bulk of the work on an 83-yard drive, ending with a four-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter to put River Falls ahead, 18-13.
Kaukauna answered with a 67-yard scoring drive of their own and tacked on the two-point conversion to regain the lead, 21-18, setting the stage for Creen's electrifying touchdown run on 4th-and-2 from his own 46. Senior offensive lineman Zac Paulson said the Wildcats worked on the play all week in practice.
"We made a play just designed for him, and that was the play," Paulson said. "It was a play we were supposed to score on and everyone did their job and he did the rest."
Creen credited Paulson and the rest of the offensive line for springing him.
"That was all thanks to the linemen," Creen said. "It was all them. I just saw a wide open field and I just went. We practiced that play a lot this week and it paid off."
Syverson, a soccer player the Wildcats recruited after starting kicker Luke Nelson suffered a season-ending foot injury, split the uprights for his first career extra point to give the Wildcats a 25-21 lead with 5:19 remaining.
Kamrowski came up with a third-down sack to give Kaukauna a 4th-and-19 at their own 11, but the Galloping Ghosts converted to earn a new set of downs at their own 35 yard-line with 3:03 remaining.
Another Kamrowski sack forced a third-and-20, and Joe Stoffel knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage before Kaukauna's fourth down pass attempt fell incomplete with 1:31 remaining. One more first down run by Kohel and the Cats ran out the clock in the victory formation.
Kamrowski said Creen's touchdown run energized the entire stadium.
"That fired up the sidelines, it fired me up, it fired the defense up, it fired up the fans," he said. "Once Jared gets separation he just takes off. It's insane how fast that kid is. Speed kills, and Jared killed it."
Creen had seven carries for 91 yards and caught four passes for another 91. Kohel was the workhorse of the Wildcat offense, carrying the ball 34 times for 185 yards and two scores while Graetz completed 8-of-12 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown in the gale-force winds.
Kamrowski and Mason Prigge registered six tackles each as the Wildcat defense held Kaukauna to just 88 yards on the ground and 231 total.
Crail said the Wildcats earned every bit of their playoff win.
"Kaukauna's a good football team," he said. "They come from a good conference so we knew we were going to be in for a dogfight and it proved to be that. So I'm proud of the guys. I'm proud of their effort."
The win sets up a Level 2 playoff game against Pulaski this Friday, Oct. 26, at 7 p.m. at David Smith Stadium. Pulaski defeated Menomonie, 23-20, in its playoff opener and Crail said he expects another dogfight with both teams bringing records of 9-1 into the game.
"It's going to be the exact same kind of deal," he said. "It's going to be another tough team coming in; another battle-tested team, and we're going to have to make sure that we put in another great week of practice and that we execute well. That's the fun part of this and I wouldn't have it any other way."
Neither would Paulson.
"Another week with my favorite people," he said. "That's so cool."
Kaukauna 6 0 7 8—21
Wildcats 6 6 0 13—25
RF-- Payton Flood 53-yard pass from Logan Graetz (kick failed), 9:33
Kau-- Bryson Alsteen 1-ard run (kick blocked), 0:33
RF-- Seth Kohel 2-yard run (kick failed), 8:15
Kau-- Taylor Tschantz 13-yard pass from Noah Van Asten (Kyle Seefeldt kick), 8:56
RF-- Seth Kohel 4-yard run (2-point pass failed), 11:56
Kau-- Bryson Alsteen 1-yard run (2-point pass Mason Van Zeeland from Noah Van Astern), 8:27
RF-- Jared Creen 54-yard run (Jared Syverson kick), 5:19
Team Kau RF
Total Yds. 231 404
Passing 143 113
Rushing 88 291
PASSING (Comp-Att-Yds-TD-Int): Logan Graetz 8-12-113-1-0.
RUSHING: (Att-Yds): Seth Kohel 34-185; Jared Creen 7-91; Logan Graetz 8-14.
RECEIVING (No.-Yds): Jared Creen 4-35; Payton Flood 2-58; Nate Rixmann 1-13; Joe Stoffel 1-7
TACKLES: Mason Prigge 6, Chance Kamrowski 6, Jacob Miller 4, Jackson Cleveland 3, Peter Noreen 3, Reilly Huppert 2, Eric Bark 2, Austin Mueller 1, John Firth 1, E. Sailer 1, Connor Cardell 1.
SACKS: Chance Kamrowski (2), Jacob Miller.
TACKLES FOR LOSS: Chance Kamrowski (2), Jacob Miller (2), Mason Prigge.
BLOCKED KICK: Zac Paulson.