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Turnovers, Belongia too much for Raiders to overcome

Turnovers, Belongia too much for Raiders to overcome Turnovers, Belongia too much for Raiders to overcome


Playing Rice Lake for the second time in three weeks, the Medford Raiders stopped the run better, ran the ball better, especially in the second half, and got four critical defensive stops deep in their own territory.

But they lost the turnover battle, three to one, and had no answers for Rice Lake’s junior wide receiver Alex Belongia, who actually burned the Raiders on both sides of the ball in the Warriors’ 20-14 win Friday at Raider Field.

Rice Lake, which won its third straight game to improve to 3-5, advanced to a WIAA Division 2 regional final against New Richmond that was scheduled for tonight, Thursday. However, the Tigers forfeited that game early in the week and the Warriors, instead, are hosting St. Croix Central.

Medford finished 6-2 with both losses coming to Rice Lake.

Medford head coach Ted Wilson credited his players for never giving up despite a 20-0 fourth-quarter deficit that both teams probably felt could’ve looked different at the time.

From Medford’s point of view, the turnovers stood out, especially with two of them coming deep in Rice Lake territory. The Warriors likely felt like they had chances to put the game well out of reach in the first half.

“Actually, when you go back and think about the game and watch the game a little bit, we had two interceptions in the end zone,” Wilson said. “We gave away two right there and we fumbled another one where we were driving with it. We had three turnovers and they had one. We lost the turnover battle against a team that’s pretty equal with us talent-wise or maybe a little bit better than us talent-wise and that’s the story of the game. I know we gave up three big passes, but if we score on any one of those or two of those drives, we probably win the game.”

In a 27-6 loss at Rice Lake on Oct. 30, sustaining drives was an issue for the Raiders and that was the case again Friday until their last two drives. The first sign that moving the ball wouldn’t be easy on a frigid night came on the game’s opening drive when the Raiders were stuffed on successive third-and-one and fourth-and-one plays at their own 36. The defense bailed out the offense, getting a huge fourth-down stop of its own at the 31-yard line. A 24-yard run by Aiden Gardner put Medford into Rice Lake territory on the next drive, but Belongia intercepted Logan Baumgartner’s long third-and-two pass to the end zone, ending that Raider threat.

The Warriors then delivered the game’s first big punch on third and eight when quarterback Cole Fenske hit Belongia in stride down the right sideline and he outran the Raider defense for a 78yard touchdown that made it 6-0 with 5:00 left in the first quarter.

Medford stopped Rice Lake’s next drive 14 yards away from the end zone when the Raiders pried the ball away from Warrior running back Jayden Perkins after a 10-yard gain and Tukker Schreiner recovered. A holding penalty and a sack killed Medford’s ensuing possession and the Raiders weren’t able to pounce on a muffed punt at their 40. Belongia caught a 30-yard pass from Fenske and Andrew Farm scored on a 10-yard burst up the middle for a touchdown. Belongia caught the two-point pass to extend the lead to 14-0 with 7:59 left in the first half.

Medford fumbled the ball away at its own 20 after picking up one first down, but the defense held Farm to a yard on fourth and two to turn back the Warriors.

The Raiders picked up two first downs before losing the ball on downs at their 40 with 1:57 to go in the half. But the defense bowed up one more time with the aid of a holding penalty and tackles for loss by Dalton Krug and Joe Gierl to keep the deficit at 14-0 at halftime.

“I went for it on a couple of fourth downs there that kind of put us behind the ball, but I thought we needed a spark,” Wilson said. “We needed something to get a drive going. Sometimes when you get a fourth down, like a fourth and one on your end, you’re able to just drive down the field and score. That’s what I was going for. Our kids hung tough. They played really hard. They never gave up. (The defense) did a great job, they kept them out of the end zone a couple of times.”

