Wildcat football coach David Crail said he's pleased his players were disappointed after their 21-7 loss to Eau Claire Memorial Friday, Sept. 15, at Carson Park.
"I'd be disappointed if they weren't disappointed," he said.
The winless Wildcats had the undefeated Old Abes on the ropes in the first half, holding Memorial to just three first downs and 68 total yards while building a 7-0 lead.
But after stopping River Falls on its first possession of the second half, the Old Abes moved into Wildcat territory for the first time all night before tying the score with 4:07 left in the third quarter.
It took a 55-yard bomb with seven minutes remaining in the game to give Memorial it's first lead, 14-7, but the Wildcats were still within striking distance until the final minute when Memorial recovered a River Falls fumble in the end zone to make the final 21-7.
Crail said the Wildcat's disappointment was justified.
"The kids were disappointed because they felt like they had let one slip away," he said. "You hate to see kids disappointed, but I think that disappointment comes from the fact they are working so hard and when you let one slip away it hurts."
River Falls held Memorial to just 68 yards in the first half, with six Old Abes' drives starting at their own 30, 9, 20, 20, 11 and 3 yard lines. A Joey Davis interception early in the second quarter set up a 9-yard touchdown run by Seth Kohel, and Luke Nelson added the extra point to give the Cats a 7-0 lead.
The second half was a different story, however, as Memorial limited the Wildcats to just 57 yards and two first downs. A Jack Brown 3-yard touchdown run tied the score before Old Abe quarterback Keagan Calchera hit Kyle Wilson with a 55-yard bomb in the fourth quarter to give Memorial a 14-7 lead.
An Old Abe punt pinned River Falls at its own 2-yard line late, where a Wildcat fumble was recovered by Memorial in the end zone with 33 seconds remaining to make the final 21-7.
Despite the loss, Crail said the Wildcats put together one of their best games this season.
"I thought the effort was good throughout the game," he said. "We did some really good things. It was one of the more complete games we've played. We still have to work on our discipline and penalties, that hurt us with field position at times, but we're moving ahead. It all comes down to that consistency thing we keep talking about."
Kohel finished with 62 rushing yards on 18 carries while Ryan Flanagan completed 7-of-18 passes for 37 yards.
The Cats were without the services of starting quarterback Logan Graetz due to a foot injury but Crail said each player on the team has been ready when his number is called.
"We've done a pretty good job from the standpoint of everybody being prepared," he said. "Clearly losing a guy like Logan at quarterback hurts, but Flanny has prepared every week like he's the starter and he's ready. So I don't think there's much we had to so differently."
Jacob Miller led the Wildcat defense with nine tackles, six solo, while Adam Feyereisen recorded six solo stops and eight total and Nelson had seven tackles, five on his own. Nelson, Brendon Davis, Chance Kamrowski and Sam Glaubitz posted one sack each.
Crail said the Wildcats have kept their heads up during their brutal early schedule. The combined record of the Cat's first five opponents this season is 23-2.
"Our schedule has been difficult, but we're not in the excuse making business here," he said. "We've played some really good teams and played some good football. From our standpoint, positives don't show up in the win-loss column, unfortunately. But we continue to work hard and this is a process; it take time."
Crail said the Cats returned to practice Monday fired up and ready to go back to work to prepare for Chippewa Falls (2-3, 1-2) this Friday at 7 p.m. at David Smith Stadium at Ramer Field.
"Hopefully people see the kids are working hard and there have been small sparks of some positive things," he said. "We just have to get over the hump, and I think we're getting closer."