Falcons football falls short on homecoming to ninth-ranked UW-Platteville
UW-River Falls football fell short this past weekend, losing 24-14 in a tightly contested matchup on homecoming Saturday against UW-Platteville.
Despite a convincing 30-7 victory over UW-Eau Claire the week before, the Falcons couldn’t get the win in a game that was dominated by defense. UWRF started off with a promising first drive that stalled out, something that would happen often in the first half. Falcons punter Owen Schommer punted the ball seven times through the first two quarters alone.
UW-River Falls head football coach Matt Walker was content with the start his team had early on, saying they wanted to limit possession and run the clock.
The team didn’t start off particularly fast, with punt returner Kyle Narges fumbling a punt midway through the first on a play where he was surrounded by five Platteville defenders.
After a scoreless and uneventful first quarter, the team continued to ask a lot out of its defense. They frequently had to stop the high-powered Platteville offense from within its own 50-yard line.
“The field position hurt us all day”, Walker said. “I’ve never been a part of a game where we started five drives within the five. Never seen it before.”
At 7:24 in the second quarter, Pioneer running back Sean Studer ran the ball in from the five-yard line, putting Platteville up 7-0. For the first time in the game, the heavily-relied-upon defense bent.
At halftime, the score was 7-0 Platteville, with the focus of the game squarely on field position for both teams. Falcons star running back Michael Diggins got involved in the offense early and often, finishing with 96 yards on 25 carries.
Coach Walker spoke glowingly of Diggins, saying, “He’s having maybe the best year of anybody offensively in our league this year”.
The Falcons defense cracked midway through the third when they allowed a 64-yard touchdown run by junior running back Sean Studer. He bolted straight down the middle of the field with little resistance, putting UWRF down by two scores.
“We know we are slightly vulnerable to big plays, it’s just the design of the defense,” Walker said. “Our defense was out on the field too much”.
Just as the game was about to get out of hand in the third quarter, the Falcons offense responded quickly. Two minutes later Hearns threw a touchdown pass to tight end Patrick O’Leary in the back of the end zone. The 6’5 sophomore put the team on the scoreboard for the first time in the game to cut UW-Platteville’s lead down to 14-7.
Coach Walker was proud of the turnaround the team had pulled off in the comeback.
“This is a group of kids that don’t get rattled,” he said. “The game was going to plan deep into the second half.”
Pioneers wide receiver Mark Johnson took advantage of the matchup on junior cornerback Alex Wood for most of the day, finishing with ten receptions for 152 yards. But Wood made a big play in the third quarter when he picked off a pass from quarterback Jack Eddy on an incredible no-look grab. This interception proved to be a momentum changer as the Falcons offense then drove down the field on a ten-play, 55-yard drive which was capped off by a game-tying touchdown run by Hearns.
Despite the momentum being on River Falls side, injuries to the Falcon’s offensive line along with a massive 40-yard reception by Johnson led to the Pioneers taking a 17-14 lead on a 35-yard field goal by junior kicker Michael Pratl.
With just 2:39 remaining in the fourth quarter, Platteville running back Wyatt Thompson would score on a 15-yard reception. This put the Pioneers up by ten points late in the contest.
The Falcons would need to score quickly if they were to have a chance at winning the game. However, on the first play of the drive, Hearns would throw an interception to Pioneers cornerback Luke Johnson, effectively ending the game.
After a couple of kneel downs, the Falcons would fall to 3-2 while the Pioneers would soar to 5-0 and the top of the WIAC.
“I think we proved we can play with anybody in the country,” Walker said, remaining optimistic after the tough loss.
“We play a very conservative game offensively, but it’s because of the game plan. You are playing one of the number one offenses in the country”, Walker acknowledged. “Nobody wants to hear excuses”.
The loss to UW-Platteville may be difficult, but the Falcons have proven they’ve come a long way by competing with a top-ten team for four quarters.
“We’ve been pretty public that this thing has been a major turn around,” Walker said. “We still have big goals here at this program.”
While the homecoming loss stings everyone involved, the team will shift its focus towards next week’s opponent, UW-Stout. Despite coming off of two straight losses, Coach Walker contends that Stout will still pose a threat to the Falcons. Kickoff in Menomonie is set for 2 p.m. on Saturday.