MILWAUKEE – A late rally by the Wisconsin Lutheran College football team was held off by Ripon as the Warriors dropped their season opener 31-24 in front of 1,152 fans at Raabe Stadium Saturday night.
The teams played an even game from the second through fourth quarters, but a first quarter score by the Red Hawks made the difference. A two-yard touchdown run by Ripon quarterback Tom Sawyer with 3:30 left in the first quarter put the Red Hawks ahead 7-0.
A turnover became points for the Warriors early in the second quarter. Ripon was driving at the WLC 20 yard line when a Sawyer fumble was recovered by junior linebacker Luke Hardginski (Menasha, Wis./Menasha), who returned it 39 yards to the Ripon 41. The Warriors hurry-up offense took just 1:20 to produce a touchdown on an eight-yard run by senior running back Donavin Tucker (Brookfield, Wis./East) to tie the score at 7-7.
The teams exchanged punts on the next two possessions before an 11-play, 60-yard drive by the Red Hawks resulted in another two-yard touchdown run by Sawyer to give Ripon a 14-7 advantage with 5:11 to go in the first half.
Wisconsin Lutheran nearly tied the score on its next possession, but had a touchdown pass called back due to an illegal participation penalty. They settled for a 24-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Matt Grams (Milwaukee, Wis./Pius XI) to cut the deficit to 14-10.
Ripon got the three points back just before the half. A defensive pass interference penalty against the Warriors on third and 22 kept the drive alive for Ripon, resulting in a 30-yard field goal by Josh Rogers as time expired in the half with the Red Hawks leading 17-10.
The Red Hawks received the kick off to start the second half and used a methodical 11-play, 75-yard drive to take a two-score lead. Running back Connor Greenwal scampered for 38 yards on the drive, including a one-yard touchdown to cap the 5:04 drive and give Ripon a 24-10 advantage.
WLC punted on its next possession, but forced another fumble at a crucial time. Ripon had a fourth and one at the Warriors' 35 when Sawyer was stripped by junior linebacker Jestin Heimbruch (Manawa, Wis./Little Wolf). Hardginski collected his second fumble recovery of the night as the Warriors took over.
On the next play, junior running back Mike Reeves (Hoffman Estates, Ill./Hoffman Estates) bolted 60 yards for a touchdown to pull the Warriors within 24-17 with less than a minute left in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter began much the way the third quarter did, with a grinding scoring drive by the Red Hawks. Sawyer's 35-yard pass play to receiver Eric Hussin keyed an 11-play, 80-yard drive that took 6:04 and gave Ripon a 31-17 lead.
The next two drives for the Warriors resulted in a punt and an interception before senior quarterback Drew Dyrssen (Vista Calilf./California Lutheran) threw for 59 yards to lead a nine play, 79-yard drive capped by a one-yard touchdown run by Reeves with 2:35 remaining to cut the lead to 31-24.
The Warriors had just one timeout remaining and attempted an onside kick that Ripon recovered. The Red Hawks were able to get a first down before running out the clock to end the game.
Reeves led the Warriors offense with 12 carries for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Dyrssen was 17-for-32 with 207 passing yards and an interception. Senior wide receiver Matt Gordy (Macomb, Ill./Macomb) made five catches for 79 yards, while sophomore Mitch Skarban (Appleton, Wis./Fox Valley Lutheran) added 69 yards on six grabs.
Senior safety Sam Dunham (Winneconne, Wis./Winneconne) led the WLC defense with 13 tackles while Heimbruch and junior defensive lineman Luke Sebald (Menomonee Falls, Wis./Wisconsin Lutheran) finished with 11 tackles apiece.
Sawyer ran for three scores and led Ripon with 131 rushing yards. He was 12-for-20 through the air for 169 yards. Greenwal ran for 98 yards and Tommy Zak was the leading receiver with six catches for 83 yards.
Ripon (1-0) piled up 466 yards of offense compared to 341 for the Warriors. There was also a wide gap in time of possession, as Ripon held the ball for 41:35. Third down conversions were a key factor in the game with Ripon converting 10 of its 17 third downs.
WLC (0-1) travels to Olivet (1-0) for a non-conference matchup next Saturday at 12 p.m.