By Kyle Naber, UWEC Sports Information
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (Blugolds.com)- On a perfect sunny fall day, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire fought until the end to earn a 20-14 win over the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Saturday afternoon at Carson Park.
The Eagles had the first chance to get things going and after getting a short drive started, the Blugolds forced a punt. UW-Eau Claire elected to not return the punt and UW-La Crosse was able to down the ball at the one-yard line. The Blugolds struggled to get anything moving and were forced to punt deep in their own end zone. Ian Scott (Sr. – Mondovi, WI) avoided the defense and was able to get off a punt, but it was a line-drive punt that Ryan Kruser returned the punt for 18 yards to start the drive on the Eau Claire 27-yard line.
The Eagles wasted no time, scoring three plays into the drive was Joel Oxton, who hauled in a nine-yard pass from backup quarterback Ben Schramski. Schramski was a story of the day, filling in for Tarek Yaeggi. Yeaggi, who suffered a left shoulder injury late in the fourth quarter against the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, was leading the WIAC with just under 300 yards a game through the air.
The Blugold defense continued to make big plays to keep Eau Claire in the game. Overall, the defense allowed the Eagles to convert only two of eight opportunities on third down. In the first half, they did not allow one third-down conversion. Coming into Saturday's contest, La Crosse was ranked sixth in the nation on third-down conversion rates with a 55.4 percentage.
To start the second quarter, the Blugolds started their drive at the Eagle's 48-yard line. They looked like they would go three and out, until JT DenHartog (So. – Hopkins, MN) found Antwan Moore (Fr. – Evergreen Park, IL) for 23 yards. On the next play, DenHartog found his favorite target, Matt Knapp (Sr. – Eau Claire, WI/Memorial) for a 20-yard touchdown on a goal line fade.
Late in the second quarter, DenHartog rallied the offense for a long, 15-play, 54-yard drive that resulted in a 34-yard field goal from Austin Kolden (Jr. – Blaine, MN/Coon Rapids). The Blugolds would take their 10-7 lead into halftime with all the momentum.
Coming out of the gates in the second half, it again looked like La Crosse would steal the momentum back. However, on third and 10 from the Eau Claire 24-yard line, DenHartog found a wide-open LeeShaun Evans (So. – Chicago, IL/Thornbridge) for a 47-yard pass. That play would ignite the offense and the crowd. The Blugolds finished off the drive with a one-yard run from DenHartog to take a 17-7 lead.
The Eagles proved they weren't done just yet, however, as they responded with a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped off with an 11-yard rush from Schramski.
The Eagles would keep the momentum going by forcing a punt and starting up another quick drive. The Eagles were forced to attempt a field goal for the tie but Joshua Fischer's kick went wide right, which kept the score at 17-14 in favor of the Blugolds.
Eau Claire would take the subsequent drive right down the field for another Kolden field goal. A 68-yard rush from Moore highlighted the drive that gave the Blugolds a 20-14 advantage.
Late in the fourth quarter, the pressure continued to mount as La Crosse began to drive down field. The Eagles had a man deep, but at the last moment Ryan Ames (Jr. – Shakopee, MN) stepped in and intercepted the pass to secure the win for Eau Claire.
In the win, DenHartog completed 10-13 passed for 112 yards and a score and rushed for 34 yards on 18 attempts.
The highlight on offense was Antwan Moore. The first-year running back had 10 carries on the day for 110 yards and hauled in five catches for an additional 32 yards. Following the game Head Coach Dan Larson had plenty of compliments for his running back.
"He was huge; every single week he has continued to get better," Larson said. "He's a guy that has a lot of explosive, playmaking abilities and he takes a lot of pride in what he does."
The Blugolds needed to play four complete quarters and they certainly did that on Saturday. They were able to give DenHartog plenty of time to operate, only allowing one sack. They also made enough plays on defense to hold an Eagle offense that was averaging 41.7 points per game to just 14 points. Eau Claire has now won seven of their last ten against La Crosse.
Up next for the Blugolds will be another home game, this time against No. 2-ranked UW-Whitewater. Kick-off is set for 1:00 PM.
Follow all the action this season on Blugold Game Day.