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Cats play Indians tough

Austin Johnson (20) hits Menomonie's Austin Berend down low and Dylan Dock (21) hits him up high as Mark Bennett moves in to help out on the tackle in the third quarter of the Cats' 17-7 loss to the Indians Friday night at Ramer Field. Bob Burrows photo

The Wildcat defense held a Menomonie offense that was averaging 34 points a game to half that total Friday night. But Menomonie's defense was just as stingy, holding the Cats to just a touchdown to help the Indians escape with a 17-7 victory.

The game marked the Big Rivers Conference opener for both teams.

Menomonie scored 41 points in a season opening one-point loss to Marshfield before defeating Wausau West, 27-21, in week two. But the Wildcat defense made the Indians work for every point Friday night at Ramer Field.

After stopping the Indians on their first two drives of the game, Menomonie was forced to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Taylor Mueller to take a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter.

The Cats came right back to take the lead on a 52-yard touchdown run by Dylan Dock. Dock beat the Menomonie defense to the right edge, then got a huge block by wide receiver Connor Schug downfield before going the rest of the way untouched.

Menomonie would answer with a six-yard touchdown pass from Kasey Kruse to Austin Berend on its next possession but Zach Pavlichek blocked Mueller's extra point attempt to keep the score at 9-7 in favor of the Indians.

Menomonie scored its final points of the game just before halftime on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Kruse to Levi Kraft. Kruse hit Berend on the two-point conversion to make the score 17-7.

Jack Herum picked off a Kruse pass on the final play of the first half and the Cats held the Indians to three punts and a missed field goal while holding them scoreless in the second half.

"We got a very strong performance from our defense," Wildcat head coach John Bennett said. "They played tough all night and really got around the football field. Our defense is definitely our team's strength at this point in the season."

Offensively however, the Cats couldn't do much other than Dock's long TD run and never crossed midfield in the second half.

"Our offense is still searching for an identity," Bennett said. "The boys are giving great effort, but we are struggling to establish a reliable passing game."

The Cats completed just one of 10 pass attempts in the game, a 32-yard completion from Ryan Kusilek to Schug on their second possession of the game that helped them escape from deep in their own territory.

Linebacker Ben Wunrow led the Wildcat defensive charge with 20 tackles, including 13 solo stops. Tony Mishek added 16 tackles, including six solo, while eight of Mark Bennett's tackles were solo.

Pavlichek came up with eight tackles, including four behind the line of scrimmage, while James Kozak had three tackles for loss and Tim Weller had two.

Menomonie ran 66 offensive plays compared to 33 for the Wildcats and outgained River Falls 353-175. Dock led the Cats' offense with 92 rushing yards in nine attempts while Nick Zimmerman gained 31 yards in four carries.

Despite the loss, Coach Bennett was pleased to see his team match Menomonie's intensity level.

"The team played at the intensity level required for success in the Big Rivers," he said. "It was a hard-hitting football game."

River Falls, now 2-1 overall, 0-1 in the BRC, will go back to work Friday at Carson Park in Eau Claire against winless Eau Claire Memorial (0-3, 0-1). Bennett said the team is taking nothing for granted.

"Overall, this team needs to keep working hard in practice and continue to become the team they are meant to be," he said.

Menomonie 0 17 0 0--17

River Falls 0 7 0 0--7

See the rest of the stats in the Sept. 17 print edition of the River Falls Journal.