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Chins held high after loss to top-ranked Whitewater

November 21, 2014

On Saturday the UW-River Falls football team played in its final game of the 2014 season against the number one team in the nation, UW-Whitewater.

The Falcons would give the Warhawks its biggest test of the season, but it wasn’t enough as the Falcons fell 28-25 in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.

With game-time temperatures in the 20s with light snow flurries, weather was sure to be an issue for both teams. The Warhawks started the game without its top wide receiver due to concussion like symptoms, but that didn’t seem to stop Whitewater.

The first quarter was all Warhawks, scoring on both of the team’s first two possessions. In the first drive by the Warhawks, the team used its hurry-up offence and went 76 yards down field on eight plays, which included a 24-yard touchdown reception on a play-action pass.

On the Falcon’s second possession, junior quarterback Ryan Kusilek would fumble on the Falcon’s own 35-yard line during a handoff to sophomore running back Rance Ashley, giving the Warhawks great field position. Whitewater would take advantage, scoring on a one-yard rush by Dennis Moore after driving 35 yards on six plays and taking an early 14-0 lead.

The Falcons would have the ball for the remaining four minutes of the first quarter and into the start of the second quarter. During the drive, the Falcons were able to come up with huge third-down conversions, which included a 25-yard reception by senior wide receiver Jordan Christianson on a crucial third-and-eight.

The offense made major adjustments on its third offensive drive as the Falcons ran the field 82 yards ending in a 12-yard touchdown scamper by Kusilek to bring the Falcons within one touchdown. Kusilek would miss the extra point as the team cut the deficit to eight.

It wasn’t only the offense that made adjustments, as the defense left it all out on the field on the Warhawks’ third drive of the game. Whitewater would start its drive on its own 25-yard line after a touchback on the ensuing kick-off. The Warhawks would get the ball in the Falcons red-zone for a third straight possession.

The Falcon defense would come up huge after making four big stops and none bigger than the fourth and one stop on a dive play up the middle. UWRF would start with the ball on its own one-yard line after the turnover on downs.

The Falcons got the ball out to midfield, but would turn the ball over after an interception. Whitewater missed a field goal wide-left and the half would end 14-6.

Whitewater would start with the ball on the second half and on its first possession would go three-and-out, having to punt to the Falcons. UWRF would have great field position starting with the ball at the center of the field. Kusilek would lead the offense on an eight play 52-yard drive which included a four-yard touchdown run by Kusilek, his second of the day. The Falcons two-point conversion would fail and the score would be 14-12. Whitewater came back with the hurry up offense and was able to go 62 yards down field on 19 plays to score a touchdown and extend the lead to 21-12.

After the Warhawk touchdown, both teams would fail to score again in the remaining time of the third quarter but the Falcons would start with the ball in the fourth quarter.

The Falcons would lose one yard on a rush attempt to start the fourth quarter. On the next play, Kusilek would connect with Christianson for a 56-yard touchdown reception to get the Falcons within three.

“That was a big play and a needed play,” Kusilek said. “That’s why you go to Jordan in that situation. He’s a big time player.”

Kusilek would miss the extra point and the score would stand at 21-18. After 10 minutes of play, both teams would be unable to score. Whitewater looked to change that after moving the ball to the Falcons five-yard line. The hard-nosed Falcon defense seemed unfazed shutting the Warhawks down and forcing a turnover on downs.

UWRF had a big test ahead of them needing to go 95 yards in five minutes. The Falcons were able to make an impressive drive and get all the way to the Warhawks red-zone that included a huge 34-yard reception by senior wide receiver Charlie Dixon to get the Falcons on the Warhawks four-yard line. On a third-and-goal attempt Kusilek connected with Christianson for a second time and the Falcons would have its first lead of the game making the score 25-21. With 1:20 remaining. Whitewater had to cover a lot of ground and fast.

Whitewater would start out with great field position returning the Falcon kick-off to its 39-yard line. Five plays later, the Warhawks would score the go-ahead touchdown and take a 28-25 lead. The Falcons would be unable to score in the 26 seconds that remained and would fall 28-25 in a heartbreaker.

In an interview with Sports Information, coach Matt Walker said: “This was a great game, one of the best I’ve been around. I can’t be more proud of our guys. To take Whitewater to the limit with the great streak they are on says a lot about our team. If you watched us play today you saw what we are all about.”

The Falcons shouldn’t walk off the field with its heads down. The team won three games this season after finishing last season without a win, as well as scoring the most point on Whitewater all season.

Kusilek finished with an impressive game with four touchdowns that included two throwing and two rushing. Christianson finished his collegiate career with a bang with five receptions, 111 yards and two touchdowns.