Eau Claire Memorial came into Friday night’s game with 15 touchdowns to two for Rice Lake in their first two outings.
But anyone who thought it would be a cakewalk for the Old Abes got a surprise.
Memorial came from behind at halftime and leaned on some strong defense to open Big Rivers Conference play with a 21-16 win at Carson Park.
“Our kids showed they can win a close game, something that hurt us last year,” Memorial Coach Mike Sinz said. “But anytime you can get a win in the Big Rivers is huge but not easy.”
In moving to a third straight win, the Abes took the lead on a Bryson Johnson 55-yard pass to Will Hesse early in the third period and leading 14-13 into the fourth period, sophomore Reese Woerner scored on a 3-yard run that proved to be the winner.
“We’re struggling to put points on the board,” Rice Lake Coach Dan Hill said. “But we’re making improvements.”
He noted that Memorial played without ace running back Loyal Crawford, who had scored nine touchdowns in the first two games.
Crawford watched from the sidelines with an injury.
That obviously affected the Old Abe attack, which struggled to pick up 132 yards on the ground and had to lean on the passing of quarterback Bryson Johnson, who overcame three first half interceptions to throw for 183 yards.
“We definitely left points on the board,” Sinz said, citing eight penalties for 76 yards and the interceptions. “But Rice Lake has a good program and we knew we would be in for a fight.”
The Warriors made their intentions known from the opening kickoff when they marched 65 yards to score on Bradley Hackel’s 4-yard run. It ate up half of the first quarter.
Memorial took an 8-7 lead on the second play of the second period when Johnson passed to Hesse from nine yards out and Grant Gerber ran for the 2-point conversion to cap a 56-yard drive.
But the Warriors took advantage of Zack Fisher’s interception, which he ran back to the Abe 16, and scored in five plays, Andrew Farm taking it over from the 1 to take a 13-8 halftime lead.
The Warriors could gain just 47 yards in the second half, getting the only score on Tyson Tomesh’s 37-yard field goal with 4:41 to play.
Memorial drove to as deep as the 3-yard line before being stopped in the final minutes.
“We can’t change the won-lost record on the board, but we can change what we do,” Hill said. “We’ve played three good teams.”
Ethan Van Grunsven led the Abe ground attack with 40 yards while Hesse had three catches for 89 yards, Calvin Tanner three for 51 and Jack Piper three for 35.
But Sinz praised the defense, saying “I was proud of the defense for coming up with key stops.”
Memorial defensive lineman Grant Wolfe was injured and taken from the field on a stretcher in the fourth quarter but later was reported to be doing OK.