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One too many: Big-Play Cardinals sink Toppers’ playoff hopes

SPRING VALLEY — Needing a victory to qualify for this year’s WIAA football playoffs, Glenwood City stood toe-to-toe with unbeaten Spring Valley and battled the Cardinals to a 12-12 draw after three quarters of play on the Red Bird’s home turf Friday, October 6.

Spring Valley had to be a bit shocked as none of the Cardinals’ previous seven opponents had been even remotely close to them at this stage of a contest. Yet, here were the upstart Hilltoppers answering each Cardinal blow with a counter punch of their own.

Spring Valley’s propensity for creating big plays – like a 84-yard punt return and a 76-yard touchdown run – had earned it a 12-0 score near the midway point of the second quarter. But the Toppers responded with a 12 unanswered points of its own, in part to their own big plays, that were capped by a pair of touchdowns by senior Nate Mrdutt – one in the second quarter and the other late in the third.

But after intercepting the Hilltoppers for the second time early in the fourth, the Cardinals used another back-breaking long run to set up their final touchdown accompanied by the two-point conversion to retain their unblemished record with a 20-12 victory.

The loss, Glenwood City’s third by eight points or less this season, extinguished the Hilltoppers’ playoff hopes.

“We feel that we were a couple of plays away from having one loss on the season,” stated Glenwood City head coach Shane Strong.

Glenwood City, now 2-4 in conference and 4-4 overall, had lost by eight points to Mondovi and two-points the previous week against Durand. Both losses along with a conference opening setback to Elk Mound all happened at home.

“We went into this game confident we could win it but knew we would have to play mistake-free football,” Strong stated. “I’m very proud of the players for their efforts in this game and all season.”

“Spring Valley has a great team this year,” said Glenwood City head coach Shane Strong. “We were very close to coming away with a win, but the kids would tell you close is not good enough.”

The Toppers stumbled a bit out of the gate as its opening kick off went out of bounds, giving the Cardinals the ball at their own 35.

Spring Valley then picked up a first down before the Glenwood City defensive unit was able to force a punt.

The Hilltoppers first offensive series produced a couple of first downs including a gutsy fourth and two conversion from its own 26 yard line. But the drive stalled and the Toppers had to punt.

Nick Schone’s 37-yard boot landed in the hands of senior Logan Newton at the Cardinals’ 16. Newton showed his agility and speed by avoiding Glenwood City defenders and then out racing them to the end zone for an 84-yard return for the touchdown. Newton came up wide on the extra point kick but Spring Valley had a 6-0 advantage at 5:26 of the first quarter.

The Toppers second go-round on offense lasted just three plays. Schone’s 41-yard punt gave the Cardinals the ball at their 31.

Spring Valley fed the ball to senior back Jacob Rielly four consecutive times for 13 yards. Quarterback Sean Borgerding called a keeper that gained ten and another first down. Newton then  got a touch and took it 16 yards to the Glenwood City 30.

The Toppers held Rielly for no gain on a first down run only to have Borgerding run for 11 on the next play. But a Spring Valley hold brought the ball back to the 36. Jed Schlegel’s first touch of the game went for five yards. Then on third and 11, Borgerding and Jed Schlegel combined for 16 yards on a nice pitch and catch play only to have it wiped out by another holding infraction. Spring Valley would be whistled for yet another hold on the ensuing play as the Cardinals’ once promising drive was faced with a third and 41. Rielly picked up four yards on the run and Spring Valley punted on the first play of the second quarter.

Despite good starting position at its own 40, Glenwood City was only able to pick up a pair of first downs before giving the ball back on a punt.

Spring Valley needed just three plays to add to its scoreboard count. Jacob Rielly carried for 15 and four yards on the first two carries of the series. On his third attempt, Rielly broke through the Toppers’ defense and raced 76 yards for the score with 7:27 remaining in the half and a 12-0 lead. Borgerding’s conversion pass fell incomplete, leaving the lead at 12.

The Toppers next possession looked promising, thanks to a 31-yard pass completion from Schone to Jake Nelson that took the Toppers to the Cardinals’ 35. Jake Logghe hauled in a Schone pass on the next play for 11 yards and a first down at the 24. But a loss by Jake O’Meara on first down and a pair of incompletions left the Toppers with a fourth and 11. Nate Mrdutt picked up four on the ground but the ball went back to Spring Valley on downs.

The Cardinals pushed the ball from its own 21 to the GC 34 before it was faced with a fourth and two. Following a Toppers’ timeout with 2:26 left in the half, the Cardinals’ fourth-down pass attempt fell incomplete.

