Posted on

Warriors grab second-half momentum and don’t let it go


A few plays didn’t go Medford’s way in the second and third quarter, then by the fourth quarter, nothing went the Raiders’ way Friday in a 27-6 non-conference loss at Rice Lake.

While Rice Lake got its first win this season after five close losses in Big Rivers Conference play, the Raiders were defeated in the regular season for the first time since the 2018 finale at Ashland, ending a streak of 14 straight non-playoff wins. Medford will officially be given a Great Northern Conference win for the week because Lakeland had to cancel due to COVID protocols.

Hopefully the bigger positive, according to head coach Ted Wilson, is the refocusing on the little details and what can be learned in a loss like this heading into this Friday’s Great Northern Conference championship game at 6-0 Rhinelander.

In most seasons, Medford and Rice Lake meet in week one of the season and the coaching staff is able to use that game, plus the previous week’s scrimmage against powerful programs Menomonie, Edgar and Eau Claire Regis to do a lot of teaching and reminding about what it takes to be successful. Due to COVID-related rescheduling, this year’s reality check came much later.

“I think it’s actually a good thing,” Wilson said Monday. “It’s a good thing to play great competition. I watched the Rice Lake film and the teams that they’re playing are great teams. It helped them, so this can only help us. It’s never going to hurt us. It’s no fun to lose ever, but you can now find ways to improve and get better. Winning sometimes masks things that really need to be done.”

Friday’s game was evenly-played through the third quarter, which ended with a 6-6 tie, but the momentum started to shift toward the Warriors late in the third.

“The momentum just kinda really flowed toward them, they seized it and we just couldn’t get it back,” Wilson said.

Up 6-0 at halftime, the Raiders kicked off to start the second half and had the Warriors in a third-and-14 situation at midfield. Quarterback Cole Fenske lofted a long pass down the left side to Alex Belongia, who won a battle to the ball against Raider cornerback Tyler Kapitz and scored a 50-yard touchdown to tie the game with 8:40 left in the third.

Medford almost had an immediate answer when Aiden Gardner broke a 41-yard run to Rice Lake’s 15-yard line, but he was caught from behind by Rice Lake lineman Kayden Warren. The Warriors sacked Medford quarterback Logan Baumgartner on fourth down to end that threat. Their ensuing possession was extended by a roughing the punter penalty on the Raiders and Rice Lake turned it into a 15-play, 81-yard scoring drive that ended with Andrew Farm’s 1-yard scoring plunge on the second play of the fourth quarter that gave Rice Lake a 13-6 lead.

From there, it was all Warriors.

“It all started to go downhill when they hit the one over the top of us,” Wilson said. Honestly, from our point of view, their kid pushed off, but it is what it is. So it’s 6-6. We tried to go for the punt block and don’t get it. That was a big momentum shifter there. It was fourth and 12 or whatever. If they punt it back to us, and whether we score or not, it’s a different story, because we’d start taking more time off the clock at 6-6.

“We break a 50-yard run that one of their linemen catches on us because that kid’s a really good athlete,” he added. “We don’t put that one in. If we put that one in, that helps. Instead, they score another one. We go three and out and shank a punt to give them a short field and they score on that one.”

That short punt gave Rice Lake the ball at Medford’s 46 and the Warriors needed nine plays to extend to a twoscore lead on Zack Fisher’s 6-yard counter run with 5:46 left. The Raiders got just across the 50 before their next drive stalled and Hunter Heller’s 37-yard run set up his 3-yard score on the next play, icing the victory with 1:44 left.

Medford’s offense got off to a quiet start with two first-quarter punts, but the Raiders just missed big plays on consecutive pass plays on their second drive. A fourth-down sack by Nate Retterath, who took down Fenske after he was flushed by Peyton Kuhn and Brody Doberstein, gave Medford the ball at its own 33 early in the second quarter. The Raiders put together a nice drive, but missed a wide-open Riley Herman on a potential touchdown pass and the drive eventually stalled on downs at Rice Lake’s 15.

The Warriors got one first down and then botched the snap on a punt. Doberstein recovered the fumble on Rice Lake’s 25. Logan Baumgartner completed a 6-yard pass to Retterath on fourth and four and then, on fourth and one from the four, he patiently keep the play alive before lofting a touchdown pass to Carson Church in the back right corner of the end zone with 27 seconds left in the half to put Medford on top.

“That was a good job to be patient, keep working and find a guy in the end zone,” Wilson said.

Rice Lake held Medford to a seasonlow 184 total yards, 91 of which were on the ground and 93 were through the air. Medford was 11 of 23 in passing, with Retterath completing one of two passes for 12 yards and Baumgartner completing 10 of 21 for 81 yards. Kuhn caught six passes for 67 yards. Gardner ran for 67 yards on 17 attempts.

Rice Lake had 208 rushing yards on 56 attempts for a modest 3.7 yards per carry average. But those carries late in the game started to produce larger gains. Fenske was four of seven in passing for 83 yards and the big 50-yard touchdown.

“Good teams, well-coached teams have a tendency to show you your flaws,” Wilson said. “It’s good to see them and to be able to try to get those fixed so going forward we can become a better football team. We missed out on some of that this year.”

The Raiders will try to get back on their A-game Friday in the battle for the GNC championship.

Rhinelander survived two tight games to start the year, beating Antigo 21-18 in double overtime and Mosinee 28-21 when the Indians were without quarterback Michal Dul, but they controlled every GNC game they’ve played since. The Hodags got an added dose of confidence on Oct. 23 when they rallied from an early 15-0 deficit to beat Stratford 29-27 in the non-conference game they found to replace their canceled game with Lakeland.

“They’re good,” Wilson said. “They’re very well-coached. Coach (Aaron) Kraemer over there is doing a great job.”

The series has been dominated by Medford since Rhinelander joined the GNC in 2010. The Hodags sprung an upset in the first matchup, but the Raiders have won the last nine, including a 39-14 thumping last September at Raider Field.

Friday’s showdown kicks off at 7 p.m. at Mike Webster Stadium.