Early turnovers slow the offense; defense continues to shine
MEDFORD 26, ASHLAND 11
Two first-quarter turnovers partially explained Medford’s lowest scoring output of the season Friday, but the defensive stands after those turnovers were a big reason why the Raiders were able to escape Ashland still unbeaten with a 26-11 win.
It was the first time in five outings that Medford had to go all-out for the entire four quarters and it was a good sign to see the Raiders put the hammer down when they had to in the final six minutes, scoring twice to extend what was a slim three-point lead.
But the Raiders expect tough games the rest of the way, and they know there are things to clean up if they’re going to keep that zero in the loss column.
“Turnovers in football are a big, big deal,” Medford head coach Ted Wilson said. When you’re giving them away and not getting them that makes a huge difference. They’re such a big thing. The pick and the fumble (in the first quarter) were both after big plays. ... It takes two drives away from you. It’s rare to be on the negative side of the turnover battle and still win. In the last two weeks we’ve been negative one on Friday and negative two against Merrill. We’re negative three in turnover battle in the last two weeks and that’s a difference maker.”
Like the previous week’s game against Merrill, the defense was stout, with the exception of one big pass play, a 69-yard bomb down the right sideline from quarterback Jackson Bonneville to Kevon Powell that made it a 14-11 game lead in the third quarter. Other than that, Ashland only had 69 more passing yards and was limited to just 29 rushing yards.
The Raiders got two big defensive stops deep in their own territory to prevent the early turnovers from being too costly.
Bonneville intercepted a pass on Medford’s second offensive snap and returned it 28 yards to the Raiders’ 35. Ashland got one first down before the drive stalled on downs at the 20. A big run by Emett Grunwald had Medford driving into Ashland territory when a fumble was picked up by Ashland’s Jared Stricker and returned 63 yards. The only Raider with a chance to stop him was quarterback Logan Baumgartner, who was able to drag Stricker down at the 3. The defense knocked running backs for losses on first and third down, and Ashland missed on a pass on second down, forcing the Oredockers to settle for a field goal attempt, which Cody Lustig made from 23 yards out to make it 3-0 and give Medford its first deficit of the season.
“Logan Baumgartner putting all that effort out there to tackle the kid and keep them out of the end zone and then the defense stepping up and holding them to three was big,” Wilson said. “No play is too small. You have to try to make every one that you can. The defense played pretty well again. I think we held them to 29 rushing yards total when you take into account all the sacks and everything. They hit one big play on us again, big passing play. But for the most part the defense played pretty well.”
The offense put scoring drives together on two of its next three possessions to give Medford the lead for good. A good kickoff return by Emett Grunwald set Medford up on its 40 and the Raiders needed just seven plays to cover 60 yards. Peyton Kuhn got the last 10 for the touchdown and Grunwald ran in the two-point conversion for an 8-3 lead with 1:50 left in the first quarter.
Medford chewed up some clock on a 65-yard second-quarter drive that was highlighted by a tough catch from Kuhn off a Baumgartner pass for 26 yards on third and 10. Grunwald capped the 13play drive with a 4-yard touchdown run that extended the lead to 14-3 with 3:25 left in the first half.
Ashland got close enough at the end of the half to try a long pass toward the end zone, but senior Tyler Kapitz picked it off at the 1-yard line. Neither team got much going offensively in the quarter until Powell’s double move got him open enough for Bonneville to hit him in stride at 4:00 mark.
The Oredockers then got a big break when the ensuing line drive kickoff bounced off the helmet of Raider Seth Mudgett and blew backward about 15 yards and was recovered by Ashland. The Raiders stepped up again defensively, forcing a quick three and out.
After an exchange of punts, Grunwald’s 23-yard punt return gave Medford great field position at Ashland’s 31. Aiden Gardner broke off a 28-yard run and, on third and goal, Kuhn blasted over the left side for a 3-yard score that made it 20-11 with 5:42 left.
Kapitz ended Ashland’s next drive with his second interception on a long pass to the end zone and Medford turned that into the clinching 80-yard touchdown drive. Unlucky to be quarantined twice since school started, Kapitz got his first start of the year.
“For his first game action all year, he did fairly well,” Wilson said.
Gardner had runs of 11 and 15 early in the final drive and then, from the 50, he found an initial hole to his left and then cut back to his right to wide open space and outran the remaining defenders for the touchdown with 3:24 remaining.
Those were the last of Medford’s 304 rushing yards on 50 attempts. The Raiders added 58 yards on seven-of-14 passing for 362 total yards of offense.
“We’re doing OK,” Wilson said of his offense. “We are running by some blocks that we’ve gotta have. I just think our linemen need to start looking in the right areas. Our lead backs that are blocking need to start looking in the right areas. We’re overlooking some areas, we’ve discussed it in film now. Going forward we just have to do a better job of picking up where the guys are coming from and where they’re coming from to begin with. We have to eye up which guy is going to be ours and try to make sure we get to him. We need to get more consistent is probably our biggest issue.”
Gardner had 176 yards on a seasonhigh 23 carries, Grunwald added 91 yards on 14 attempts and Kuhn had 40 yard on 10 carries.
Baumgartner completed six of 11 passes for 52 yards and Nate Retterath was one for three for 6 yards. Kuhn caught five passes for 48 yards.
COVID issues forced Lakeland to pull out of this Friday’s originally-scheduled Great Northern Conference matchup at Raider Field, but Medford quickly found a replacement game. The Raiders will head to Rice Lake Friday for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
The teams were originally supposed to play back on Aug. 21 but, of course, the early-season non-conference games were scrapped due to the delayed start to the 2020 WIAA football season.
The Warriors are 0-5 but they have been in every one of their Big Rivers Conference games. Their defeats include a 28-27 loss to New Richmond on a last-minute two-point conversion, a 27-25 loss to Chippewa Falls when a last-minute two-point conversion came up short, a 19-14 loss to River Falls and a 28-13 loss this past Friday to always-powerful Menomonie.
“They’re probably the best 0-5 team I’ve ever seen on film,” Wilson said.