Turnovers doom Vikings in loss to Panthers

COLFAX — Entering the game against St. Croix Central with a 2-0 record, the Colfax football team knew they had to play solid in all aspects if they were going to win their first conference game of the year. The Panthers are in a rebuilding process after losing most of their skilled players from last year but they had enough fight in them to take advantage of four Colfax turnovers and took a 28-14 win on the Vikings’ home field Sept. 6.

The opening kickoff may have been a prelude of things to come as the two Viking return men ran into each other, putting the ball down on their own seven yard line. On a third and 14, Noah Pretasky ripped off a 20 yard run to get the Vikings out of a hole but two plays later, a fumbled ball found its way into Panther defender Dante Carlsons hands who headed straight to the goaline for six points. An extra point kick made it 7-0 less than two minutes into the game.On the Vikings next possession, quarterback Jarrod Rudi threw a quick pass that another Central defender picked off, giving them the ball at the Colfax 30. Four plays later, they were in the endzone again as Trenton Smith ran in from eight yards out and another kick had the Vikings in a hole 14-0 at the 8:07 mark of the quarter.

“I told the players to ignore the scoreboard and get out there and play their game,” coach Mark Maloney said. “We had a rough start but these guys are better then that and we had time to get back into the game.”

The talk fired up the defense as they shut the Panthers down on their next four possessions with Jacob Steinke breaking up a fourth down pass and Jeremiah Wait tackling a receiver on a third down play for a loss forcing a punt. Colfax couldn’t move the ball offensively, turning it over on downs twice and punting three times. With just over two minutes left in the half, Central moved the ball 66 yards and on a third down with 27 seconds left in the half a Panther receiver slipped behind the Colfax defender for a 17 yard TD reception for a 20-0 lead at the break.

The halftime meeting fired the Vikings up on both sides of the ball as they forced the Panthers into a three and out to start the third quarter, and they finally got the offense on track with Wait, Pretasky, Rudi and Kiekhafer moving the ball on the ground.Two penalties on the Panthers and an 18 yard sprint by Rudi followed by a 15 yard run by Pretasky put the ball on Central’s 37 yard line. A two yard pickup by Wait and three straight runs from Kiekhafer moved it to the five then Rudi found Devon Utpadel in the endzone for six points. Kiekhafer’s kick made it 20-7 with 4:39 left in the quarter.Colfax forced the Panthers into another three and out and a bad punt gave them good field position on the Panthers 37. But on a fourth and one, Kiekhafer was stuffed and Central took the ball back,

After forcing yet another Panther punt, Colfax went on the move again, starting on their own 47 heading into the final quarter. Keikhafer sprinted for 11 yards, Rudi went for another 12 on a first and 15 due to a Viking penalty and Sawyer DeMoe did his best imitation of a bull as he pounded the middle for six more yards. Pretasky ripped off a 17 yard run and Kiekhafer took it in from the four, then booted the extra point, putting the Vikings down just 20-14 with 9:53 left.

It appeared the Panthers were stopped again on fourth down but a holding call on the Vikings resulted in a first down. But linebacker Zach Meyer came up big when he broke up a pass attempt and on the next play tackled the Central runner for no gain.Kiekhafer then knocked down another pass leading to another punt.

It seemed the momentum was in the Vikings favor but things can change pretty quick in this crazy game. Colfax lost another fumble on their second play which didn’t do them any harm other than running time off the clock as  Pretasky picked off a Panther pass to get the ball back for the team. But they were deep in their own territory at the three yard line when yet another fumble came about, recovered of course by Central.Two plays and a blink of an eye later, the Panther lead went to 28-14 on a two yard run and two point pass conversion.With time running out, the Vikings went to the air on their final possession but the Panthers had everyone covered pretty good and the game ended with Central getting the ball back on an incomplete pass.

“Our coaches did a good job getting the players back on track for the second half,” Maloney said.”We knew Central had quite a few turnovers in their first two games so we told the kids if we kept playing hard things would turn around. Our guys got us back into the game and gave us a chance to win. That’s all we can ask for, play hard, keep the game close and hopefully the wins will come. We will work on building the team back up for when we play Spring Valley next week,” he added.

Colfax led in most of the stats, picking up 11 first downs to Centrals nine. The Vikings had 159 rushing yards while holding the Panthers to 114, but Central lost just one fumble and the Vikings were penalized nine times.Rudi was the leading rusher for Colfax with 66 yards, Pretasky added 47, Kiekhafer 31, Wait 21 and DeMoe 20. Rudi completed four of 15 passes for 30 yards with Kiekhafer snaring two of them. Kiekhafer collected four and a half tackles, Meyer had four and Wait broke up six pass attempts.

Colfax plays Spring Valley this Friday at Williams Stadium on the UW-Stout campus as the Spring Valley High School field is being redone.

(Note: Last week I stated Colfax hadn’t started the season 2-0 since 2005. I must have a short memory-they were 2-0 just two seasons ago in Maloney’s first year.)