You only get one chance to make a first impression, and the Wisconsin Dells football team made a strong one in coach Scott Flood’s debut on Thursday.
The Chiefs never trailed and rolled to a 42-7 victory over Richland Center in a season-opening non-conference game at Wisconsin Dells High School. It didn’t take long for Wisconsin Dells to get going, as it scored on four of its first five possessions to seize an early 18-0 lead after the first quarter.
“Starting off fast was important and I told all the players that was key, especially with the defense,” Flood said. “The defense set the tone right away and that was extremely important for us.”
That tone started on the Hornets opening drive of the game. After a poor kickoff set up Richland Center at its own 42 yard line, the Hornets were driven back all the way to their own 4 and were forced to punt. A short kick set up the Chiefs at the Richland Center 35 and Wisconsin Dells needed just two plays to score, punching in on a 15-yard touchdown run by sophomore Brett Hirst for an early 6-0 lead with 9 minutes, 10 seconds left in the first quarter.
After the teams traded possessions, Wisconsin Dells again was gifted a short field as the Chiefs forced another Hornets punt from inside their own 20. Hirst returned the 45-yard kick back to the Hornets 8 before scampering in on the next play for a 12-0 lead with 1:39 remaining in the opening period.
A recovered fumble on the ensuing kickoff put the Chiefs right back in business at the Richland Center 40 and Wisconsin Dells needed just two plays again to find the endzone. After a 22-yard run by junior Gavin Kingsley, senior Dylan Musiedlak hauled in a short pass from Hirst and went in from 18 yards out to push the lead to 18-0 at 1:08.
“Momentum is key in high school football, because whoever has momentum can take the game in a heartbeat,” Hirst said of the fast start.
Flood noted how critical it was for the Chiefs to make the most of the Hornets miscues, and also praised the team’s intensity.
“With only having 25 players suited up tonight, we learned we have to condition a little bit more that we have, but keeping that intensity level on the offensive side of the ball, which the defense was doing the whole time, we matched it right away,” he said.
After adding another score before the end of the second quarter to take a 26-0 lead into halftime, Wisconsin Dells started the second half just like it did the first. Starting at their own 31, the Chiefs drove 60 yards in just under three minutes, scoring on a one-yard touchdown plunge by Kingsley before Hirst connected with Musiedlak on the two-point conversion for a 34-0 lead with 9:00 left in the third quarter.
The teams went on to trade interceptions before the Chiefs grinded out a 32-yard, 4:15 drive for another score. Wisconsin Dells converted on fourth down twice, including a Hirst three-yard run on fourth and goal to go up 42-0 with just under a minute left in the quarter.
Richland Center eventually got on the board on the ensuing possession, but it was too little too late as the running clock bled out the final minutes. Wisconsin Dells racked up 407 yards of total offense, including 297 yards rushing on 41 carries and five touchdowns.
Leading the way was Hirst, who rushed for 115 yards and four scores, and added another 130, one touchdown and one interception through the air on 7-of-15 passing. A wide receiver last year, Hirst said it felt good to being the signal caller again after playing quarterback in middle school.
“I like to see it all and it’s different than just catching the ball,” he said. “You have to throw it, know where everyone is and read it.”
Kingsley added 88 yards and a score on the ground, while Musiedlak made three catches for 57 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively the Chiefs made life difficult on the Hornets all night long as Wisconsin Dells allowed just five first downs, with three of them coming on Richland Center’s lone scoring drive. Flood said that pursuit was the key to keeping the Hornets caged.
“We’ve been working pursuit for 2 1/2 weeks, all 11 players flying to the ball, part of that black shirt style defense,” he said. “With those guys flying around to the ball, as well as knowing formation and their play calling, it was critical forcing them into long distance on first and second down.”
Wisconsin Dells will have to be on its toes next week when it travels to defending Division 4 state champion Lodi. Things haven’t gone well for the Chiefs against the Blue Devils, as Lodi has outscored Wisconsin Dells 114-3 over the last three years, including a 35-0 loss last season.
According to Flood, for as well as his team looked, the Chiefs have some things to fine tune, while Hirst knows they’ll have to come out firing.
“We have to have a lot of momentum going in, come out strong and throw the first punch,” he said.
Richland Center 0 0 0 7 — 7
Wisconsin Dells 18 8 16 0 — 42
WD — Brett Hirst 15 run (kick failed)
WD — Brett Hirst 8 run (run failed)
WD — Dylan Musiedlak 18 pass from Brett Hirst (pass failed)
WD — Brett Hirst 4 run (Kingsley run)
WD — Gavin Kingsley 1 run (Musiedlak pass from Hirst)
WD — Brett Hirst 3 run (Kingsley run)
RC — Jaren Hill 2 run (Bryce Hillers kick)
First downs — WD 13. Rushing (Att.-Yds.) — WD 41-297. Passing yards — WD 130. Passes (Comp.-Att.-Int.) — WD 7-15-1. Fumbles-lost — WD 3-1. Penalties-yards — WD 14-125.