GET vs. River Valley 07

G-E-T defenders close in on River Valley quarterback Justin Yanke (3) during Friday’s game at the new G-E-T Athletic Field. The Red Hawks (4-0) won 14-7 in their first game on the new turf field.

Andrew Thoreson, Winona Daily News

GALESVILLE — The newfound pride of Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau High School is, rightfully so, its sparkling new turf football field and adjoining facilities that include a soon-to-be-completed multipurpose addition to the school.

What hasn’t changed, however, is how the Red Hawks win football games — tough, physical play sprinkled with a few with big plays.

Enter wide-eyed sophomore Davis Wenthe, who came up with the biggest play of the game Friday night when he blocked a third-quarter punt, grabbed it in mid-air, then scored.

The highlight film play proved to be the difference as G-E-T outmuscled River Valley long enough for a 14-7 victory before a grandstand packed with more than 1,500 fans.

The win pushed the Red Hawks’ mark to 4-0, while River Valley — last season’s WIAA Division 4 state runner-up — fell to 2-2.

“I was going around the outside, and I got around the lineman, I stepped around him, and then just ran at the guy (punter). I came across free and jumped up and swatted it with the left hand,” Wenthe said of his game-turning play.

“Then I was just looking straight up in the air, two hands out, just trying to catch it. I caught it and there was nobody in front of me. It was hanging in the air for three seconds, and I was just waiting for it to come down.”

The blocked punt and subsequent touchdown with 30 seconds left in the third quarter put the Red Hawks in the lead, but far from in total control. River Valley quarterback Justin Yanke, a 6-foot, 175-pound senior, used his strong right arm to sling the ball short, medium and deep.

While Yanke was able to complete 5 of 10 passes for 50 yards in the second half, he was intercepted twice in the second half — once by Chris Thompson and once by Connor Wagner. Thompson, in fact, silenced two Blackhawks’ drives as he had a pick in the first half, too.

“We came out today saying that everything has to be perfect. We know River Valley is a good team, and we came out with the mentality that special teams had to be on point, offense had to be on point, defense had to be on point,” Thompson said.

“He was definitely a good quarterback. We definitely watched a lot of film on him and were definitely prepared coming into the game. He kind of chucked it little bit under pressure, so we knew we had to stay deep and not get beat deep because he had some big, quick wide receivers he could throw to.”

G-E-T was able to sack Yanke three times, and put enough pressure on him a number of other times to make him uncomfortable. It was all part of the game plan, G-E-T coach Jon Steffenhagen said. Whether or not the Red Hawks could execute it was going to be the determining factor.

“We really focused hard on special teams this week because that is what turned the corner for us last year in this game for us. And defensively, we just knew we had to get some pressure on him the best way we could,” Steffenhagen said.

“We just got remarkable athletes in that defensive backfield and they went and made plays. It is a good win and I am happy for our kids.”

The Red Hawks, who overpowered their first three opponents in the trenches thanks to what Steffenhagen fondly calls the “dirt guys,” found it tough going in the first half against River Valley.

G-E-T did light up the scoreboard first, however, thanks to an eight-play, 57-yard drive that senior running back Ben Behan capped with a bulldozing 1-yard run to make it 7-0 with 5:03 left in the opening quarter.

Behan, the area’s leading rusher entering the game despite not playing last week, carried 15 times for 39 yards despite playing with a torn patellar tendon in his knee. Sophomore Bryce Burns led the Red Hawks with 14 carries for 64 yards.

Ironically, the biggest play of the drive came through the air — not pounding the turf — when tight end Thomas Gunderson went up for a Brett Lettner pass, bobbled it, kept his eyes on it, and pulled it in for a 35-yard circus catch.

The incredible reception ignited the crowd and gave G-E-T some much-needed momentum.

River Valley then came up with a big defensive stand when the Red Hawks went for it on a fourth-and-9 from its own 39 with 9:12 left in the first half.

The Blackhawks capitalized on the short field, driving 39 yards in eight plays to tie it at 7. Yanke capped the drive with a 3-yard scoring run.

G-E-T threatened to take the lead just before halftime, but a 16-play drive that started at its own 27-yard line, hit a wall at the Blackhawks’ 4.

G-E-T tried several trick plays as the clock wound down, including a halfback option pass from Behan to Thompson, but the fall incomplete at the goal line.

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