The game plan was simple to start.
Success on the ground was key as the Rice Lake football team ran the ball on its first 20 plays and stuck with that course of action throughout, rushing for more than 250 yards on its way to a 32-6 victory over Eau Claire Memorial on Friday night at Pug Lund Field in Rice Lake.
Whether the ground attack would get it done wasn't a certainty entering the game, Rice Lake coach Dan Hill said, as practice time proved to be difficult during a week in which a number of players missed time with illness, the possibility of illness or injuries. All tests conducted by players came back as negative for COVID-19, he said.
"Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday were who’s going to be here? What do we work on so we’re not wasting time?," Hill said. "Coming into the game we were actually kind of nervous about how we were going to perform because it was an absolutely abnormal week from that regard."
The lack of work over the past week wasn't evident in the early going as Rice Lake (3-1, 2-0) marched 60 yards on nine plays and Christian Lindow capped the Warriors' opening drive with a 3-yard touchdown run.
A pair of fumbles by quarterback Cole Fenske that were recovered by Memorial's Jack Conner kept the Warriors from gaining any offensive momentum early. The Warrior defense stepped up when needed though, forcing turnover on downs as the Old Abes (0-4, 0-2) reached the red zone after each of the turnovers, including one time reaching the 3-yard line.
"Really good teams, they’re going to burn you on that," Hill said of the turnovers. "Memorial was moving the ball and they would throw an incompletion. They would make their own mistake which helps overcome our mistakes. Good teams aren’t going to do that."
Rice Lake got things going offensively late in the second quarter. After Lindow burst up the middle for a gain of 20, the Warriors finally made their first pass. The play-action set up Fenske to launch a pass deep to Alex Belongia, who hauled it in for a 49-yard gain down to the Old Abe 14. Three plays later Lindow added his second score, and with Elliot Nolin adding the 2-point conversion Rice Lake pulled ahead 16-0 with 3:33 to halftime.
The Warriors ended consecutive Memorial drives in the second half with interceptions. First it was Belongia grabbing a deep shot from quarterback Ryan Thompson, which the Warriors then turned into another touchdown following a 18-play, 88-yard drive, capped off by Fenske running it in from 9 yards out.
On the second play of the following possession, Thompson was picked by Nolin, and two plays later Lindow added his third touchdown of the game as the Warriors went ahead 32-0 with 11 minutes to go in the game. Nolin added a second interception for good measure as the Rice Lake defense picked off Thompson three times in the second half as he was 0 of 6 passing after going 7 of 14 for 75 yards before the break.
Eau Claire Memorial got on the scoreboard with 4:28 left in the game with Tyson Allen in at quarterback. He found Peter Albert for a 8-yard touchdown after an eight-play drive that gained 44 yards. The Old Abes got 99 yards on 23 carries from Reese Woerner to lead its offense.
Rice Lake was led by Lindow's 15 rushing attempts for 100 yards. Fenske gained 53 on nine carries and he was also 3 of 5 for 64 yards passing. Easton Stone added 20 yards on the ground with Nolin at 18 and Carson Tomesh at 17. In total the Warriors ran the ball 50 times for 256 yards and out gained the Old Abes overall 320-231.
"We’ve been practicing pretty hard this week," junior lineman Nathan Carroll said of the offensive line's cohesiveness. "We just block really hard and try to get pancakes on the field, and keep driving."
With Menomonie's loss to Hudson on Friday, Rice Lake and New Richmond — which took down Superior — are the lone conference teams with 2-0 marks. The Warriors will look to keep their momentum going with a trip to Superior next Friday.
"I think we’re doing pretty good. We’re pretty confident now that we’ve got a couple of wins on the board," Carroll said.