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December 4, 2020

11/9/2020 11:46:00 AM
Pointers win in their return but Hawks do not give an inch

River Valley's football coaching staff knew a key to beating Mineral Point is keeping the ball away from junior running back Dom McVay.
But as hard as they tried to keep the ball out of his hands, even going as far as kicking the ball away from him on kick-offs and punts, McVay still had the ball three times too much.
The first time he had it in his hands where he did some damage was in the first quarter when he scooped up a fumbled punt and raced 55 yards for a first quarter score.
After River Valley quarterback Will Bailey fired an 81 yard highlight reel pass to Langdon Alt to tie the game at the end of the first quarter at 7-7, McVay figured into a big play to get the lead back with Mineral Point after halftime. Pointer quarterback Liam Stumpf threw a 21 yard pass to McVay for a 14-7 lead at 9:39 of the third quarter.
The Pointer lead grew even more when Stumpf handed off to Will Straka at the 3:24 mark for a 21-7 lead.
But the Blackhawks were far from finished as two of their captains took charge and got the difference back to 21-19.
Bailey scored first on a one yard plunge to make it 21-13 and senior fullback Roman Jensen busted up the middle for 24 yards and a 21-19 difference.
One of the factors that put the Pointers up this far into the game was Bo Hanson who made all his extra point kicks while River Valley had only made one. That was a kick by Bailey with the Pointers stopping the other two tries which were two point attempts.
It was McVay who put the game out of reach for the Pointers when he took a Stumpf pass 43 yards for the back breaker and Hanson kicked the conversion. That set the score at 28-19 which was how the game ended.
It was Mineral Point's first competition after a two week lay-off due to COVID concerns in the community. It was not the sharpest the Pointers have played this season as can be pointed out with the 17 penalties for 127 yards and the three interceptions that settled into Tyler Nachreiner's grip.
The Blackhawks had more yards than the Pointers (385-125). River Valley ran for 197 and passed for 188 while the Pointers drove for 122 and passed for 133.
Bailey was 17 for 31 passing with one touchdown and two interceptions. Stumpf completed nine of 22 and was intercepted three times.
Bailey led River Valley's ground game with 98 yards on 12 carries. Straka led the Pointers with 64 yards on 13 tries.
Alt was the key to the receiving game with six catches for 119 yards for the Hawks.
Defensively Zach Gloudeman was the tackle leader for River Valley with 11.
While it was a loss it was still a very exciting game and a great effort for the Blackhawks. River Valley coach Tim Eastlick felt the seniors did a great job helping the Hawks compete so well against a top ranked team.
"Our seniors have been in many big games during their time at River Valley," Eastlick said. "They played with poise and it rubbed off on our younger players."
Eastlick admitted the Hawks wanted to limit McVay's touches and kicking the rock away from him was one of the ways.
"We were fine with kicking it away or out of play so that we didn't give up the big play ball to McVay," Eastlick said. "He is a game changer back there and we didn't want him to be the deciding factor."
Like most teams the Hawks have been without some of their players at times this season so Eastlick was happy to have his linemen together for one of the first times.
"This was as solid of line play as we have seen this season from offensive line," Eastlick added. "We weren't perfect, but they were good enough to open holes that our backs could scoot through."
The ability to come back so often may be a part of the COVID season.
"I think that our team has realized there are only so many games left and they don't want it to end too soon," said Eastlick. "The boys found a different intensity level against Mineral Point and it was nice to see them compete like they can."
Playing the Pointers so well is helpful for a team who can keep it close with them.
"Any time you play a team the caliber of Mineral Point it helps you see your strengths and weaknesses," said Eastlick. "I feel this is a great warm up to whatever the post season looks like in 2020."
The Hawks were to have hosted Dodgeville Friday but the Dodgers have decided to end their season due to COVID issues.
We are actively looking for a game with anyone on Friday night," Eastlick said. "Hopefully, we are able to give our kids one more opportunity to play the game."
Perhaps the biggest task the Pointer coaching staff faced preparing for the game with the Blackhawks was getting them ready to play after two weeks of no football.
"The two weeks off was the biggest challenge we have faced this season," said Pointer coach Andy Palzkill. "As many people know, you lose all of your momentum and much of your knowledge and technique in that time off. It is truly like starting over."
"We needed to focus on our fundamental technique during the week of practice and did not have as much time to game plan as usual," Palzkill continued. " You just can't squeeze all of that into one week of practice. We will continue to work on the basics moving forward, but we will have more time to game plan and prepare for opponents."
But the result was what the Pointers wanted to see.
"In the end, I felt that the competitiveness and relentless effort of our players was the difference," Palzkill said. "I can trust this group of young men to give us all that they have and to keep a positive attitude. That was important on Friday night. We had many things go against us, but we were always focused on the next play and just kept battling."
One of the areas that may have caused the battle for the Pointers to be tougher than usual was the penalties.
"The penalties were a combination of the time off and the aggressive play our players bring each Friday night," Palzkill pointed out. "We do not want to lose our aggressiveness, but we do need to trim down the penalties. Continued work on our blocking technique and focusing on hand placement and footwork will certainly help. Things will clean up as we get used to the speed of the game again."
"Something else to keep in mind is that officials typically call less and less as the season moves forward," added Palzkill. "I have watched kids get held in the playoffs and no flags get thrown. Every so often you will have a night like last Friday. We will learn from it and move forward."
When it came down to it the speed the Pointers bring each time out goes a long way towards the wins.
"Speed is an equalizer on the football field," Palzkill said. "Our philosophy is to do our best to get playmakers in space and let them use their athleticism. We happened to get a defensive front that we have not practiced against all year on Friday night. Without the intelligence of our players, we would not have been able to adjust and find success offensively. It was not a pretty night for us, but we overcame a lot of adversity and found a way to earn the win."
The Pointers came away with a lot of respect for the Blackhawks.
"River Valley is a great football program and they have a great team right now," Palzkill said. "They were the reason why we did not have a great night. Coach Eastlick and his staff do a great job preparing each week and they executed a good game plan against us."
The Hawks also had more size than the Pointers.
"They were obviously much bigger than us up front, but we see that week in and week out," Palzkill said. "The way that we combat this is to play with better technique than our opponents and to use our team speed. We also use concepts that do not require us to overpower people. As the game progressed, we identified the players that were giving us trouble and did our best to read them or run away from them. Again, the understanding of football that our players possess helps us with this process."
One of the best things about the match-up of two excellent teams was getting back to it for the Pointers.
"It was awesome to return to the field last Friday night,"Palzkill said. "I can't describe how awful it feels to be sitting at home all week and on Friday night when you know other teams are competing. I hope we never have to endure that again."
Palzkill compared the game with the Hawks to post season play.
"It was a battle and we feel fortunate to beat a good football team.," the Pointer coach said. "This game was similar to how a level 3 or 4 playoff game would feel. In the end, it was a great win for the team and good learning experience."
The Pointers close out their regular season at home with Lancaster Friday and they hope it is able to be played.
"Lancaster and River Valley battled out a close game earlier this season. There is no doubt that Lancaster is one of the best football programs in the states o we will need to play well in order to earn a victory against them," Palzkill said.
As for the post season.....
"The postseason format is not clear at this time," said Palzkill. "We are still waiting to see what the playoffs will look like and hoping that there is a way to make them meaningful and competitive."

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