Taking over with 2:20 on the clock, Mrdutt gave the Toppers a big boost with an 18-yard run on first down. GC took its second timeout at 1:38 after an incompletion and a seven-yard Jake Kopacz run. Mrdutt converted a third down with a six yard gain and two plays later Kopacz ran 34 yards to the Spring Valley two. Mrdutt dove into the end zone to give Glenwood City its first score with 1:01 remaining in the first half. The Toppers used its last timeout prior to the conversion try. Unfortunately, Kopacz was unable to  break to the goal line and the score stayed 12-6 in the Cardinals favor.

The Toppers could have used an extra timeout or two when just two plays later Jake Logghe intercepted the Cardinals’ quarterback at midfield and returned it to the SV 35 with just 44 seconds left on the halftime clock.

Schone gained just a yard on a first-down keeper, forcing him to spike the ball on second down to stop the clock. Schone went to the air on second down and found Carson Strong open for a 30-yard gain to the Cards’ four with 18 ticks remaining. Schone spiked the ball with 15 second left. His second- and third-down pass attempts missed their targets leaving the Toppers with four seconds to go four yards for the tying score. Glenwood City tried to catch Spring Valley off guard with a quick hand-off to Mrdutt but the Toppers’ fullback made it just two yards before being tackled to end the half.

Glenwood City had a great opportunity to open the second half as the Cardinals’ kick off went out of bounds at the GC 45. Nelson snared a pair of Schone passes for 19 and seven yards as the Toppers maneuvered to their opponents 20 where the drive ended on a fourth-down incompletion.

Spring Valley strung together four first downs on the ensuing drive and looked primed to push the ball to pay dirt when Jake Nelson intercepted Borgerding and returned it nine yards to the GC 31.

Two plays later, Kopacz and Schone hooked up for a 52-yard pass play that took the Toppers to the Valley 14. O’Meara caught a second-down pass for ten yards to set Glenwood City up at first and goal at the Cardinals’ four. Mrdutt would cover that distance in two plays – gaining three on first down and taking it the final yard on second to knot the game at 12 with 2:06 left in the third quarter. Schone’s kick for the lead went low and to the right.

Glenwood City’s defense rose up and forced a punt.

The Toppers took over at their own 38 with seven seconds left in the third. Mrdutt ran for two yards to end the quarter.

The first play of the final quarter, saw Schone connect with Strong for a pass play of 12 yards. The ensuing exchange from center was mishandled but Schone was able to cover up the ball for a minimal loss of a few yards. But on the next play, Schone’s pass attempt sailed high and into the arms of Sean Borgerding who returned the interception to the Cards’ 39.

Then on second down, Jed Schlegel broke free for a 44-yard run to the GC 17. A few plays later, Schlegel gained four more to convert a fourth down and give the Cardinals a first and goal at the Toppers’ six. On the very next play, Rielly took the hand-off from Borgerding and scored at 8:07. The Toppers stopped Borgerding on the conversion try but a face mask penalty against GC, gave the Cardinals a second try and this time Rielly punched it in for the two points and a 20-12 lead.

Glenwood City had three possessions in the remaining time but  came away empty handed all three times. The Toppers punted, were then intercepted and turned the ball over on downs on its final possession which allowed the Cardinals to take a knee and run out the clock for the win.

Spring Valley outgained Glenwood City 354 to 299 thanks to a 313 to 125 advantage in rushing.

Nate Mrdutt led the way with 62 yards and two scores on 14 attempts. Jake Kopacz added five carries and 52 yards.

Nick Schone finished the game 9 of 27 with two interceptions and 174 yards. Jake Nelson had four receptions for 59 yards, Jake Kopacz 1 for 52 yards and Carson Strong had a pair for 42 yards.

Jacob Rielly topped the Cardinals rushing charts with 25 carries for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Jed Schlegel added 113 yards on 13 tries.

Both teams had a pair of interceptions.

“We went down 12-0 but still fought back to tie the game,” noted Coach Strong. “We had to make a couple of adjustments to our offense to move the ball. Our young receivers made some great catches and our quarterback threw well. Nate Mrdutt had a great defensive game with ten solo tackles and Hogan Chouinard really played a solid game on the defensive line which kept us in the game.”

“Our young guys can take this game and use it as motivation to train harder,” concluded Strong. “Three losses by a touchdown or less hurts but can be avoided if we spend more time in the weight room.”

Glenwood City will finish its season at home this Friday when it hosts Webster in a non-conference game.