Wisconsin high school football: Menomonie tops River Falls again to move on to Level 2 of playoffs

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For years, the second round of the playoffs felt like a birthright for Menomonie football players. That’s how frequently the Mustangs made deep playoff runs. So last fall’s Level 1 exit — capping a 3-7 campaign — likely felt like a disappointment for the program.

But, a year later, Menomonie is back where it belongs.

The Mustangs beat Big Rivers Conference rival River Falls for the second time in 14 days, topping the sixth-seeded Wildcats 28-7 in their playoff opener on Friday at University of Wisconsin-Stout.

Menomonie will play the winner of Friday’s contest between New Richmond and Marshfield next week in Level 2.  Menomonie also beat River Falls 39-15 on Oct. 6.

Leading 14-7 at the break, Menomonie’s rushing attack simply wore down the River Falls defense. Mustangs running back John Higbie ran for a pair of second-half scores, including a 50-yarder to put Menomonie up 28-7 and all but seal the deal. Higbie simply proved too difficult to bring down, and helped the Mustangs run out the clock at the game’s conclusion.

Menomonie (8-2), the No. 3 seed, made a couple key offensive plays inside the River Falls 10-yard line for both of its first-half scores. On fourth-and-goal from the 6-yard line in the first quarter, Isaac Ellison made up for a drop on the play prior by reeling in a back-shoulder throw from Brady Johnson for a touchdown to put the Mustangs up 7-0.

River Falls (6-4) immediately responded with a quick scoring drive — highlighted by a 50-yard run by running back Jonah Severson — that ended in a Severson 1-yard touchdown run to make it 7-7 with four minutes to play in the opening frame.

That’s where the score stood until nearly halftime — as River Falls squandered a scoring opportunity by fumbling on a pitch play when it was nearing the red zone.

Menomonie was knocking on the door just before halftime. The Mustangs faced second-and-goal from the 1-yard line with 27 seconds to go in the half and no timeouts. On second down, Steele Schaefer was stopped by a River Falls defense that was selling out against the run.

The Mustangs wisely had a third-down play predialed. Menomonie faked the run. So while Schaefer was eaten up in the backfield by multiple defenders, Johnson rolled out freely with the ball, and connected with a wide-open Ryan Dingwall for the touchdown with just three ticks left in the second quarter.

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