CHIPPEWA FALLS – Thrilling comebacks have become McDonell football's modus operandi. Not that the Macks want to make a habit out of needing them.
For a third straight week the squad had to dig out of a hole to remain unbeaten, this go-around erasing a 16-point fourth quarter deficit to upend Northwood/Solon Springs 36-30 Saturday in Chippewa Falls.
Xayvion Matthews notched the go-ahead score from the 1-yard line with 1:54 remaining, then Ben Biskupski sealed the victory with an interception on the Evergreens' final possession.
"Very stressful," junior Dale Tetrault said. "I'd appreciate it if we just blow out the next team."
The game script was nothing new to the Macks. McDonell (4-0) needed a touchdown with no time remaining to best Greenwood in Week 2, then last Friday erased a 20-0 deficit to knock off Port Edwards. This week, a drastic change to the offense at halftime and a stellar showing from the defense helped keep the trend going.
Mental errors doomed the Macks early. McDonell lost a fumble and allowed the Evergreens to recover an onside kick. Grant Smiskey threw two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown to give Northwood/Solon Springs an early 7-6 advantage. The visitors extended that lead to 22-6 with 5:22 remaining in the first half before McDonell regained some momentum with a touchdown pass from Smiskey to David Andersen inside the final 30 seconds. But Jared Schultz of the Evergreens answered with an 85-yard kick return on the ensuing play to put McDonell down 30-14 at the break.
That's before mentioning a handful of penalties and dropped passes.
"We didn't play well in the first half," McDonell coach Jason Cox said. "We knew that. We just were making a lot of self-imposed mistakes. We knew we were better than them for the most part, so we just had to keep things simple. Gut-check time there in the second half, and we did it."
Smiskey has been strong to start out his career as McDonell's starting quarterback, especially considering he is just a freshman. But he showed his inexperience at points Saturday, leading Cox to make a change under center. The Macks moved to the wildcat in the second half, bringing in Tetrault from wide receiver to run the show. He found success on runs and pitches, and even completed a pass.
The offense as a whole improved as the Macks cut down the mistakes.
"I was just told that we were running Wildcat personnel and then they made the play calls," Tetrault said. "I didn't really have much time to react. I just went with it and just ran."
Tetrault finished with 161 yards rushing, all in the second half, in addition to 12 yards receiving and 15 passing.
"Dale is a great football player," senior wide receiver/running back Landon Moulton said. "To watch him take on that role is amazing for him and for us and the whole team."
The defense pitched a shutout in the second half, allowing just one yard of total offense to the Evergreens in the final 24 minutes.
"This game was all on the defense," Cox said. "They made play after play. I don't know what the stats were in the second half, but they had basically nothing and that gave us a chance in the game. That was fantastic."
After a scoreless third quarter, McDonell cut the lead to 30-22 with 9:50 remaining when Xayvion Matthews reached out to the goal line to complete a 3-yard rush and followed with a successful two-point conversion. The Evergreens appeared to answer with a long score on their next possession, but the play was negated by penalty. Northwood/Solon Springs moved back 14 yards in five plays, spurring a punt with eight and a half minutes remaining.
Sizable Tetrault runs of 30 and 18 yards, the latter on a 4th-and-7 play, helped drive McDonell into the red zone looking to equalize. Tatrault finished the job on a run from the 3-yard line with 4:42 on the clock, but Matthews was tripped up on a pitch at the last second to spoil the team's two-point conversion attempt.
An onside kick failed, but the Macks remained confident despite the two-point deficit considering how well their defense had played.
"We knew we were going to get another shot at it," Cox said. "We didn't know how much time we were going to have. I thought we were going to have to go another two-minute drill at the end."
Turns out, they had plenty of time to work with. An ill-timed snap on the first play of Northwood/Solon Springs' next drive bounced of the helmet of an Evergreen crossing the formation and McDonell jumped on it at its foe's 48-yard line.
"Thank God," Tetrault said. "We knew we were going to get another shot at it eventually. To have that much time to go and do something, it was just amazing."
Seven plays later McDonell reclaimed the lead, with Matthews running up the middle and Tetrault adding a two-point conversion run for good measure with 1:54 on the clock. The Evergreens had their backs to the wall on 4th-and-13 when Biskupski snagged an interception to allow the Macks to kneel out the rest of the time.
"We prefer to come out strong," Moulton said. "Any team really does, but it's been amazing that we've been able to come back. Our comeback game is strong, but we've got to be able to come out strong every time, and that's when we do the best."
McDonell 36, Northwood/Solon Springs 30
M: Dale Tetrault 12 pass from Grant Smiskey (run failed), 10:22.
N/SS: Gage Blaylock 15 interception (kick), 7:55.
N/SS: Syver Gulbrandsen 11 run (kick).
N/SS: Bryon Hobscheid 13 pass from Gulbrandsen (Caden Denham from Gulbrandsen), 5:22.
McD: David Andersen 46 pass from Smiskey (Xayvion Matthews run), 21.
N/SS: Jared Schultz 85 kick return (Schultz from Gulbrandsen), :10.
McD: Matthews 3 run (Matthews run), 9:50.
McD: Tetrault 3 run (run failed), 4:39.
McD: Matthews 1 run (Tetrault run), 1:54.
Team & Individual Statistics
RUSHING (att-yds): McDonell (53-359): Tetrault 22-161, Landon Moulton 11-116, Matthews 13-59, Smiskey 6-12, Biskupski 1-11.
PASSING (comp-att-int-yds): McDonell (9-22-2-131): Smiskey 8-21-2-116, Tetrault 1-1-0-15.
RECEIVING (rec-yds): McDonell: Ben Biskupski 3-62, Andersen 2-55, Moulton 3-11, Tetrault 1-12.