Eau Claire Memorial answered a few questions in Friday night’s season opener.
The Old Abes can throw the ball. They have a 100-yard running back. And they can play defense.
After dominating play early, they were able to hold off La Crosse Logan in the final minutes for a 20-14 win on a hot night at Carson Park.
“I’m so happy for the kids,” Memorial coach Mike Sinz said. “They played with a ton of effort and competed all four quarters.
“I didn’t know what to expect. This is my 14th year coaching and one of the proudest moments I’ve had.”
The winning touchdown came early in the fourth period on Bryson Johnson’s toss to Nathan Hau, who bulled his way over two Logan defenders to score on a 53-yard play that made it 20-7. It capped a 99-yard drive.
Logan, which came to life in the second half, answered just under five minutes later when Dallas Kapanke capped a 61-yard drive with a 7-yard bolt into the end zone that cut the lead to six.
Loyal Crawford, the Abes’ workhorse back, returned the kickoff 49 yards and the Abes drove to a fourth-and-one at the Rangers 17 when the drive was stopped with 1:26 to play.
Then it was up to an Abe defense that stuffed the Rangers in the first half but allowed some yards in the last two periods.
Logan was able to reel off two first downs but a 12-yard sack of quarterback Devin Moran, who was hit by Hau and finally polished off by Grant Gerber, stunted their drive, which finally wound up with an incomplete pass at their 44 with 1:05 to play. Memorial ran out the clock.
“The defense sealed the deal,” Sinz said. “Logan has a great program and we knew they had playmakers and would come to play.”
Up to that point, it was the passing of Johnson, a junior, who hit on 15 passes for 236 yards, and the running of sophomore Crawford, who got socked by a tough Logan defense but still piled up 123 yards on 30 carries.
“I was not surprised how well Johnson threw the ball,” Sinz said. ‘He’s put in a ton of time and I’m happy for his success.”
And the receivers, who made several great catches. Hau caught five for 127 yards in a sensational performance, Calvin Tanner took three for 51 yards with Jack Piper and Willie Hesse also chipping in.
“That No. 2 (Crawford) is slippery, we made him work for his yards,” Logan coach Casey Knoble said. “And the quarterback put the ball right on the money. They have a tough offense.”
Mistakes cost the Abes dearly in the first half as they had a 166-37 advantage in total yards but only a 8-0 halftime lead. That came on Crawford’s 1-yard run set up by passes of 24 yards to Tanner and 18 to Hau.
Memorial made it 14-0 on their first possession of the second on Crawford’s 4 yard run again set up by receptions by Tanner and Hau.
But Logan got on the board on Damond Butler’s 2-yard run that capped a 56-yard drive to cut the margin to 14-7.
“We got behind but I thought our kids really fought back well,” Knoble said. “Give Memorial credit. We had them pinned at the one and they were able to go all the way on us.”
For Logan, quarterback Devin Moran passed for 74 yards while Butler was the leading rusher with 61 yards. And the Ranger defense was tough at the line of scrimmage.
Memorial wound up with a 346-184 advantage in total yards. Hau was praised for his work on “both sides of the ball” while Gerber, with two sacks, and Andrew Roberts, with a key interception in the first half, were also cited for their work.
Both teams were plagued by critical mistakes in the opener. There were three interceptions and two lost fumbles.