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A 32-YEAR DROUGHT FINALLY ENDS…AND A BIT MORE HISTORY

It was on a cold Thursday afternoon and there was some snow on the ground from the night before when the temperature dipped to 11-degrees. There were big fluffy clouds in the sky over Carson Park in Eau Claire on that Armistice Day, November 11, 1943. This was the day of the annual rivalry game between Eau Claire Memorial and Chippewa Falls. This was “THE GAME” for the area. How big did the yearly game mean to the two communities? As an example, a few years earlier, to honor the October 1846 meeting between the Sioux and the Chippewa Indians when they met at the present-day city of Eau Claire, this athletic event was also a meeting of importance. Those Indian tribes that gathered was a meeting of two great nations to grant peace between the two tribes. The meeting allow agreement for shared hunting rights in the area that had been granted by the U.S. government for the selling of their land east of the Mississippi River to the United States. The new land that the natives were given is now Minnesota. But the Indians found that hunting in Wisconsin was better, and the Sioux wanted some help in being allowed to gather food here. And so, peace was accorded between the two tribes.


To ensure “peace” between the two Wisconsin communities of Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls the local Kiwanis Clubs from each city, in 1941, decided to meet and like the native Americans in 1846, smoke a “peace pipe” in a sign of mutual respect for each other’s teams. The football battles between the two cities public high schools was often a heated affair. The Kiwanis members even dressed with Indian type feathered head dresses when they met. When they first met jointly in 1941 to smoke the peace pipe the two groups also created a bronze plaque with the date and scores of the games and it would be awarded each tear to the winning team.


Going into the 1943 game the Cardinals had a 3-3 record while Memorial had a 4-3 posting thus far. According to the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram newspaper the series between the two started in 1900. Well, that’s a stretch…a big one. Both schools started playing football about the 1900 season but never played each other until 1905, a surprise 0-0 tie. Why a surprise? Well, Eau Claire had started the decade as a powerhouse, right out of the gate, going 5-1-0 and earning the mythical state title in 1901 followed by 7-2-2 in 1902, an 8-0-0 year in 1903 and another state title. Next was a third title in 1904, going 6-0-0. 1905 started great for Eau Claire with a 63-0 win over Mondovi but then the season fell apart due to injuries and ended 1-1-2 including the tie to Chippewa Falls.


Chippewa Falls started a bit slower but they were soon building a powerhouse of their own. 1906 saw Chippewa Falls forfeit to Eau Claire and in 1907 Eau Claire shutout Falls 11-0 and then the two didn’t play again the next three years. Chippewa Falls tried all three seasons to get games with Memorial but the Old Abe’s didn’t want to have any part of the now mighty Cardinals. Falls had also become a known statewide power, as Eau Claire had been the years before, as they won the 1909 mythical state title with a 6-0-1 record. After going 8-0-0 in 1908 they were not only undefeated and untied but also unscored upon. The shutouts continued in 1909 with the first five consecutive shutout wins before they allowed five points in game six against an Alumni team. They shut out Marinette the next week to end with a two-season record of 14-0-1, 13 consecutive shutouts and a total of 14 blanking’s of their opponents in 15 games.


Between 1911 and 1918 the two played six times with Chippewa Falls winning five of the games. Over the years covering 1905-1943 Eau Claire had a 18-13-4 advantage as they played annually from 1919-1943. The Old Abes had win streaks of five and six games against the Cardinals.


When the two played in that November 11, 1943, game it was a battle before over 3,000 fans on a cold day as the temperature never rose above 31 but that was late in the day. All the previous games between 1919-1943 had been played on Armistice Day and this game would sadly be the last time they played that late in the season. The Old Abes won the first down and yardage battles but after scoring a touchdown and the extra point in the first quarter the Cardinals shut out Eau Claire the rest of the way while they pushed across two scores of their own and ended up winning 12-7.


Chippewa Falls Hearld-Telegram...Nov. 12, 1943


That win by Falls was their last against Eau Claire for 32 years.


Eau Claire was one of the dominant teams in the Northwest during the 1960’s, winning a mythical state title in 1961 (As mentioned in the last blog on the 1960’s) and usually placing in the top 10 of the polls in other seasons. In 1962 Eau Claire North opened and the students were split between the two schools, but it seems, according to team records, that Memorial had the better overall football talent for the decade. While their days of domination in the Big Rivers, along with Wausau, seemed to diminish they beat Chippewa Falls usually quite handily. Chippewa Falls had some good teams after 1943 but couldn’t match the records of Eau Claire.


