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MELROSE — The nearly two hours the teams had to wait to play their opening game of the season didn’t seem to damper the energy Bangor and Melrose-Mindoro’s high school football teams brought to the field.

But rain soaked everything else, and the defending WIAA Division 7 champion Cardinals had to hold off a late charge to salt away a 14-6 nonconference victory over the Mustangs.

The game, originally slated for 7 p.m., started at 8:45 p.m. due to lightning and heavy storms that moved through the Coulee Region Thursday night.

The final 3 minutes of the second quarter proved to be the difference, as Bangor (1-0) scored both of their touchdowns in that span and that was enough for their defense to hold on for the win.

The Cardinals’ methodical option offense, highlighted by strong blocking at the point of attack and their ball carriers’ abilities to continue moving forward in traffic, could only be stunted for so long. After a Melrose-Mindoro senior Landon Lockington recovered a bobbled snap on a punt and got off a deflected kick, Bangor took over at the 50-yard line and marched down the field. The only impediments were self-inflicted — illegal procedure and holding penalties — but once they were close to the end zone, the Cardinals finished it off. Junior Carter Horstman broke a tackle and punched in an 11-yard run for Bangor’s first points of the season.

Melrose-Mindoro’s next drive ended quickly, as Owen Johnson stepped in front of a Tucker Sbraggia pass and picked it off to set Bangor up at the Mustangs’ 35.

The ensuing six-play drive was capped off by a 1-yard plunge by Jayden Nachtigal. Trevor Jones’ scamper around the right side gave the Cardinals a 14-0 lead with 54.6 seconds left before halftime.

The Mustangs (0-1) countered early in the second half when Sbraggia — a sophomore making his first varsity start — found Brett Gerdes on a deep corner route, and Gerdes ran through a would-be tackler for a 51-yard touchdown.

Melrose-Mindoro’s defense stood tall from then on, including stuffing a fourth-and-1 attempt inside the red zone to force a turnover on downs in the fourth quarter. That sparked what would become the Mustangs’ longest drive of the game. The 11-play march got down to the Bangor 35 before a backbreaking holding penalty and a minus-7-yard rush created a third-and-20 situation Melrose-Mindoro didn’t convert.

Horstman finished with 133 yards on 22 caries, while Bangor quarterback Trevor Jones had 104 yards on 15 carries.

Sbraggia was 6-for-13 passing for 102 yards for the Mustangs.

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Colten Bartholomew is a reporter and columnist for River Valley Media Group. Colten is the college sports coordinator for the La Crosse Tribune.