Bulldogs playoff road ends with loss to Ramblers

CARSON PARK-EAU CLAIRE — After knocking off three straight conference champions, beating a fourth one was just too tall of a task as the Boyceville football team lost in a Level 3 playoff game 25-8 to the Eau Claire Regis Ramblers Nov. 2 on the Ramblers’ home field.

Boyceville had to beat Dunn-St. Croix Conference champions Elk Mound in the final regular season game of the year just to get into the playoffs, and they made the most of it by defeating Dairyland Conference champs Whitehall in a Level 1 game. They then took care of Athens, the Cloverland Conference winners in the next round, but the undefeated Regis team, which won the Cloverbelt Conference with a perfect 7-0 record and entered the game at 10-0, outscoring their opponents 361-94, used their ground game to rack up over 300 yards by 10 different runners to earn the win.

Regis took the opening kickoff to their own 30 and ran the ball 10 of 11 plays before Khadel Akindolire scored from six yards out. The Bulldogs stuffed a two point run conversion to put the score at 6-0 at the 7:28 mark of the quarter. On the one pass attempt in the drive, Boyceville’s Josh Cormican nearly picked the ball off which pretty much determined what the Ramblers were going to do the rest of the game.

Boyceville showed off their power running abilities on their first possession, starting at their 19 yard line. Two running plays netted six yards but on third and four, Zach Klassen ripped off a 40 yard run down the left side to get to the Regis 35 yard line. Klassen gained another 11 yards for a first down and Will Kraft peeled off a 13 yard gain but on fourth and four at the Regis four yard line, a swarming group of Ramblers denied Klassen from finding the endzone, ending the drive at the two yard line. But on their third play, the Regis player fumbled and Tyler Draeger came up with the ball for the Bulldogs on the three yard line. Moving into the second quarter, quarterback Matt Leach dove through the line for a one yard TD and a Klassen scoot around the right side gave Boyceville an 8-6 lead just five seconds into the quarter.

It was only the second time all season the Ramblers had been behind in a game and they apparently were not happy about it as they stayed on the ground for 15 plays and drove downfield after starting from their own 10, finally scoring on a nine yard run. The Bulldogs defense again rose to the occasion as they denied a two point run attempt, but they were now behind 12-8 with 5:38 left in the half.

Cormican took the deep kickoff back 39 yards, breaking several tackles and giving the Bulldogs the ball at their own 38. But they were unable to move the ball, and after punting it away, the Ramblers, using five running plays and a facemask penalty on the Bulldogs, added more points on a two yard run. They changed their strategy on the extra point and added a kick by Cam Pedersen, giving them a 19-8 lead with 1:37 in the half. Boyceville was forced to punt again however, and they avoided another disaster when Isaac Wold recovered a Regis fumble on the 15 yard line with a second to go in the half.

Poor field position in the third quarter forced the Bulldogs to change their game plan, as they started their first possession on their own seven yard line and ended up punting after six plays. The defense held Regis and forced a punt, which not many teams have done this year. The punt by Pedersen pinned Boyceville on their own one, and on their second play, Regis intercepted a pass from Leach who was forced to throw on the run, on the Bulldogs 26. The quarter ended without either team scoring but the Ramblers had the ball on the Bulldogs’ five yard line.

Regis quarterback Adam Loftsgaarden completed just two of five passes in the game but one of them was a two yarder for a score two minutes into the fourth quarter to Nick Stanke, increasing their lead to 25-8 after a missed extra point kick. Leach injured his leg on a hard tackle while trying to pass and had to leave the game with just over nine minutes left, and Cormican took over at quarterback. Needing to score quickly, the Bulldogs picked up  first downs on a three yard run by Klassen, a 12 yard run by Cormican, then took to the air with Cormican completing a 15 yard pass to Ryan Williams. But four more passes gained just seven yards and gave the ball back to the Ramblers. Both teams had the ball twice more in the final four minutes and neither was able to move it very far, resulting in the Regis victory.

