GAME OF THE WEEK (Aug. 29–Sept. 4)
SWC FOOTBALL: Richland Center 30, Onalaska Luther 24
RICHLAND CENTER — Football wins don't come easily, and Richland Center Hornet players, coaches and fans may know it as well if not better than most.
But after nearly five years and 42 games of frustration, the Hornets earned a victory Friday night.
The Hornets rallied twice and marched 90 yards in the fourth quarter for the winning touchdown in a 30–24 win over the Luther Knights of Onalaska at Avitus Ripp Field.
As one Hornet said, the win simply meant, “a lot.”
For each Hornet it was the first varsity football win of their career — some still relatively short, but for others, the win seemed like something that may never come.
And while the win was not against a league rival, it was still a win. It was a start — a change in direction.
But the win didn’t come easily. The Hornets had to recover from the Knights’ initial 12–0 lead. And although Richland Center ran off 23 straights points, Luther answered with a pair of touchdowns of their own to regain a 24–23 lead.
While the Hornets had seldom been confronted with the need for a lengthy drive for a go-ahead touchdown during the past 42 games, they marched 90 yards with help from two key penalties. And finally junior Jaren Hill took a handoff on a counter play and dashed 19 yards to the end zone with 5:23 left.
Second-year head coach Andy Watters credited a team effort — an effort that wasn’t perfect but one that produced a long-awaited success along with many teachable moments.
The Hornets were anything but consistent offensively, but they did show some big play capability. Keon Miller may bave been limited by the Knights much of the game, but he still managed three touchdowns — two running and one through the air.
The defense struggled to contain the Kinghts’ senior Erik Rogers, who ran for three TDs and 221 yards on 22 carries. However, the defense led by senior Logan Morris came up with some key stops as the Nights failed on four conversion attempts as well as on two possessions in the waning moments when the Hornets were clinging to the lead.
Richland Center’s special teams were led by freshman kicker Bryce Hillers, who converted three of four extra points and booted a 42-yard field goal late in the first half.
Luther needed only 85 seconds to go 80 yards to grab an early 6–0 lead. Two runs by Rogers set up Christina Wilhm’s four-yard keeper for the touchdown. Under pressure from Trent Forehand, Wilhm was unable to complete a pass from the conversion.
Rogers ran for 49 of the 64 yards on the Knights’ second scoring drive. With 3:00 left in the first quarter, Rogers finished the drive with a five-yard run.
The Hornets capitalized on a fumble recovery to get on the scoreboard early in the second quarter. They covered 52 yards in five plays with Miller finishing the drive with an 18-yard run with 8:33 left.
Luther threatened again, but Morris sacked Wilhm to end the drive. Three plays later, quarterback Warrick Wolf and Morris collaborated on an 82-yard scoring pass with 2:15 left. Hillers PAT gave the Hornets a 14–12 lead.
They weren’t done. Alex Hardy’s fumble recovery set up Hillers’ 42-yard field goal with 12 seconds left in the half.
The Hornets increased their lead early in the second half. Levi Moen’s kickoff return to the Luther 40 and two runs by Hill set up a two-yard TD run by Miller with 11:09 left in the third. Altough Hillers converted the extra point, Luther was penalized on the play. The Hornets were not able to decline the penalty, and his second attempt was wide.
Luther gained a new life when Rogers broke loose on a 51-yard dash to the end zone with 2:34 remaining in the third quarter, but Connor Peters was stopped on an attempted run for a two-point conversion.
The Hornets were quickly forced to punt and Luther regained the lead when Rogers ran 44 yards for a touchdown with 11:01 remaining. But again, the Knights bid for a two-point conversion was stopped.
The Hornets went 90 yards in 13 plays — picking up two key first downs on penalties —and Hill put the Hornets ahead. Hillers added the point after.
Still, the Hornets needed to stop the Knights twice to preserve the win.
While Rogers led all rushers, Ben Riley gained 42 yards on three carries and Wihlm had nine carries for minus-13 yards. Wihlm was 1 of 8 passing for 11 yards.
The Hornets rushed for 149 yards. Hill had 16 carries for 80 yards, Miller nine for 56, Thompson one for 20, and Wolf seven for minus-six.
Wolf completed 9 of 18 passes for 137 yards with one touchdown. Miller caught four passes for 89 yards.
This Friday night, the Hornets are scheduled to play another Coulee Conference opponent in Black River Falls at 7 p.m. The Tigers will enter the game 0–3 after last week’s 42–8 loss to River Valley.