Wilson and the Raiders tried to find a spark another way to start the second half, calling for an onside kick. Baumgartner, the kicker, found himself in a wrestling match for the ball, but the officials ruled Rice Lake had the recovery. The Warriors got one first down and got to Medford’s 35, but Gierl dropped Fenske for a 6-yard loss and Farm was knocked back for a 1-yard loss on third down to force a punt that Medford’s Nate Retterath just missed blocking.

The Raiders came back with their best drive to that point, which featured another fourth-down try on their side of the field. This time, Baumgartner hit a wide-open Colton Surek for 29 yards to get Medford to Rice Lake’s 41, but backto- back sacks led to that drive stalling. Three plays later, the Warriors delivered what would be the dagger when Fenske hit Belongia over the middle for a 42-yard touchdown pass with 1:20 left in the third quarter.

Belongia finished with five catches for 198 yards. He also had a 50-yard touchdown catch in the teams’ previous meeting.

“That number 11 is really good,” Wilson said. “I don’t know what else we would’ve done with him. That’s tough. He’s tall, he’s fast, he’s strong and he does a good job of going up and getting the ball. I thought our kids battled and tried to do the best that they could with him.”

Belongia hurt Medford one more time early in the fourth quarter, intercepting a halfback option pass by Emett Grunwald at the 4-yard line. Medford nearly got a sack by Retterath and a safety on first down, but settled for a quick three and out and took over at Rice Lake’s 30 following the punt.

The Raiders finally got on the board with a quick three-play drive that ended with a 9-yard touchdown run to the right pylon by Gardner. The two-point pass failed, but there was still hope for Medford, down 20-6 with 8:50 to play. Medford ends with 20-14 loss

The defense forced another three and out, but Fenske’s punt bounced and rolled for 47 yards, pinning Medford on its 18 with 6:45 left. The Raiders impressively pounded their way to an 82-yard touchdown drive, capped by Grunwald’s 1-yard touchdown run off right tackle, but the Warriors did not allow any big plays on the drive and the score didn’t come until there was only 1:17 left.

“I think the kids, with their neversay- die attitude, they really blocked a lot better,” Wilson said. “They found a way to get to the linebackers and to the defensive backs and crack some holes.”

Retterath ran in the two-point conversion to pull Medford within six, but Warrior Keegan Gunderson cleanly recovered the onside kick to kill the rally at that point.

Medford actually had a slight 290-275 advantage in total yardage and bottled up the Warriors’ running game, allowing just 70 yards on 35 attempts. Farm led Rice Lake with 53 yards on 16 carries.

Gardner just missed the 100-yard barrier, collecting 95 yards on 18 carries for Medford. Retterath provided a spark in the running game with 66 yards on nine carries off direct snaps. Forty-four of those yards came on six fourth-quarter carries.

“He really ran well from that spot,” Wilson said.

Baumgartner completed nine of 12

Continued from page 2 passes for 74 yards and Retterath was one for three for 8 yards to give Medford 82 passing yards. Fenske was six of nine for 205 yards for the Warriors.

For a time, Medford hoped to schedule another game for Thursday night, but the Raiders ultimately wound up shutting things down for 2020. The team says goodbye to a 17-member senior class that played a large role in back-to-back Great Northern Conference championships and a Level 3 playoff run last fall. The Raiders will start 2021 lacking in varsity experience.

“It’s been a strange year,” Wilson said. “If you would’ve told me we were going to get eight games in I would’ve told you, especially in August, that maybe you were crazy with what we were going through. To get eight games in and not have a mass COVID hit to our team and lose a bunch of kids to being quarantined, I think the kids did a great job. They faced a lot of adversity and found a way to make it into a very successful season.”

Behind blocks from Tukker Schreiner (l.) and Nate Retterath, Emett Grunwald finds some running room and picks up 7 yards on this fourth-quarter carry.MATT FREY/THE STAR NEWS

Medford’s Carson Church (82) and Colton Surek (46) drop Rice Lake quarterback Cole Fenske, who nearly loses the football on a 1-yard gain deep in Medford territory during Friday’s second quarter. Peyton Kuhn (3) hustles in to assist on the tackle.MATT FREY/THE STAR NEWS