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Missed opportunities prove costly in Hilltopper loss

GLENWOOD CITY — Several missed scoring opportunities came back to haunt the Glenwood City football team as the Hilltoppers lost a heartbreaking two-point decision to Dunn-St. Croix newcomer Durand at home last Friday, October 2.

Three times in the first half of play, Glenwood City had the ball in the Durand red zone – twice inside the ten – only to come up empty handed each time.

Then, with under four minutes to play in the contest, the Hilltoppers looked poised for a go-ahead score but a fumbled fourth-down exchange resulted in no gain. The Panthers took possession on downs and ran out the clock for a tight 8-6 win over the Hilltoppers.

“The fumble on the final drive was our only turnover in the game,” said Glenwood City head coach Shane Strong. “But in a crucial situation.”

“We had been changing our snap count throughout the night to slow down the blitz, but we snapped the ball on the wrong count which led to the fumble. I don’t believe this was the reason we lost the game.”

“You can look back on any game win or lose and find four or five plays that make up the difference in close games,” continued Strong. “If we pick up the blitz on a couple of plays or do not turn the ball over we might win that game by two touchdowns. Our defense played very well holding them to 101 yards rushing. We forced a couple of turnovers, but could not convert in the red zone on offense which is my responsibility.”

Glenwood City took its second possession of the game all the way down to the Durand three-yard line only to see it end on a pair of incompletions.

But the Toppers had two other chances to push the ball across the goal line when Nick Schone intercepted a pass and Hogan Chouinard recovered a fumble both coming deep in Panthers’ territory. But both drives ended without points for the Hilltoppers. Schone was sacked on fourth down to end the former drive while the later came to an end after a penalty and fourth-down toss fell incomplete.

Durand’s lone scoring drive came early in the second quarter after Glenwood City’s first foray inside the Panthers’ ten.

After taking over on their own nine-yard line, the Panthers marched 91 yards for the score at the 10:54 mark of the second period.

It was an efficient and quick seven-play drive. William Berger, who shared Durand’s quarterbacking duties with Ben Weber, found Bret Schlosser roaming free deep in the Toppers’ defensive back field and hit him for a 50-yard gain down to the GC 30. Berger then went back to the air on the ensuing first-down play and found Karter Kurth for a 17-yard pitch and catch to the 13. Logan Polzer took the ball to the Glenwood City goal line on a 12-yard haul. Travis Bauer finished off the drive with a one-yard plunge and added the two-point conversion run to give Durand an 8-0 lead in the early minutes of the second quarter.

Glenwood City secured turnovers on Durand’s next two possessions – the aforementioned fumble and interception – but could not turn them into points and entered the intermission trailing by eight points.

The Toppers had the ball for just two series in the third quarter, the first ended with a punt after five plays. But Glenwood City would finally get some traction on its second offensive series of the second half.

Taking over on its own 40 with 4:47 left in the third quarter, Glenwood City stayed on the ground. The Hilltoppers used a 14-play drive to punch through the Panthers’ defense for their first score at 10:30 of the fourth quarter.

Glenwood City mixed its plays and runners well. Jake O’Meara, Nick Schone, Nate Mrdutt and Jake Nelson all had touches on the drive. Nelson had runs of 11, four, three and a pair of six-yard gains including a great effort on a third down play. Mrdutt also had several positive runs, all of which went for four to six yards a carry.

Nick Schone would finish off the drive as he pushed over the goal line from a yard out to bring the Toppers to within two at 10:30. Jake O’Meara was stopped short on the two-point conversion run.

Glenwood City took possession of the ball less than three minutes later as it forced Durand to punt.

With 7:40 remaining on the game clock, the Hilltoppers started at its 22. Jake Nelson and Nate Mrdutt were the workhorses. Nelson took the first two handoffs, unleashing a 26-yard run on the latter that took the team to midfield. Mrdutt carried for three and Nelson picked up six on the next run. The Toppers called on Mrdutt, its senior fullback, for two consecutive runs which yielded five and four yards. Nelson was stopped for a yard loss on second down, then Mrdutt carried for six to set up a fourth and one.

But the Toppers’ fumbled the ensuing center exchange. Although Schone fell on the ball, the mark was short of the first down and Durand took possession on downs at its 27.

The Panthers picked up four first downs making the Hilltoppers use all three of their second-half time outs before taking a knee to seal the win.

“We have played competitive football all season long,” said Coach Strong. “We didn’t win a couple of these close games because we make little mistakes in key situations. As the coach it is my responsibility to clean up those mistakes. Playing in close games is not good enough for our program. We need to earn victories by playing within our game plans and executing at each position.”

“I feel Jake Score has done a fantastic job calling defense this year and the kids have played very well,” Strong stated. “In the past,  we played very good offense and sometimes struggled on defense. This year we are not executing well enough on offense and that is my job to improve in that area. I’m proud of our boys for battling in these games. I’m especially happy with our younger kids for their commitment to winning and playing well. We need to have 11 guys on board every play, just too many plays this year where we have a couple missed assignments on key plays.”

Glenwood City actually outgained Durand 238 to 193, with 208 coming on the ground. The Panthers had a 92 to 30 advantage in the passing game.

Jake Nelson led all rushers with 83 yards on 18 carries. Nate Mrdutt had 62 yards on 16 attempts and Nick Schone tallied 42 yards an the Toppers lone score on 14 carries. Schone  was 2-10 passing for 30 yards. Travis Bauer had 63 yards and Durand’s only score to lead the Panthers.

While the Toppers, now 2-3 in conference and 4-3 overall, still have a shot to make the playoffs they will need to beat Spring Valley on the road this Friday, a feat that no other team has accomplished yet this season. The Cardinals, a perfect 7-0, are coming off a 53-0 whitewashed whipping of Washburn/Bayfield/South Shore.