For the Telegram
GALESVILLE — Reagan Ruffi’s record-setting game led the Northwestern Tigers to a 29-17 upset victory over Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau in a WIAA Division 4 Level 1 football playoff game Friday night.
Ruffi scored three touchdowns and rushed for 233 yards to set a new Northwestern single-season rushing record with 1,733 yards. The previous record was 1,657 set two seasons ago by Nate Pearson.
The Tigers (7-3) entered Friday’s game as the No. 6 seed against the third-seeded Red Hawks, unbeaten at 9-0 and champions of the Coulee conference. G-E-T also was ranked No. 3 among D4 teams in the state.
All of Northwestern’s 277 yards came on the ground.
Andrew Hanson added 33 yards and had a team-high 11 tackles. Keegan Plasch added one carry for 15 yards and sophomores Jager Stillson and Bryson Mazur both had six tackles.
G-E-T had 247 yards on offense, led by Ben Behan’s 77 yards rushing.
The Red Hawks took the opening kick and mounted a time-consuming drive that resulted in a 4-yard Behan touchdown. Chris Thompson ran in the conversion for an 8-0 G-E-T lead.
Northwestern answered with a six-play 77-yard drive highlighted by a 46-yard Ruffi run. Ruffi eventually scored from 15 yards away and also converted the two-pointer to tie the game at 8-8.
“They scored, but we really made them work,” NHS coach Jovin Kroll said. “Our guys knew then that we could play with them.”
Another long G-E-T drive was thwarted when Stillson recovered a fumble at the Tiger 28.
On the Tigers’ first play from scrimmage, Ruffi scampered 61 yards to the 11. Two plays later he was in for a TD. He also ran in the conversion for a 16-8 lead.
G-E-T started its next drive at the 31 and moved into the Tiger red zone. But a stubborn Tiger defense limited the Red Hawks to a Nathan Truax 30-yard field goal as time ran out, cutting the Tigers’ lead to 16-11.
Northwestern got the first chance with the ball in the second half and, beginning at their own 35, used 17 plays before Ruffi scored from 6 yards out.
Key plays included Plasch’s 15-yard run into Red Hawk territory, and a first down inside the 10 when facing second-and-21 following a penalty. The extra-point attempt was stopped giving Northwestern a 22-11 lead with 3:43 left in the third quarter.
After the teams traded punts, G-E-T moved the ball to midfield where Carson Holsclaw jarred the ball loose from a Red Hawk receiver and Hanson recovered the fumble.
With time winding down in the fourth quarter, Kroll turned to fullback Hanson, who got the majority of the carries in the drive.
The final play in the drive was a fourth-and-goal from inside the one that Hanson powered into the end zone. The touchdown was essentially a dagger to G-E-T’s hopes as it was 29-11 with only 2:16 to play.
G-E-T did get a late touchdown from Conner Jacobs, but it was too little too late, especially after Stillson recovered an onside kick.
“We only have four seniors (Timmy Hissa, Bartelt, Tyler Ronning and Hanson), but they showed great leadership tonight,” Kroll said. “Our offensive line (Nate Ohman, Ronning, Kyle Curphy, Hissa, Gervase Thompson IV, and tight ends Jager Stillson and Justin Sedin) did a great job. They made some nice holes for Reagan and he did the rest.
“They (G-E-T) have a great team and I think we are getting to that same level.”
The Tigers (7-3) now play at No. 2 St. Croix Central (9-1) at 7 p.m. Friday in Hammond.
The Panthers, the defending state champs, advanced with a 48-26 win over Mauston.
Osceola (10-0) and Bloomer (9-1) will face off in the other region game.
TIGER TALES: Since 2000 the Tigers are 4-0 against G-E-T in the playoffs, winning 25-12 at home in 2015, 35-0 in 2004 and 28-6 at Eau Claire’s Carson Park in 2000. In the 2015 playoff win over G-E-T. Nate Pearson scored all 25 of Northwestern’s points on three touchdowns, two field goals, and an extra point. … Northwestern’s last two seasons have ended with playoff losses to the eventual state champion. The Tigers lost to St. Croix Central 35-20 last year and Osceola 52-15 in 2015.
Northwestern................. 8 8 6 7 — 29
G.E.T........................... 8 3 0 6 — 17
GET — Ben Behan 5-yard run (No. 88 run).
NW — Reagan Ruffi 15-yard run (Ruffi run).
NW — Ruffi 5-yard run (Ruffi run).
GET — Nate Truax 31-yard field goal.
NW — Ruffi 9-yard run (run failed).
NW — Andrew Hanson 1-yard run (Isaac Nichols kick)
GET — Connor Jacobs 11-yard run (run failed)
Total Plays.......................... 39 58
Total Offense...................... 275 244
First Downs.......................... 14 16
Rushing Yards.................... 275 195
Passing............................. 0-0-0 3-7-49
Fumbles/Lost...................... 0-0 3-2
Penalties............................ 2-15 2-15
Time of Poss..................... 19:37 28:23
RUSHING—NW, Reagan Ruffi, 27-233; Andrew Hanson, 11-33; Keegan Plasch, 1-15. GET, Ben Behan, 14-77; Connor Jacobs, 12-67; Bryce Burns, 6-20; Garrett Eddy, 5-17; Brett Lettner, 5-15; Thomas Gunderson, 1-2.
PASSING—GET, Lettner, 3-6-0-49. Behan, 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING—GET, Jacobs, 1-26; Behan, 1-12; Nate Truax, 1-11.