The 2021 iteration of the River Falls High School football team became one of the most individually decorated groups in years after three River Falls seniors won all three of the highest individual honors that are given out in the Mississippi Valley Conference each season.
Senior defensive lineman Eddie Loesch won Defensive Player of the Year, senior quarterback Vito Massa won Offensive Player of the Year, and senior Tanner Zepczyk won Lineman of the Year for the Mississippi Valley Conference.
Starting with Massa, the Wildcats’ senior quarterback was not only one of the biggest leaders on the team but also served as the conductor of the offense, an offense that scored more than 28 points per game and accumulated over 3,800 yards during the 12 games this season. Wildcats head coach Ryan Scherz spoke about what makes Massa a great offensive player.
“He’s a really smart kid who knows what we expect of him in the offense,” Scherz said. “He plays well within the scheme of our offense, in terms of how he distributes the ball really well. He knows he’s got people who can help him make plays, and he made it hard for defenses to defend everything he can do.”
Massa accounted for 1,800 of the 1,838 passing yards that the River Falls offense had this season. In addition to that, he threw 26 touchdown passes, averaged over 163 passing yards per game, and limited himself to only five interceptions throughout the 12-game season. Massa posted an impressive passer rating of 116 for the season, which is graded on a scale of zero to 158.3, which would be considered perfect. Anything above 100 is graded as elite. Although Massa is impressive on the field, coach Scherz spoke about what makes him great as a leader off of the field.
“He works relentlessly off the field and organized a lot of the offseason work that coaches can’t be at with captains’ practices,” Scherz said. “He’s part of putting our culture together and our cultural standards. He was part of implementing that and he certainly lived those things as well.”
Of course, the quarterback will also get the most attention from fans, friends, and media. However, without a dominant offensive line that effectively blocks for the quarterback, the success of Massa wouldn’t have been possible. Zepczyk was the anchor of the Wildcats’ offensive line this season, which earned him Lineman of the Year honors in the Mississippi Valley Conference. Scherz spoke about the group of offensive linemen that he had on this year’s roster.
“They’re an outstanding group of offensive linemen,” Scherz said. “They are probably the best group I’ve had in my 15-year career of coaching. They work super hard and don’t care who gets the credit. They embrace being offensive linemen and sacrificing for other people’s success.”
According to Scherz, one of the reasons that Zepczyk won the Lineman of the Year award is because he’s a two-way player, meaning that he plays both offensive and defensive lines. Being able to play both offensive and defensive lines at a high level is the biggest reason why Zepczyk not only won the award, but also why River Falls was able to dominate the line of scrimmage both offensively and defensively this season.
Zepczyk wasn’t the only great defensive lineman for the Wildcats this season. Loesch, the defensive player of the year, was also on that River falls defensive line this season. Coach Scherz spoke about Loesch’s impact and the type of player that he is.
“Eddie (Loesch) is definitely the best defensive lineman that I’ve ever been around,” Scherz said. “He is impossible to block one-on-one, and he is so quick for his size. He doesn’t look like he’s going to be as quick and explosive as he is. He’s really difficult to block and if you’re having to double him and still giving up penetration, it makes everybody else’s job easier on defense.”
The three award winners of Massa, Zepczyk and Loesch helped propel River Falls to an 8-4 record this season, including a Mississippi Valley Conference championship, which came from a perfect 7-0 record in conference games. The season also featured a WIAA Level 2 playoff game appearance against Waunakee, which was a 27-24 loss for River Falls against the team that eventually won the Division 2 State Championship.
In addition to the three aforementioned award winners, River Falls also had the following players receive recognition: Mississippi Valley Conference 1st Team Offense: Massa, Cole Evavold, Ethan Campbell, Zepczyk and Jack Gehl. 1st Team Defense: Loesch, Nate Weick, Wyatt Bell and Tyler Haydon. 2nd Team Offense: Michael Schurman, Cade Myszewski, Monty Wilson and Maverick Kaminski. 2nd Team Defense: Jack Hirstein and Ryan Langer. Honorable Mention: Gavin Kohel and Ty Larsen.
In total, River Falls had 17 players that received a first-team, second-team or honorable mention accolade. Coach Scherz put that into context compared to other years.
“It is a lot of guys,” Scherz said. “Quite frankly, we have guys that I think were right there as well. We just had so many guys play so well. I think the way we handled our business in the conference kind of spoke for itself when we were looking at postseason awards.”
Of course, whenever a list like this comes out, there are going to be players who miss the list that likely should have made it. No snub for the Wildcats was more obvious than senior wide receiver Michael Schurman, who was consistently one of the best players on the River Falls offense all season.
“I have to say it, Michael Schurman absolutely performed at a First-Team level,” Scherz said. “I’ve been struggling with that for three weeks. He is, without a doubt in my mind, he’s a First-Team All-Conference quality player. If he’s not our MVP, he’s right up there.”
Schurman led the team in total receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns for the season. He had 36 total receptions, 710 receiving yards, averaged over 19 yards per catch, and had 11 touchdowns receptions for the season. The next closest Wildcat in terms of receptions had 19 and the next closest in yards was 382. Schurman provided the bulk of the Wildcats’ offense through the air this season.
Schurman is one of 13 seniors who received individual postseason accolades. Coach Scherz spoke about this senior group of kids and what they’ve meant to him and the program.
“This senior class has been the most enjoyable group of kids that I’ve been around, they’re one of my favorite groups I’ve ever coached,” Scherz said. “They came to work every day and they collectively did their work and wanted to win.”
Scherz stated that although he is losing a large, talented senior class, he is hopeful that his juniors are hungry and want to step into those roles next season.
“I know we have a bunch of kids that were varsity quality players that were blocked by seniors that are hungry to step into those roles. With a good offseason of work, I think the goal is certainly to reload and not be rebuilding.”