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Cats learn from their mistakes

Junior Ellis Johnson bursts through the banner held by River Falls Youth football players to lead the Wildcats back onto the field for the second half of Friday's game against New Richmond.

It didn't take long for the first-time starters on the Wildcat football team to learn how fast the varsity game can be.

New Richmond's Cody Taubman ran for a 69-yard touchdown run on the Tigers' first play from scrimmage Aug. 27, and Tiger quarterback Zach Kier hit Justice Harvieux for a 35-yard touchdown on the next possession to stake New Richmond to an early 13-0 lead.

Taubman scored the second of his three touchdowns late in the second quarter to give the Tigers a 20-0 halftime lead. The Wildcats settled down and outscored New Richmond in the second half, but eventually came out on the short end of a 26-7 score.

Wildcat head coach Jason Wolf said the Cats made mistakes, especially early, but he liked the way the team responded in the second half.

"With so many inexperienced guys and only three starters back on each side of the ball, there's a little learning curve and we saw that Friday night," he said. "Considering they all played JV or sophomore last year, the varsity game is a lot faster game. That's what I think the biggest thing was; having players learn what that varsity speed really is. I was encouraged that in the second half we played them even. We did a nice job controlling the ball and held them to shorter drives. Those are good things to build on."

The Cats took the opening kickoff and started on their own 33 yard-line and immediately posted a first down on a 12-yard run by Nick Zimmerman. But the drive stalled near midfield and after a Wildcat punt, Taubman took a hand-off from Kier and beat the Wildcat defense to the outside on his way to a 69-yard touchdown run.

Wildcat sophomore Kyle Hargrave returned the ensuing kickoff all the way to the Tiger 26, but Taubman picked off quarterback Ryan Kusilek's pass on 4th-and-9, and the Tiger offense moved the ball to the Wildcat 35 before Kier hit Harvieux to make the score 13-0.

The Wildcats put together a 10-play drive in the second quarter with Zimmerman running for a pair of first downs, but the drive ended at the New Richmond 18 when Kusilek missed a 35-yard field goal attempt.

Taubman scored from five yards out with just under four minutes remaining in the second quarter to extend the Tigers' lead to 20-0.

River Falls put together another long drive just before halftime, using 15 plays to move from its own 29 yard-line to the Tiger 10. Brad Freeborn caught a pair of passes for 14 yards to open the drive and Zimmerman ran for 15 yards on 3rd-and-10 to get the ball to the Tiger 10. But Kusilek's fourth down pass intended for Riley Larson in the end zone was broken up by the Tigers' Mike Kroll.

The Wildcats got on the board in the third quarter after a bad snap on a New Richmond punt gave them a first down at the Tiger 36 yard-line. Quarterback Lucas Weiss carried right up the middle for a first down to the 24, and a nine-yard run by Larson moved the ball to the 8. Evan Huppert carried for five more yards before Zimmerman carried it over from the two.

Kusilek drilled the extra point and the Cats had cut the Tigers' lead to 20-7 with 1:35 remaining in the third quarter.

Taubman scored his third touchdown of the game for the Tigers on a 23-yard run with 2:58 remaining in the game. Wildcat senior Jamie Kozak blocked the extra point attempt to make the final score 26-7.

Wolf said the Cats played much better in the second half.

"Defensively, I liked as the game progressed we had more and more people flying to the ball. That's a sign of confidence," he said. "Offensively, we were happy that we're starting to clean up our schemes. We're not finishing like we should, but we're in the right places. That's a positive."

Zimmerman finished with 102 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries while Kusilek completed 11-of-22 passes for 77 yards. Freeborn caught four passes for 35 yards while Huppert caught four passes for 24 yards.

Defensive lineman Tim Weller finished with 10 tackles, including five solo, while Kozak contributed 10 stops with two solo tackles and a blocked extra point attempt.

Wolf said New Richmond has a very good team this year.

"Their kids have been successful at every level and they've been waiting a long time for this year," he said. "They made the playoffs last year and they're all back. We played a very good New Richmond team Friday night."

He said the Cats will go back to work in practice this week to prepare for Ellsworth Friday night.

"Even though we didn't win the game, there are so many positive things to take out if it," he said. "We did a lot of good things. Now we have to get some little things corrected and we'll be in good shape."

Get more details about Wildcats football in the Sept. 2 print edition of the River Falls Journal.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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