RIPON, Wis. — The Eagles just needed to get out of their own way.
They had been hurting themselves with penalties — stifling their own drives and extending their opponent’s — and weren’t executing how they knew they could.
After a somewhat sloppy first half that was still good enough to hold a two-score lead, the UW-La Crosse football team’s defense clamped down, the offense got rolling again and the Eagles took down Ripon College 45-14 in a nonconference tilt in front of a reported crowd of 1,700 people at Ingalls Stadium.
UW-L’s offense was led by a historic performance by senior Nick Holcomb. The 6-foot-2 receiver dominated the Red Hawks’ secondary, racing up a program-record 263 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 10 catches. Holcomb also tied program’s record for receiving touchdowns in a game.
Three of Holcomb’s scores came in the first half, and the Eagles had built a 28-14 lead heading into halftime. However the team was frustrated, senior linebacker Michael Garvey said.
“We went into half a little disappointed with our play. We let up the one big play and then that long drive with a bunch of penalties,” Garvey said. “We realize that’s not how we’re supposed to be playing, that’s not coach (Matt) Janus’ defense. We just wanted to come out with a little more fire in our guts, run around, do our assignments and make some plays.”
Ripon was moving the ball again to open the second half, but UW-L (2-0) defensive back Colton Nieman stepped in front of a Patton pass over the middle, picked it off and gave the defense a spark. Ripon’s opening drive in the second half gained 41 yards before the interception; the Eagles allowed 10 net years from that point on, shutting out the Red Hawks (0-2) in the final 30 minutes.
“I thought the defense played phenomenal today,” UW-L coach Mike Schmidt said. “They were really good in terms of sacks and turnovers. They just had a couple big plays, and we’ve got to find ways to shut those things down.”
Nieman’s interception was one of three turnovers forced by the Eagles — Luke Winnen had a pick late in the second quarter and UW-L recovered a fumble on a kickoff for the second week in a row. UW-L also tallied 13 tackles for loss, including five sacks, against Ripon’s option offense.
“Coach Janus did a hell of a job scheming, really knowing when they were going to pass, and put me in positions where I could just play, and make tackles,” said Garvey, who led the team with nine tackles. “And if I wasn’t there, someone else was.”
UW-L sophomore Trenten Smith tallied a team-best 54 yards on the ground, including a 20-yard score up the middle to put an exclamation point on the Eagles’ 17-point fourth quarter. In all, the Eagles rushed for 141 yards and Smith had both rushing TDs. Senior Mike Santucci had a handful of nice runs, including a 16-yard jolt in which he was twisted around and pulled down at the Ripon 1.
Santucci was hurt on the play and wouldn’t return, however Schmidt said he didn’t believe the injury was serious.
Patton did his best to put the Red Hawks on his back. The freshman from Madison LaFollette High School had 88 yards and two scores on 22 rushes, including a 64-yard carry up the middle for a first-quarter TD. After two defensive pass interference penalties extended Ripon’s drive into the UW-L red zone, Patton scrambled from the 9 and just made it inside the pylon for his other score.
But the Eagles tightened down defensively, putting Patton in passing situations and then pressuring him on those plays.
UW-L senior quarterback Tarek Yaeggi finished 22 of 33 through the air, tallying 334 yards, four TDs and his first interception of the season.