UW-L football

Michael Garvey (bottom) and Luke Winnen (top) team up to take down River Falls wide receiver Nicholas Studer as Colton Nieman (13) and Tyler Halverson (18) look on during the Eagles’ season finale on Saturday.

Mike Schmidt, a former UW-La Crosse football and baseball player, came here a little more than two years ago as a high-energy guy ready to turn a struggling Eagles’ football program around. Schmidt, who was an assistant coach at the University of Dubuque and defensive coordinator UW-Platteville before accepting the Eagles’ head coaching job on Feb. 4, 2016, expected big things from a program that was once a NCAA Division III powerhouse and has three national titles to its credit.

He’s certainly delivered.

One year removed from a .500 inaugural season, Schmidt led the Eagles to a surprising 8-2 record this fall and put UW-L in the 32-team Division III playoff conversation. While UW-L did not receive a bid, the Eagles’ turnaround was one of the most talked about stories of 2017 and comes in at No. 6 on the Top 10 stories of the year.

There were a number of key reasons for the Eagles’ resurgence, including the significantly improved play of the offensive line and a strong overall defensive unit, but the team’s quick-strike offense was likely the biggest. Despite having starting quarterback Tarek Yaeggi suffer an injury against UW-Whitewater that would keep him out until late in the season, the Eagles averaged 33.9 points and 431.2 yards per game behind backup Drew David and the magician-like moves of record-breaking wide receiver Nick Holcomb.

Holcomb had 80 receptions for 1,401 yards and 20 TDs — all UW-L single-season records — and was one of our finalists for the Gagliardi award.

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