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Falcon football soars over the competition during annual breast cancer awareness game

October 26, 2016

UW-River Falls kept its perfect record at home alive this past weekend as an explosive offense led the Falcons to a 50-28 victory over UW-Stout during the annual breast cancer awareness game.

UWRF responded in a huge way after a tough road loss to Platteville the previous week. Offense has been a struggle for the Falcons in the first half of games this year, with Saturday being no exception as the two teams were scoreless after the first quarter.

The entire game changed early in the second quarter when Quarterback Travon Hearns threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to Junior Wide Receiver Tyler Halverson to go ahead 7-0. The UW-Stout Blue Devils quickly responded by evening up the game at 7-7, but Michael Diggins put the Falcons up 13-7 on a 9-yard rushing touchdown that would give UWRF a lead they wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the way.

Head Coach Matt Walker said he still has no idea why his team has had difficulty getting off to quick starts.

“It would be nice if we played well the whole time on both sides of the ball, but we’ve made good adjustments in game and nice adjustments at half. Our pattern has been our defense is really good to start the game and our offense has been atrocious early,” Walker said.

However, he notes how their early struggles may eventually lead to second half success. The average fan may not be able to see this, but the ability to run the ball can start to get the Falcon offense moving.

“We have physical running backs and we try to get them to the safeties to turn into big plays. Safeties are still making tackles in the first quarters, but we’ve eventually worn down almost every team we’ve played because of our style of play,” Walker said.

This physical running game served the Falcons well on the afternoon as Rance Ashley totaled 76 yards on 11 carries and Michael Diggins added his second 100 yard rushing game of the year to slowly take a toll on the Stout defense.

The game stayed close throughout the third quarter as the teams traded touchdowns to keep it tight at 22-14. The game wouldn’t become a blowout until a huge surge by the Falcons in the fourth quarter.

A 10 play, 87-yard drive that bridged the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth created huge momentum for UWRF. A 13-yard touchdown pass from Quarterback Sawyer Moon to Evan Verhota extended a lead that was built upon by Hearns and Diggins touchdown runs that put the game out of reach.

Moon has seen significant improvement from his entire offense over the course of the season.

“We’re meshing together as a unit rather than playing separately. We have young guys stepping and playing well so it’s mostly been the development with our young players,” Moon said.

WIAC Defensive Player of the Week Albert Itula’s 30-yard interception return for a touchdown managed to seal the deal for the Falcons in the fourth quarter. Itula also had six tackles, two tackles for loss, and one sack in the game. The big play solidified the Falcons could keep their undefeated home winning streak alive at 3-0.

“We definitely have a home field advantage. We love our stadium and playing at home,” Moon said.

UWRF managed to put up over 500 yards of total offense for the second straight year against the Blue Devils, with over 350 yards through the air and almost 200 on the ground in this season’s match up. However, Walker doesn’t attribute this success against Stout to a single factor.

“Our performance against them was more coincidental because they’ve caught us on a couple of good days. It’s more us executing than who we’re playing because they’re a good team,” Walker said.

Winning against Stout is even more exciting for UWRF due to the rivalry that has built up between the two teams.

“They’re the closest team in proximity, and we don’t like each other. It’s the game you really want to win for recruiting and controlling this area,” Moon said.

The wide receiver play was at its peak again on Saturday, with Tyler Halverson and Trenton Monson both recording 156 and 110 yards, respectively. Adding three touchdowns through the air helped balance this strong Falcon offense.

“Our wide receiver play has exploded on offense the past few weeks. Our balanced attack has created that for us the last couple of weeks and I’m proud of the young wide receiver group,” Walker said.

The game also had special meaning because of its significance as the annual breast cancer awareness game. With multiple players on the team having relatives who have battled cancer, the Falcons gave another big performance on the field that may have had some extra motivation. However, more went into the game than just the title.

“We sold shirts and bracelets to raise some actual capital to donate to the American cancer society. We also wear pink to create awareness for the situation,” Walker said.

The Falcons improve to 3-4 with the win and 2-2 in the WIAC. UWRF next hosts the #5 ranked UW-Oshkosh Titans at 2:35 p.m. on Saturday. Contrary to popular belief, Walker doesn’t think the game is as mismatched as most may believe.

“One thing that has happened in the program is we’ve caught everyone from a talent standpoint and now we’re trying to take that next step. The last two, three years, we’ve separated from the bottom half and put ourselves in position to chase down the big three (Whitewater, Oshkosh, Stevens Point),” Walker said.

Walker said he knows there’s a very simple way to compete with the Titans, a team he described as, ‘From a talent standpoint this may be the best team in D3 in the country.’
“We have to keep believing that we belong with these guys. We’ve closed the top of the league on talent and now need to make it happen and execute,” Walker said.

The Falcons will look to take their first win from the Titans since 2005. A win would certainly make UWRF a program to watch out for as a contender in the WIAC this season and going forward.