1974 was an interesting year for the two schools. Memorial and Chippewa Falls actually played twice during the season as the Big Rivers Conference scheduled them that way. On October 11 Eau Claire won 36-6 and later, on October 25 they won again, 25-6 to end their year. Eau Claire had now won 32 times in 31-years. This was the worst season in 25-years for Memorial as they ended with a 2-7 record with their only two wins on the year being over Falls. The October 25 game pushed Chippewa Falls down to a 1-7 overall record on the year with a 0-5 record in the Big Rivers Conference, but their season wasn’t over. For the first time in history, they were going to play Chippewa Falls McDonell, the local Catholic school in the season finale. While the Cardinals were the conference doormat of the Big Rivers, McDonell had problems of their own coming into the matchup. The Macks had a six-game losing streak while being shutout three consecutive games at the end of their conference season as they ended at the bottom of the CWCC standings. McDonell had a bit of incentive in the matchup with their public-school opponent. A special award for the game called the Joe Scheidler Memorial Trophy was created by his father, Clifford. Joe had graduated in 1972 after being a very good all-around athlete as he played football, basketball, tennis and baseball. Joe had helped many of the current players as he spent time as an unpaid coach while he attended college. He became ill in 1973 and passed away. Now his former school had incentive, playing to win in Joe’s memory, and they were ready for the Cardinals. McDonell topped Falls 24-8 as the Macks dominated the entire game. The Cardinals would end with a 1-8 record and McDonell would finish with a 2-7 season. Falls only win that season and that was against Eau Claire Regis, a 28-8 win that ended the Cardinals 20-game regular season losing streak. Now, I digress a bit.


The Chippewa Falls losing streak went back to 1971 when they beat Wausau East in the next to last game of that year. By the way, that win was the first win ever for the Cardinals in a game played in Wausau and only the second time they ever beat the Lumberjacks. That lone occurrence was in 1965 when the Cardinals beat Wausau 19-7 (Before the school split into two and became East and West in 1971. East kept the old nickname “Lumberjacks”). While Eau Claire had been one of the top teams in the Big Rivers, often Chippewa Falls was in contention for the title but never the conference champion. When Wausau was defeated early 1965, Falls was ranked #9 in the rankings and Wausau was #5. Eau Claire would beat Chippewa Falls several weeks later and end up tied with Wausau for the BRC title with 5-2 conference records and Chippewa would drop to third place, tied with Menomonie, with a 4-2 conference record. That season Chippewa won three straight games on the road in the conference, a first for them. After that they never, going into 1971, won more than two road conference games.


The 1975 season rolled around and the Old Abes and the Cardinals faced each other on October 10. The final score may only have been a 7-0 with Chippewa Falls winning but it really wasn’t that close as Eau Claire was outgained by a wide margin. The 32-year drought was over. Not only had Chippewa Falls lost 32-consecutive times but this was their first Big Rivers Conference win since 1971 (23 straight conference losses). It gave them a 2-5 conference record and dropped Eau Claire to 3-4. The event was also Homecoming for the Cardinals who were playing at the Fairgrounds as many remaining members of the 1943 team were in attendance. Quarterback Kim Koepl scored the lone touchdown on a one yard run with 5:23 left in the third quarter. Clay Vajgrt had made a 28-yard field goal in the first quarter but that was nullified due to a penalty. He kicked the extra point after Koepl’s run to push the score to 7-0 and that’s how it would end.


Kim Koepl cuts to avoid Memorial tackler Jim Bergh (44) .... courtesy of the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram


To some, it was a surprise to see Koepl starting as he sat for most of the season with a head injury. Kim showed no signs of the head trauma that had bothered him most of the year. Wearing a special helmet, he was given the ok by a specialist to play. Koepl rushed for 48-yards and the lone touchdown, hit two of three passes for 32 yards more, recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass. He helped inspire his teammates to win the game fair and square and it was a deserving victory. Cardinals Coach Bill Sivertsen was also very responsible for the win. The season certainly hadn’t been going as he hoped but Silvertsen motivated his troops, and they played as he said, “any team can beat any other”. He didn’t believe in the jinx. He felt that his team could beat any other on any given night if they pulled together. That night the Cards overcame the psychological problem of facing a long dominate foe/rival and his team believed.


I would love to say that the season, as late as it was, turned around for Chippewa Falls but they lost the next weekend to Menomonie 16-9 to end their conference season. The next week they played a non-conference game against Rosemont (MN) and won 7-6. Six days later they had their second matchup with crosstown McDonell and won, in overtime, 6-0 to end with a 4-6 overall record. Koepl jad been hurt again against Menomonie and played little the final two games. EC Memorial also fell in the next week, October 18, to Superior by a score of 16-14, but came back for the finale the next Friday to beat EC North, 14-0. But the game on October 11 broke the streak and that was something Chippewa Falls players, coaches and fans could be proud of.

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