If there was a big play on Friday night, it usually got Menasha's sideline celebrating.
That spelled trouble for the Eau Claire Memorial football team.
At no point was that more evident than the bookends on either side of halftime. Pinned deep in their own territory with 30 seconds left in the first half, a Menasha punt ricocheted off an Old Abe's back and was recovered by a Bluejay about 20 yards down the field. Moments later, Menasha was celebrating its new life with a 57-yard touchdown pass with six ticks left on the clock.
Right after the halftime break, history repeated itself. Forced to punt after three plays on its opening drive, Menasha again recovered a fumble off the kick and proceeded to march down the field for another touchdown.
The plays themselves only lasted a few moments, but they were all it took to change the complexion of the game. They made the mountain too big to climb for Memorial, which fell to the Bluejays 47-35 at Carson Park.
"I feel like turnovers have been the theme this season for us," Memorial coach Mike Sinz said. "You talk about it during the week, work on ball security drills. Tonight, we had some freak things happen. But it's hard to beat a good team when you have five turnovers."
Menasha's defense forced three turnovers, including a fourth-quarter fumble that Alphonso Bell returned 48 yards for a score. The Bluejays also came up with two fumble recoveries on special teams.
"Getting turnovers is a boost and certainly helps," Menasha coach Jeramie Korth said. "Our defense has always played really well. We had some letdowns tonight a little bit — it's unusual for us to give up that many points — but I think that was just the nature of this game."
Bell's fumble recovery for a score put Menasha ahead by 28 points with 10 minutes remaining. The Old Abes scored three touchdowns in the final seven minutes of the contest, but the victory was already in hand for the Bluejays.
Memorial trailed 13-7 in the final minute of the first half before the unlucky bounce on the punt produced a fumble in Menasha's favor. There wasn't much that could have been done in that situation, Sinz said, but it changed the trajectory of the contest.
A few moments after recovering the loose ball, Menasha scored on a 57-yard touchdown pass from AJ Korth to Jacob Van Dyn Hoven to give the Bluejays heaps of momentum heading into halftime.
"It was a freak thing," Sinz said of the punt. "We were yelling out our call to get out of the way, and it just happened to hit one of our kids. He was doing a great job blocking, but that's just the bounces that the ball takes sometimes."
Menasha's hopes took a hit when Korth, the team's starting quarterback, was sidelined with an injury at halftime. But when the Bluejays scooped up another loose ball on the first punt of the third quarter after stalling on their first three plays, it left them firmly in the driver's seat. They proceeded to march down the field on eight plays, scoring on Davontre Smith's two-yard rushing touchdown to go ahead 26-7.
"That was big. Coming out of half, we were going to punt, we didn't have our quarterback and were still kind of uneasy about what we were going to do," Coach Korth said. "For that to happen, it obviously helped us out quite a bit."
Van Dyn Hoven, who caught the touchdown pass before halftime, moved to quarterback in the second half and ran for 125 yards on 17 carries for the Bluejays (5-1).
The Old Abes did their best to keep pace, led by the play of quarterback Brice Wingad. The senior threw for four touchdowns, all in the second half, but the turnovers dug a hole that was too big to climb out of.
Wingad was 18 of 35 passing, good for 374 yards. He used his legs to add 51 rushing yards.
"I thought he threw the ball well," Korth said of the Abes' signal-caller. "He does a lot of things right. I study quarterbacks a lot, and I think he throws the ball really well, spins it really well."
Marco Ebeling caught seven passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns for Memorial. Jack Redwine added five receptions for 117 yards and a pair of scores.
Reese Woerner ran for 41 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries for the Old Abes.
Memorial (1-5) will close out the alternate fall season with the annual intracity game against Eau Claire North on Friday at Carson Park.
"They're our biggest rival. Carson Park should be a great atmosphere next Friday," Sinz said. "I know our guys will be excited and ready to play the guys from the north side."
Menasha 47, Eau Claire Memorial 35
Men: AJ Korth 1 run (Samuel Blansette kick), 7:27.
Men: Korth 3 run (kick failed), 6:24.
ECM: Reese Woerner 1 run (Ben Frey kick), 4:17.
Men: Jacob Van Dyn Hoven 57 pass from Korth (pass failed), 0:06.
Men: Davontre Smith 2 run (Blansette kick), 4:36.
ECM: Jack Redwine 54 pass from Brice Wingad (kick failed), 3:03.
Men: Smith 21 run (Van Dyn Hoven run), 10:49.
Men: Alphonso Bell 48 fumble recovery (Blansette kick), 9:58.
ECM: Marco Ebeling 13 pass from Wingad (kick failed), 6:37.
ECM: Ebeling 23 pass from Wingad (Woerner run), 1:33.
Men: Van Dyn Hoven 41 run (pass failed), 1:11.
ECM: Redwine 22 pass from Wingad (Woerner run), 0:02.
Team & Individual Statistics
RUSHING (att-yds): Memorial (23-93): Wingad 10-51, Woerner 11-41, Easton Tok 2-1. Menasha (46-307): Smith 22-133, Van Dyn Hoven 17-125, Korth 7-49.
PASSING (comp-att-int-yds): Memorial: Wingad 18-36-0-374. Menasha (5-12-1-131): Korth 4-11-1-126, Van Dyn Hoven 1-1-0-5.
RECEIVING (rec-yds): Memorial: Ebeling 7-165, Redwine 5-117, Peter Albert 3-39, Grant Gerber 2-37, Tyson Allen 1-16. Menasha: Luke Maurer 4-74, Van Dyn Hoven 1-57.