Football: Wildcats seek first BRC title in 23 years
The Wildcat football team isn't looking past anyone this season.
The Cats made the 2-hour, 40-minute trip north to Superior last Friday, Oct. 5, knowing they needed to beat a Spartan team that was fighting for its playoff life in its homecoming game in order to stay in the race for the Big Rivers Conference championship.
They returned home with a 40-16 victory to put them at 5-1 in BRC play, 7-1 overall. Now they set their sights on Eau Claire North in the final regular season game this Friday, Oct. 12. And despite the Huskies 0-8 record, River Falls isn't taking anything for granted as it seeks its first conference title since 1995.
“The second you start to do that is when you you set yourself up for a big disappointment,” head coach David Crail said. “We have never made this about our opponents. This is about us and getting better every single rep. And that's the way we're going to do things this week; just work on continuing to get better.”
That approach served the Wildcats well in Superior last week, with Seth Kohel running for 209 yards and three touchdowns and Logan Graetz throwing two touchdown passes to Jared Creen to keep the Cats tied with Hudson atop the BRC standings.
After stopping once to stretch their legs on the long trip north, the Wildcats scored the first four touchdowns of the game on their way to a 40-16 victory.
“That's a good one to get out of the way,” Crail said. “It's a long trip and a tough place to play so we were very happy to get out of there with a positive result.”
Superior entered the game 2-3 in the BRC, 4-3 overall. Two of their three conference losses were by scores of 16-7 to Hudson and 17-6 to Menomonie, who both entered last week tied with the Wildcats for first place. So Crail said the Wildcats knew the Spartans would be ready.
“We talked about them playing some teams in our league very tough,” he said. “They played Hudson tough and they played Menomonie tough. They're well coached and you knew they were going to be ready so if you don't prepare it could be one of those hiccups. That's a credit to our guys for putting in the work all week.”
The Wildcat win, coupled with Hudson's 43-21 victory over Eau Claire Memorial and Menomonie's 26-20 loss to Rice Lake, leaves River Falls and Hudson tied for the BRC lead at 5-1 each heading into the final week of the regular season. River Falls’ only loss was a 28-27 decision to the Raiders in the BRC opener Aug. 31 while Hudson’s lone loss came 20-17 to Menomonie Sept. 21. Hudson wraps up the regular season Friday night at Chippewa Falls (4-4, 2-4).
River Falls enters Friday night’s game against Eau Claire North as the top scoring team in the BRC with an average of 39.8 points per game while the Huskies have barely managed a touchdown while going 0-8. Graetz leads the state in touchdown passes with 25 and has completed 70.4 percent of his passes (100-for-142) for 1,663 yards with just two interceptions.
Creen leads the BRC in receiving with 43 catches for 761 yards and 15 touchdowns, while Kohel is the league’s top rusher with 1,169 yards, an average of 146.1 yards per game, with 16 touchdowns.
The Cats were without the services of senior linebacker and kicker Luke Nelson at Superior, who suffered a season-ending foot injury the week before at Chippewa Falls. Without Nelson, River Falls missed a pair of extra point attempts while going 2-for-4 on two-point conversions.
“We lost Luke for the season and that hurts,” Crail said. “He's one of our captains and he's put so much into this program and now the rest of his senior season he has to watch. I hurt for a kid like that. He's done so much for us but he's going to remain a big part of what we do. We have some things to clean up but we'll figure it out and keep moving forward.”
Crail said he's looking forward to seeing a big crowd at David Smith Stadium Friday night when the Wildcats play for their first conference title in 23 years.
“The community and the students at the high school have been so great,” he said. “It's been a lot of fun being in these four walls and out in the community and seeing how much people are excited for our guys. Hopefully we'll have a big crowd and we'll be able to go out and have some fun Friday night.”