LANCASTER - As Lancaster football coach John Hoch put it after last Friday night’s 21-14 victory over River Valley, “You aren’t going to beat everybody big every week.”
That certainly was the case last Friday night when River Valley brought their 6-0 record up against Lancaster’s 6-0 mark, making for a hard-fought game by both teams.
“We knew it was going to be a test,” said coach Hoch of River Valley. “They’re a good football team. They were 6-0.”
Going into last Friday night’s game though, Lancaster had been having their way with whomever stepped onto the field with them.
In their previous six games leading up to last week, Lancaster had been averaging 46.7 points per game to their opponent’s six.
In the first half alone, Lancaster had scored 193 total points in their first six games, and amazingly had not given up a single point to their opponent.
All that changed last Friday night though, as visiting River Valley had earned itself a 14-7 advantage after one half of play, looking to claim this year’s Southwest Wisconsin Conference title.
Neither team could find the end zone in the first quarter, but in the closing seconds, a Lancaster miscue led to the first score of the game.
With time running out in the first quarter, the Arrows were forced to punt. The snap though went over Brett Snider’s head, who retreated to scoop up the ball, but was tackled at Lancaster’s 27-yard line as time ran out.
The Blackhawks turned the miscue into seven points shortly after, scoring on a 20-yard run with 9:41 to play in the second quarter.
Lancaster answered on its next possession, using the legs of quarterback A.J. Day to move the ball downfield.
It was Day eventually finding pay dirt on an 11-yard TD run that ended with a desperate dive into the end zone. Hunter Budack added the extra-point kick to make the score 7-7 with 6:38 to play in the first half.
River Valley then marched the ball down field on their next possession, taking a 14-7 lead on a seven-yard TD run by Jack Radlinger.
Before the first half had come to a close, Lancaster nearly evened the score, but with 20.4 seconds showing non the clock, Lancaster failed to convert on a fourth-and-two from the Blackhawk 19-yard line, allowing River Valley to take a 14-7 lead into the second half.
That’s where things turned around for the Arrows.
“Defensively we made some adjustments that were beneficial,” said coach Hoch of the second half. “Offensively we just didn’t make as many mistakes as we were in the first half.”
According to Hoch, River Valley was attacking the Lancaster defense from their weak side. The Arrows adjusted at halftime by going to their reverse strength, meaning they lined their strong side on River Valley’s weak side.
“At halftime, we made the adjustment defensively, and just told them offensively, against a good football team you can’t make mistakes and expect to move the ball consistently.”
The Arrows came out in the second half with fire in their eyes, and wasted little time tying the game at 14-14.
After forcing the Blackhawk to punt on their first possession of the second half, Lancaster marched the ball downfield, scoring on an 18-yard run by A.J. Day with 8:23 to play in the third quarter.
Budack’s extra-point kick evened the score at 14-14, and River Valley knew they were in for a fight.
It wasn’t long and Lancaster was again marching the ball down the field.
Following another River Valley punt, they Arrows took over possession at their own 29-yard line with 4:26 to play in the third quarter.
The drive ended early in the fourth when senior fullback Trae Mezera took a handoff on second-and-five from the River Valley 10-yard line, and steamrolled into the end zone with 11:54 to play in the game.
Again, Budack made the extra-point kick, giving Lancaster a 21-14 advantage.
The Blackhawks made things interesting late in the game though.
Looking to put together a game-tying drive, the Blackhawks converted a huge fourth-and-nine from their own 43-yard line, with a 28-yard completion and 3:33 to play in the game.
Then, on fourth-and-nine from Lancaster’s 15-yard line, River Valley quarterback Carter Hoffman went for it all, but had his pass picked off by Nate Tranel at the two-yard line with 1:13 to play, securing the win for Lancaster and at least a share of this year’s SWC title.
Lancaster finished the game with 293 yards of total offense to River Valley’s 234.
On the ground, coach Hoch’s squad managed 223 yards and three TDs on 50 attempts for an average of 4.5 yards per attempt.
Mezera led the Arrows with 93 yards rushing and one TD on 23 carries, while Day finished up with 77 yards and two TDs on 13 attempts.
Senior halfback Troy Baker contributed 70 yards on the ground off 12 carries.
Through the air, Day completed 5-of-8 passing attempts for 70 yards.
Budack was the team’s leading receiver with two catches for 29 yards, a long of 18.
Defensively for Lancaster, junior linebacker Mitchell Schildgen had a team-high 7.5 tackles, while Connor Flynn was close behind with seven stops. Andy Ryan had six tackles, while Trenton Cornell was in on five.
On the injury front, Andy Ryan suffered a slight concussion during Friday night’s game, and will not be suiting up for this Friday night’s regular season finale at Richland Center.
River Valley 14
(from Friday, Oct. 5)
River Valley 0 14 0 0 - 14
Lancaster 0 7 7 7 - 21
RV - Liegel, 20-yard run (Hogan kick)
L - A.J. Day, 11-yard run (Hunter Budack kick)
RV - Radlinger, 7-yard run (Hogan kick)
L - Day, 18-yard run (Budack kick)
L - Trae Mezera, 10-yard run (Budack kick)
First downs - RV 13, L 16. Rushing - RV 38-185, L 50-223. Passing yards - RV 49, L 70. Passes - RV 7-10-1, L 5-8-0. Fumbles-lost - RV 1-0, L 0-0. Penalties-yards - RV 5-50, L 5-55.
Rushing - RV: Seth Liegel 16-119; L: Trae Mezera 23-93, A.J. Day 13-77, Troy Baker 12-70. Passing - RV: Carter Hoffman 7-10-1, 49; L: A.J. Day 5-8-0, 70. Receiving - RV: Adam Mueller 2-32; L: Hunter Budack 2-29.