Hudson sophomore Jack Strong hadn’t attempted a kick all night. Yet, with three seconds left and the Raiders trailing 28-26, that’s who Raiders coach Adam Kowles called on to attempt a 32-yard field goal with the game in the balance.
“He’s got a great leg, he’s been kicking all year, so we just said, ‘Hey, let’s kick him,’” Kowles said.
And the sophomore delivered.
Despite a high snap, Strong nailed the kick to put Hudson up 29-28 over the Wildcats with three seconds to play at Ramer Field in River Falls on Friday. River Falls’ last gasp play fell short on the ensuing possession, and Hudson retained possession of The Jug — the trophy fought over in the annual battle between the two Western Wisconsin rivals.
“Before the kick, I just decided I was going to put it in, so I put it in,” Strong said. “It’s just amazing. I love to be here with my team, thank God, it’s just a great moment.”
That capped a great football game. Nonconference game or a battle for a Big Rivers title, Week 2 or Week 7, it doesn’t really seem to matter. When River Falls and Hudson square off, a thriller ensues.
Friday night was no exception.
Hudson broke a 20-20 tie with five minutes to play when quarterback Carter Mears snuck in from a yard out to put the Raiders on top 26-20. That came a play after Mears hit Grant Jamieson — who made a fantastic leaping grab on a ball thrown behind him — for a key fourth-down conversion to extend the drive.
River Falls responded with a drive that featured a miraculous 44-yard grab from Michael Schurman, in which Schurman bobbled the deep ball, then wrapped it around his head as he was going to the ground. Vito Massa found Cade Myszewski for a touchdown. Cole Evavold ran in the subsequent 2-point conversion to put River Falls on top with two minutes to play.
River Falls trailed at four different points through the game’s first 45 minutes. Every time, the Wildcats (0-2) responded.
“One of our culture standards is love the fight, and that’s a resiliency standard,” Wildcats coach Ryan Scherz said. “And we talk about it a lot, and they clearly get that. That’s a big marker, I think, of where we’re going to be when this is all said and done.”
Then it was Hudson’s turn to flash some resiliency of its own. All week in practice, Kowles talked about finishing. He noted Hudson’s practices would tail off toward the very end, and he’d implore his team to push through.
“Our message was ‘Finish! Be strong at the end of practice, just like the fourth quarter,’” he said.
Like the situation the Raiders (1-1) found themselves in with two minutes to play. Hudson senior wide back Troy Bounting said the second River Falls scored, Kowles had the Raiders’ next play ready.
“He’s always got something going. He’s always preparing for the worst. He got us back in the game,” Bounting said. “If he’s not down on us, I believe we can win every time.”
Hudson orchestrated one final drive — featuring a heavy dose of Bounting, who cruised over 100 total yards and scored two touchdowns as the team’s focal point in the running and receiving game — to put itself in a position to have a kick, and Strong delivered.
“They just finished,” Kowles said. “The guys just never quit, man. Never quit, never give up. I’m so happy for them.”
Mass threw a trio of touchdowns for River Falls — one to Myszewski, one to Ethan Campbell and one to Schurman, who went over 100 yards receiving for the game.
This is River Falls’ lone season playing in the Mississippi Valley Conference. The Wildcats will spend the remainder of their regular season playing La Crosse area schools a couple hours south of River Falls.
They will return to their traditional placement in the Big Rivers Conference next season. So, for Friday night only, the longtime rivalry for “The Jug” trophy was a nonconference affair. Though, judging from the packed stands on both sides and intensity of the contest, the lack of conference standings impact did little to affect the rivalry.
Bounting said the victory brought a tear to Kowles’ eye.
“Great game,” Kowles said. “It’s a great rivalry.”