“We had some good drives in the first half, but we struggled after that,” Boyceville coach Brian Roemhild said. “We knew we would have to score at least 20 points to beat them but we had to deal with poor field position in the second half and that forced us to try and change things. Regis also had the ball a lot longer and that kept our defense on the field way too long. But I knew we could play with them a whole game and our kids battled until the end,” he added.

Klassen led the Bulldogs with 103 yards on 16 carries while Kraft and Cormican both finished with 13 yards and Leach and Dominic Olson each added eight yards.Cormican completed four of seven passes, all in the fourth quarter for 23 yards with Williams snaring one for 15 yards and Klassen grabbing two for nine yards. Regis ran the ball 62 times in the game for 313 yards with five runners rushing for over 25 yards, including Akindolire with 109.

The playoff wins were the first since the 2001 season for the Bulldogs and nine seniors ended their high school careers with a 7-4 record. Klassen joined an elite group of Bulldogs as he surpassed the 1,000 yard rushing mark for a season, gathering 1,349 in 11 games. He averaged 6.4 yards per carry, scoring 10 touchdowns and a pair of two point conversions. He also caught four passes for 23 yards, and playing on the other side of the ball which many of the Bulldog players did, Klassen collected seven quarterback sacks and recorded 24 solo tackles and seven assisted tackles. He was named first team All Conference this year as a running back and second team as a defensive end.

Kraft was a three time All Conference selection, earning honorable mention as a defensive end as a sophomore, first team as a running back and defensive end as a junior, and culminated his senior year as a first team pick again as a defensive end, and a second team running back. He accumulated 790 rushing yards for an average of 4.4 yards per carry, scoring nine TDs and an extra point conversion. He caught five passes for 61 yards for a 12 yard average, and recorded 26 solo tackles and sacked the opposing quarterbacks 12 times.

Olson rushed for 225 yards this season, averaging 4.2 per carry and scored a pair of touchdowns and a two point conversion. He also snagged three passes for 52 yards, and picked up 41 tackles as a linebacker with a pair of interceptions. He earned second team All Conference this year for his hard work.

Matt Wathke played in the trenches on both sides of the ball, blowing those holes open for his running backs and recording 31 tackles this season as a defensive lineman. He also recorded four QB sacks and was an honorable mention center his sophomore year and again as a senior as both a defensive and offensive lineman.

After starting the season alternating with Cormican at the quarterback spot, Leach took the job over fulltime and ended the year completing 25 of 75 passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns with six interceptions. He ran for 68 yards and crossed the goal line twice, and also ran in four extra point conversions. He stayed on the field pretty much the whole game as he picked off five passes from his defensive back position and added 13 solo tackles. He was chosen as second team defensive back on the All Conference team for his efforts.

Cormican became Mr. Versatility as he played a receiver spot and led the team in receptions with 10 for 146 yards. Two of those passes went for touchdowns and also one two point conversion. Playing linebacker on the defensive side, he came up with 37 tackles with four interceptions and was an honorable mention selection from that position.

Williams was another receiver for the team, catching two passes for 22 yards, and playing defensive back, he also picked off four passes from opposing quarterbacks to go with 26 tackles.

Two more seniors, both lineman, ended their playing days for the Bulldogs including Matt Woodford and Jared Smith. Woodford was injured halfway through the season and didn’t get to finish on the playing field.

“Our seniors did an unbelievable job of leading by example this whole year,” Roemhild said. “This is the group that started with our coaching system as freshmen and they bought into the system and our program and it showed in the end. Our success came from the tone they set at practice and at games. We can only hope the underclassmen have learned from this special group of guys. The run this team made is one that will be remembered for a long time. Beating three conference champs who were all state ranked is unheard of. It is a tribute to the team’s hard work, dedication and willingness to sacrifice everything on the field. This team played for each other and represented the Boyceville name on their jersey very well,” he added.