Jays triumph over typhoon, but lose out in Level 2

The Bluejay football team proved its early season win against Antigo was hardly a fluke in a 19-14 knock-down-drag-out road epic in incredible weather last Tuesday.
But the glow from that playoff win was short-lived; short-circuited by Saturday’s 28-12 home loss to Menomonie.
The Bluejays fell behind 21-0 in the first half versus the Indians, and despite a strong second-half rally still came up short.
“Last week I said I loved our draw, but when you play an Antigo team as tough as these guys are, it takes a lot out of you,” MHS coach Tom Tourtillott said. “We won the game-that was great and I wouldn’t trade anything for it-but to turn around and on two days of practice and rest play a team the quality of Menomonie is tough.
“I would say we delivered more than we took at Antigo, but even delivering takes its toll on the body, and that’s coming off a tough game with D.C. Everest the previous Thursday. Playing three games in 10 days, no matter what shape you’re in, takes a mental and physical drain on your body.
“That’s not to take anything away from Menomonie, because they played a heck of a game. I thought the key was the way they converted on third down. It’s telling that they had 80 offensive plays and we had 43. They did the things we’ve done-convert on third down, make it third-and-short, keep the clock moving. We were just a hair short; just a half-step or quarter-step slower than they played.”
Menomonie used a good mix of plays to beat the Jays for the second time in three years in the playoffs. From the pitch play to speedy Joey Neeb (which led to a touchdown with 7:40 left in the first quarter), the middle screen to Isaac Hoagland (which gave Menomonie a 14-0 lead with just :13 left in the frame), the counter with 215-pound fullback Aaron White, and the frequently used sneak from quarterback Neico Stokke.
Critical calls came on the second TD. Jimmy Benrud fumbled while converting a 4th-and-6 on a reverse, but was ruled down. On the next play-Hoagland’s 26-yard screen score-Menomonie was called for ineligible receivers downfield, but the flag was picked up. Stokke also fumbled as he crossed the goal line on his 3-yard sneak for the 21-0 lead with 7:57 to go in the half.
Interceptions on the two early MHS drives also aided the Indians.
Kyle Kubichek came up with his own interception in the end zone with just 1:44 left to limit the damage.
Menomonie burned up nearly 9 minutes of the second half with a 76-yard drive to push it to 28-0, capped by a 5-yard pitch to Neeb on third-and-goal.
Two plays after the ensuing kickoff, Merrill’s Sam Arneson fired a 35-yard sideline pass to Kubichek, who raced 25 more yards for the score. The score was 28-6 after the PAT kick just missed wide right.
Brandon Folta shut down a third-down middle screen on the next series, and after a fast punt rush, the Jays got the ball back on the Menomonie 39. They overcame a first-and-22 due to a hold with a 12-yard pass to Jordan Burton and 16-yard Arneson scramble, and Arneson hit Matt Woller with a 4-yard pass for the TD. An incomplete pass on the 2-point try left it 28-12.
Merrill later pulled off a fake punt pass from Kubi to Kyle Andreska, but MHS was flagged for ineligible downfield. Back-to-back tackles by Luke Zuelsdorff and Ray Paul stopped Menomonie’s next drive at the Jay 35. Alex Cordova caught a tipped pass for a 38 yard gain and Matt Woller’s 22-yard take-away reception made it first-and-goal at the 8. But Drew Otto intercepted a second-down pass and the game ended with the Indians taking a knee.
“You have to like the way we came back in the second half,” Tourtillott said. “I can’t fault the kids’ efforts. It’s a class group of young men, and I’m very proud to be their coach.”
Arneson completed 10-24 passes for 192 yards to Kubi (2-80), Woller (4-51), Burton (2-23) and Cordova (1-37), but had three interceptions. Merrill managed just 40 yards rushing, with 30 from Austin Voigt on 10 carries. Menomonie ran up 245 yards including 97 from Neeb and 72 from Stokke. Stokke completed 7-15 passes for 101 yards.
Leading defenders were: Arneson (9 s, 4 a); Ament (7 s, 5 a, 2 TFL); Burton (8 s, 1 a); Folta (5 s, 3 a); Paul (7 s, 1 a); and Kubichek (4 s, 1 a, 1 int).
A lovely night for football
The Bluejays fell behind 7-0 in Tuesday’s contest on a 19-yard Kolten Marten reverse two plays after an MHS fumble, the first of numerous drops in a game played in a mud hole with constant rain driven by 40 mph gusts.
“It was just a huge game,” Tourtillott said. “That’s arguably the worst weather conditions a team of mine has played in an entire game. I was quite impressed with our toughness. The team members relied on each other. We got down seven and came back and never wavered. It was a real credit to these kids.”
Merrill took a 13-7 lead after two Arneson one-yard blasts in the second quarter. A Matt Thistle fumble recovery got the ball back at the Red Robin 40 to set up the second score, with 2:56 left in the half.
Merrill had a chance to score again after Zuelsdorff intercepted a wayward pass from Jake Erickson-who was being sacked by Folta-at the Antigo 42. But dropped passes led to a late punt.
The Jays burned off 8-1/2 minutes of the third quarter while pounding a 16-play, 62-yard drive, capped by a 3-yard Arneson blast. But the second consecutive penalty on a two-point try left Merrill short again and leading 19-7.
Antigo brought it back to 19-14 after returning the kickoff to the Jay 35, and a Nico Fulsom 26-yard counter three plays later. The Red Robins would get two more chances, but a punt and Ament fumble recovery on the Antigo 30 with 3:22 left would help immensely. Arneson’s 4th-down jump pass to Ament did, too, and the game would end when an Antigo player was flagged for pushing up out of the mud off Arneson on a 3rd-and-2 play.
Merrill would finish with 253 yards of offense with Arneson (28-107) and Voigt (21-95) gaining the glut on the ground. Arneson (4-12, 51) completed passes to Ament (2-20), Burton (1-21) and Woller (1-10).
Ament (6 s, 1 a, 1 FR). Arneson (6 s, 1 a, 1 TFL), Paul (5 s), Zuelsdorff (3 s, 1 int), Michael Koppelman (2 s, 1 TFL, 1 FC) and Thistle (1 a, 1 FR) paced the defense.
Tourtillott saw plenty of positives for the 2010 Jays.
“The work ethic and way they represented Merrill was fantastic,” he said. “There’s only one team in D2 that gets to end the season on a high note, and unfortunately that’s not us. But to play two extra games is huge for our program.
“Now we need to have guys in the next group step up and realize the Jay way takes a lot of character and hard work.”

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