MONDOVI – They are called “special” teams for a reason.
That third part of the football equation can often means the difference between victory and defeat, just ask the Glenwood City Hilltoppers.
Mondovi showed Glenwood City just how important and lethal special teams play can be.
The Buffaloes brought the large homecoming crowd to its feet when they opened the scoring last Friday, September 28 with a first-quarter punt return for a touchdown. Then in the second half, Mondovi used a fake punt, recovered a Topper muffed punt, and had a successful onside kick, all of which led to eventual touchdowns and a deflating 28-13 loss for the Hilltoppers in a crucial Dunn-St. Croix showdown.
The teams had entered intermission deadlocked at six a piece.
“Special teams won the game for Mondovi,” said Glenwood City coach Shane Strong. “We did not do a very good job staying in our punt coverage lanes which led to the return touchdown. We did expect the punt fake but Mondovi just executed the play.”
The Toppers fell to 2-2 in conference play and 4-2 overall. The Hilltoppers will need a victory in one of its final two remaining games to qualify for the WIAA playoffs but Strong says his team is not thinking playoffs right now.
“We are focused on one practice at a time,” noted Strong. “Just as we have all year.”
“We set a goal to have great effort and attitude in practice and games.,” added Strong. “We need to focus on individual responsibility, effort, hustle, heart and overall preparation.”
The Hilltoppers will need all those attributions for its final two contests – a home game against rival Boyceville this Friday and the regular season finale in Hammond versus St. Croix Central on Oct. 11.
The heart, effort and hustle were there last Friday in Mondovi but a few key special team breakdowns led to the defeat.
Neither team had much offensive success early in the game.
Mondovi, however, was the first to find a way into the end zone. The Buff’s TJ McLean would take a Glenwood City punt and return it 55 yards for the score and a 6-0 Mondovi advantage.
Glenwood City would come up with the equalizer in the second quarter when it put together a nice drive that ended with Isaac Tuttle’s 11-yard run to knot the game at six.
That is the way the game would stay until the third quarter.
That is when Mondovi took the second-half kick off and drove 71 yards in a dozen plays to take the lead on an eight-yard pass from quarterback Ian Scott to Erich Wolf. TJ McLean snared the conversion pass from Scott to make the score 14-6.
But the biggest play in the series was Mondovi’s successful execution of the fake punt on fourth and two. AJ Risler took the punt snap and raced 20 yards for a fresh set of downs at the GC 43 yard line. Nick Van Vleet would carry five straight times for 29 yards to set up the Buffaloes go ahead score.
The Toppers’ first series of the second half was a shortlived three and out.
Glenwood City’s defense held Mondovi to three plays and made certain that it would punt this time, which it did, and took over at its own 20.
The Toppers began to move the ball effectively as the third quarter closed and the success carried over into the final period.
Glenwood City was getting solid runs from both Adam Holmquist and Isaac Tuttle as it moved down to the Mondovi 32 but three incompletions by Nick Mrdutt ended the drive.
The Toppers defense held strong and forced Mondovi to punt. But on the ensuing punt, Nick Mrdutt fumbled the ball and Mondovi pounced on it at the GC ten for a first and goal.
Again, the Glenwood City defense stiffened as Mondovi was faced with a fourth and goal at the one but Mondovi quarterback Ian Scott called his own number and plunged in for the one-yard score. AJ Risler added the conversion run and Mondovi increased its lead to 22-6 with 3:02 left in the game.
The Buffaloes would catch the Toppers by surprise with an onside kick that bounced off one of the Toppers’ front line players and was received by Mondovi at the Glenwood City 42.
Five plays later Brett Vetterkind turned a fourth and two into a 21-yard score and a 28-6 Mondovi advantage with just 52.6 seconds left on the clock.
That would be enough time for the Hilltoppers to add its second touchdown to the scoreboard as Isaac Tuttle took the first-down hand off from Nick Mrdutt and swept outside and down the sideline for a 58-yard score with 34 ticks left. Mrdutt’s kick made the final 28-13.
Tuttle led the Hilltoppers with 101 yards on 15 hauls and a pair of touchdowns while Adam Holmquist contributed 84 yards on 19 carries. Glenwood City rushed for 197 yards and had 242 yards total. Mondovi finished with 167 and 204 respectively.
Nick Mrdutt hit three of his first four throws for 45 yards but then missed on his final seven attempts.
The Hilltoppers will host the Bulldogs of Boyceville this Friday, October 5 in their home finale. Both teams need a win to stay in the playoff hunt.
“We are excited for the Boyceville game this week,” said Strong. “They have a nice club with some very good running backs. We look forward to the challenge.”