MENOMONIE, Wis. (Blugolds.com) – Despite trailing the entire game, the UW-Eau Claire football team made a second-half comeback that came up just short in a 35-27 loss to UW-Stout at Don and Nona Williams Stadium today.
The Blugolds have had the I-94 Trophy in their possession for the past two years after winning in 2011 and 2012 but had to relinquish the trophy with the loss today.
Stout struck first with a touchdown but the Blugolds closed within four after Billy Emanuel (Sr.-Owatonna, Minn.) nailed a 30-yard field goal late in the opening quarter.
The Blue Devils struck again two drives later in the second quarter and found the end zone again one more time to get up 21-3. With one minute remaining before halftime, Eau Claire was able to get one more score with Joel Sweeney (Sr.-Tomah, Wis.) capping a 12-play, 71-yard drive with a three yard touchdown to make the score 21-10.
In the third quarter, Luke Hoyord (Sr.-Scandinavia, Wis./Iola-Scandinavia) intercepted a pass on Stout's first drive and the Blugolds then went 39 yards in three plays to get back to within four (21-17). Sweeney ended the drive with an 18-yard run to the end zone.
But the Blue Devils scored on the following drive and after the Blugolds turned the ball over on downs on the next drive, Stout again found the end zone to finish the third quarter up 35-17.
From there, the Blugolds were able to shut down the Blue Devils. Sweeney had a big play near the beginning of the fourth quarter, running 70 yards for a touchdown to get the Blugolds back within 11 points. The run tied for the 15th longest in school history and was the longest run of Sweeney's career (previous best was 65 against UW-River Falls on Nov. 10, 2012).
With less than two minutes remaining, the Blugolds found themselves on the Stout six yard line but elected to kick a field goal from 23 yards out on fourth-and-goal. Emanuel again came through for the Blugolds and brought them to within eight (35-27). Eau Claire tried an onside kick but the Blue Devils recovered and were able to run out the clock, kneeling the ball three times.
Sweeney finished the game with 192 yards rushing on 33 carries and three touchdowns, the second time this season Sweeny had three touchdowns in a game. He moves into third place on the Blugolds' all-time career rushing yards list with 3,726 yards.
Alex Plaster (Sr.-Stevens Point, Wis./SPASH) led the game with 103 yards receiving on 12 catches as quarterback Mark Munger (Jr.-Eau Claire, Wis./Memorial) went 28-for-36 with a career-high 226 yards passing.
On defense, Sean Graham (Sr.-Hales Corners, Wis./Whitnall) finished with a team-high 11 tackles.
The Blugolds are now 1-7 overall and 1-4 in the conference. Stout improves to 3-5 on the season and 1-4 in the WIAC.
Eau Claire will play its final home game of the season next weekend against UW-Oshkosh for Senior Day. Kickoff at Carson Park is set for 2 p.m.