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Falcons sputter in opener

UW-River Falls running back Michael Diggins eyes a Coe College defender on his way to a 15-yard gain in the third quarter of the Falcons' 2017 season opener Saturday, Sept. 2, at David Smith Stadium at Ramer Field. Diggins ran for 109 yards and the Falcons outgained Coe, 340-185, but couldn't overcome five turnovers in a 13-9 loss. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 3
UW-River Falls sophomore defensive end Jared Johnson of Hudson drops Coe College running back Tyler Dralle for a loss in the fourth quarter of the Falcons' 13-9 loss to the Kohawks Saturday, Sept. 2, at David Smith Stadium at Ramer Field. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 3
UW-River Falls junior transfer Janari Glover slips through a seam on his way to returning a second half kick 29 yards in the Falcons' 13-9 loss to Coe College Saturday, Sept. 2, at David Smith Stadium at Ramer Field. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 3 / 3

UW-River Falls had over twice as many first downs, over four times as many rushing yards and nearly twice as many total yards as Coe College in its 2017 season opener Saturday, Sept. 2, at David Smith Stadium at Ramer Field.

They also had five times as many turnovers. Throw in two missed field goals, a missed extra point kick, and 87 yards in penalties and it all added up to a 13-9 loss to the defending Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champion Kohawks.

Take away the 74-yard touchdown pass the Falcons gave up on the first play of the second quarter and the UWRF defense was stellar, allowing just 37 rushing yards and 185 total yards. But the Falcon offense simply shot itself in the foot too many times.

"Our defensive effort was as good as I've maybe ever seen here," UWRF head coach Matt Walker said. "But we've got some things to clean up. Our quarterback play wasn't strong today."

UWRF led 9-6 at the break despite a pair of first half turnovers. Travon Hearns was picked off on the second play of the second half, setting Coe up at the UWRF 9-yard line, and it took the Kohawks three plays to take a 13-9 lead.

The Falcons put together a 10-play drive later in the quarter that stalled at the Coe 25-yard line where Angel Bautista's 42-yard field goal attempt was no good.

UWRF fumbled the ball away on their ensuing possession before the teams traded punts for most of the fourth quarter.

After forcing Coe to punt with 2:41 remaining, the Falcons took over at their own 34-yard line where Ben Beckman, UWRF's third quarterback of the game, hit Tyler Halverson for 15 yards, Trenton Monson for 16 and Alex Hohenstein for 25 to give UWRF a 1st-and-10 at the Coe 14.

After three incompletions to the back left corner of the end zone, Coe was whistled for pass interference in the same spot on fourth down to make it 1st-and-goal at the 8. But Beckman's pass intended for Hohenstein at the goal line was batted high up in the air and settled into the arms of Coe's Clevon Catchings at the 3-yard line with a minute remaining.

Walker said the loss was frustrating after the way the Falcon defense played.

"This is a resilient group; this is a talented group," he said. "It didn't look like it all day on offense today, but this group is special. This is a shame; they've worked hard enough to not deserve this today."

Prescott native Nick Jacobsen blocked the extra point after Coe scored the first touchdown of the game and the Falcons got on the board when Hearns found Halverson for a 29-yard touchdown two possessions later. But Bautista missed the extra point to keep the score tied, 6-6.

Bautista hit a 26-yard field goal with 19 seconds remaining in the half to cap a 12-play, 73-yard drive and give UWRF a 9-6 lead.

Beckman completed 5-of-13 passes for 76 yards, all in the fourth quarter. Sawyer Moon completed 9-of-16 passes for 58 yards before leaving late in the third quarter with a knee injury while Hearns finished 2-for-14 for 35 yards. All three quarterbacks were picked off once.

Michael Diggins accounted for 109 of UWRF's 171 rushing on 19 carries while Monson finished with 5 catches for 64 yards.

Former Badger Max Praschak of Somerset led the defense from his middle linebacker position with 14 total tackles, 8 solo, while Jacobsen had 8 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Alex Wood accounted for UWRF's lone takeaway with an interception.

Walker tipped his hat to Coe who posted a record of 11-1 last year, but said the Falcons need to protect the ball better moving ahead.

"Our defense is going to put us in a position to win the game so we have to protect the football better," he said. "And part of it is, that's a good defense. They're legit. No disrespect to them, but the outcome should have been different the way our defense played."

The Falcons will host Gustavus Adolphus under the lights this Saturday, Sept. 9, at 7 p.m. at David Smith Stadium of Ramer Field.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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