Perfect regular season clinched with lopsided win over Jays
BY MATT FREY
The Medford Raiders scored points on offense, defense and special teams Friday to cap a perfect 9-0 regular season with a 44-7 win at Merrill.
The Raiders put the finishing touch on an undisputed Great Northern Conference title at 6-0 and now hopes to keep it rolling as long as possible into the WIAA Division 3 playoffs.
“It’s a great feather for our kids and our program to stick in our hats,” head coach Ted Wilson said of the 9-0 record. “It hasn’t happened since 2000 here. In the history of this school it hasn’t happened that often that we’ve been undefeated in the regular season. I think the kids did a great job. We just focus on getting better every day and keep working on one week at a time here.”
Merrill looked like a team that had improved over the last half of the season and could’ve snuck into the playoffs with an upset win, but Medford quickly put an end to any momentum the Blue Jays may have felt they had coming into the contest.
Medford’s opening drive ended with a rare lost fumble inside Merrill’s 20, but the Raiders made up for it by forcing a three-and-out that ended with Blaine Seidl getting the first of his two straight blocked punts. This one ricocheted off his facemask out the end zone for a safety to give Medford a 2-0 lead. The Raiders went 70 yards in six plays following the free kick to make it 9-0. Ean Wilson’s 30yard run on the drive set up his 3-yard touchdown that was scored at the 6:01 mark.
After stopping Merrill on three downs, Seidl got a piece of another Caleb Timm punt and Carson Church recovered it to set the Raiders up on Merrill’s 18-yard line. Two plays later, Emett Grunwald bounced out to the right side, diving to the pylon for a 15-yard touchdown run that made it 16-0.
“The way they had their punt set up, we thought we could overload a side and get somebody like Blaine, who’s pretty quick off the edge, to go and get it,” Wilson said of the punt blocks. “He got two of them. He did a good job. We had Doug (Way) in a gap and then Ean and then Blaine coming off the edge. I thought Doug and Ean would crush it down and Blaine could come off the edge and block the punt and that’s exactly what happened.”
Merrill had one sustained drive in the first half, going from its 28 to Medford’s 12. But on fourth and 10, Grunwald blew up a middle screen, tackling Timm for a 2-yard loss.
“You could see that he stopped, read it and came back to make the tackle,” Wilson said. “That was a heck of a play by Emett. It was real good individual awareness to see that it was a screen, to stop and come back and find the guy who’s catching it.”
The Raiders then called the same run to the right side five straight times and quickly drove 86 yards, capping the scoring drive on Grunwald’s 40-yard jaunt down the sideline to make it 23-0. The Raiders used a pass interference penalty, some chunk runs and then a well-execut- ed 6-yard touchdown pass from Logan Baumgartner to Way in the back right corner of the end zone with 23 seconds left in the half to push the lead to 30-0.
Seidl struck again on the second offensive play of the second half, intercepting a slant pass thrown by Merrill quarterback Caleb DeJong and racing 29 yards for a pick-six that put the running clock into effect at 37-0.
“That was just a real good job of coming forward and then dropping into a zone,” Wilson said. “They had thrown a couple slants on us, one that Logan Dassow just missed knocking down and one that Ean just missed knocking down. Blaine was able to get his hands on that one. Blaine made a heck of a play and then to get into the end zone was a big deal. He scored eight points himself.”
Clay Bowe ended Merrill’s next possession by sacking DeJong on fourth down. The Raiders needed just six plays to cover 44 yards with junior Peyton Kuhn getting his first touchdown run of the season, a 5-yard run with 1:02 left in the third quarter.
Merrill got its touchdown against Medford’s reserves on a 6-yard pass from Timm to Piersen Pyan with 58 seconds left.
The Raiders averaged 8.2 yards per carry in piling up 254 rushing yards in 31 attempts. Wilson had 139 yards in 15 carries before taking the second half off. Grunwald ran for 89 yards and two scores on just eight carries and sophomore Aiden Gardner got 20 late yards on four carries. The touchdown to Way was the only pass Medford completed in four attempts.
“Just line up and do what we do I guess,” Wilson said of the offensive attack. “We had a lot of nice holes there and Emett had a really nice game and a couple of really big runs.
Merrill got 85 yards from Timmy Handlin on six carries, but DeJong was held
Emett Grunwald to 29 yards in nine carries. DeJong was three for 10 in passing for 24 yards.
“They’ve gone a little away from running the option as much,” Wilson said. “They run a lot more power-type offense. Their quarterback is the third leading rusher in the conference se we did have to make sure our guys were paying attention and doing the things they’re supposed to be doing. I think for the most part the kids did a good job on doing their jobs and keeping Merrill’s offense in check.”
By Saturday morning, the Raiders knew their eight-team bracket for the playoffs, which featured no major surprises as it was known for some time Menomonie was going to fall to Division 3 this year and River Falls was on the Division 2/3 border. Medford drew the second seed in the bracket behind 8-1 Menomonie and ahead of 7-2 River Falls and 7-2 New Richmond.
Now it’s time to go to work against seventh-seeded and future Great Northern Conference opponent Hayward (6-3 in the Heart O’ North) Friday at 7 p.m. at Raider Field.
“It’s a very tough bracket,” Wilson said. “You’ve got one historically very good team (Menomonie) that’s coming down into Division 3 from Division 2 and another team (River Falls) that’s well over 1,000 kids dropping down into Division 3 also. Historically those two programs have been pretty good. Medford used to play them in Division 2 quite often. It was always a struggle. They’re really good programs. They’re really well coached, got really good kids. We just have to take care of ourselves and take it one week at a time. Don’t look too far forward and just concentrate on Hayward. Anything can happen.”