There were certainly growing pains in Rob Scott's first year as the head coach of Eau Claire Memorial football. But the Old Abes have something to build on after Friday's season-closing victory.
The offense found a rhythm in the first half, scoring on three straight drives while backed by quarterback Ryan Thompson in a 28-14 victory against cross-town rival Eau Claire North at Carson Park. Thompson threw four touchdown scores to four different receivers, and the defense made critical stops in the second half to propel the Old Abes to their second win of the season.
"The season wasn't the greatest, but we came out with a win in our last game," Thompson said. "Everybody played great."
The teams traded scores early, with North going ahead 7-0 and 14-7 on touchdown runs from Remy Rassbach and Jackson Koller and Memorial answering with Thompson passes to Jack Redwine and Tyson Harvey.
After allowing the Huskies to get to the end zone on their first two drives, the Memorial defense got an interception on the third by Harvey. That kick-started a nine-play, 39-yard trek to pay dirt capped off by a 16-yard TD pass from Thompson to Reagan Hub for the eventual game-winner.
A six-yard fade to Hub in the left corner of the end zone put Memorial up for good and sealed a 13th straight victory in the series for the southsiders.
"The kids just stayed the course and kept battling," Scott said. "Sometimes this year things haven't gone well and the kids are learning to persevere."
North started with the ball in the second half and ran about half the third quarter out on a lengthy drive before being forced into a turnover on downs. Memorial took just five plays to go 57 yards for a bit of cushion. Thompson hit Gavin Gerber in stride as he streaked into the end zone for a 29-yard score, his longest of the day.
"Our offensive line blocked perfectly, receivers got open, running back got open and ran the ball pretty well," Thompson said of the offensive success. "We just moved the ball up and scored."
North was gifted an opportunity to cut the deficit to one score midway through the fourth quarter when a fumble set the Huskies up at Memorial's 20-yard line. But the Old Abe defense stood tall, getting North to a 4th-and-goal from the 5 before Connor Anderson secured a drive-ending sack. That all but ended the game with 6:52 remaining. Memorial ran the rest of the clock out.
North had its opportunities to slow Memorial's roll, getting the Abes into 3rd and 4th downs. But the purple-clad offense always seemed to find the play to keep the sticks moving.
"That pretty much sums up a lot of the season," North coach Andy Jarzynski said.
Thompson finished with 181 yards while hitting on 17 of 28 attempts, his only major blemish being an interception that North's Mekhi Thomas had to reach up with one hand to grab.
"He's a very smart kid," Scott said. "He knows what he needs to work on each week and he's starting to really take strides forward and put it together. It's nice to see his development."
The Old Abes finish 2-7, but both wins hold significance. The first came against Superior, where Scott worked at last, and the second against an archrival.
Memorial graduates a senior class of 17, a group Scott got a chance to work with for a year after inheriting the crew.
"They're a great group of kids that have been through a lot, like all kids have the past few years," Scott said. "They took to coaching. I couldn't be more proud of them."
North will get one more chance to hit the field thanks to the WIAA allowing the Huskies to take on Superior in an extra "Week 10" matchup. The two teams were originally scheduled to play in September but North forfeited due to COVID-19 issues in the program. A rescheduled date, set for Thursday, is possible due to both missing out on the playoffs.
"I told the seniors we would handle all our senior farewell stuff next Thursday when we head on up to Superior," Jarzynski said. "They'll come back tough this week."
Eau Claire Memorial 28, Eau Claire North 14
N: Remy Rassbach 4 run (Ryan Conlin kick), 5:57.
M: Jack Redwine 13 pass from Ryan Thompson (Ben Frey kick), 3:50.
N: Jackson Koller 2 run (Conlin kick), 9:12.
M: Tyson Harvey 19 pass from Thompson (Frey kick), 6:07.
M: Reagan Hub 6 pass from Thompson (Frey kick), 1:53.
M: Gavin Gerber 29 pass from Thompson (Frey kick), 4:20.
Team & Individual Statistics
RUSHING (att-yds): Memorial (29-131): Reese Woerner 22-103, Thompson 5-23, Jack Conner 1-6, Sebastian Westerberg 1-(-1). North (53-192): Rassbach 27-110, Jack Kein 15-43, James Jarzynski 6-19, Traeton Goss 3-16, Koller 2-4.
PASSING (comp-att-int-yds): Memorial (17-28-1-181): Thompson 17-28-1-181. North (2-6-1-(-1)): Kein 2-4-0-(-1), Carson Ackerman 0-1-1-0, Tyler Everson 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING (rec-yds): Memorial: Harvey 5-60, Redwine 4-42, Gerber 1-29, Woerner 3-23, Hub 3-21, Peter Albert 1-6. North: Jarzynski 1-(-4), Gavin Koleski 1-3.