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Sep. 25—The UW-Eau Claire football team came close to notching its best start to a season since 2007, but the Blugolds will have to settle for a winning record in nonconference play instead.

Eau Claire fell to Albion 23-20 on Saturday in Albion, Mich., seeing a first-half lead slip away after halftime to the unbeaten Britons. It meant the Blugolds will take a 2-1 record into the opening week of WIAC play next Saturday.

The Blugolds led 17-16 at halftime, but Albion found the decisive score when Justin Thomas threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Thomas midway through the third quarter. It put the Britons ahead 23-17, and their defense did enough the rest of the way to hold on for a victory.

Eau Claire pulled to within three points of the lead on Brady Frantal’s 36-yard field goal to start the fourth quarter, but couldn’t get another breakthrough the rest of the way. The Blugolds saw two drives end in field goals, including a long 12-play, 71-yard march down the field that stalled out at the Albion 9-yard line.

“The biggest thing was our defense kept them out of the end zone,” Britons coach Dustin Beurer said on the Albion online broadcast. “Our defense kept making them count in threes. That’s the goal of our defense, if they’re going to move the football, bend but don’t break. Make them count in threes and we’re going to win some games.”

The Blugolds got the ball at their own 20-yard line with a chance to tie or take the lead in the final minute, but Albion intercepted Eau Claire quarterback Jonathan Malueg on the first play of the drive to close out the win.

Malueg threw for a 85 yards and a touchdown for Eau Claire. His 3-yard scoring connection with Joe Swanson helped Blugolds claw back from an early 13-0 deficit. Albion intercepted the senior signal-caller three times. Austin Belot carried the ball for 19 times for 96 yards and a touchdown for the Blugolds.

Albion scored the first 13 points of the game in impressive fashion. Brendan Teal returned the game’s opening kickoff 98 yards to put the Britons up early, and a few minutes later the Thompsons connected for their first score of the afternoon — this one a 49-yard strike from Justin to Kyle.

Malueg’s touchdown pass to Swanson got the Blugolds on the board late in the first quarter, and Belot hit pay dirt with a 10-yard run early in the second quarter put Eau Claire ahead 14-13.

The Britons made a 29-yard field goal to go ahead 16-14 with 5:57 left until halftime, but Eau Claire answered with a 26-yard field goal from Frantal to take a one-point lead into halftime.

The Blugolds’ best chance to go ahead came at the end of the third quarter. Eau Claire started a drive at Albion’s 25-yard line after a good punt return by Alex Mashak, but could only get six yards and was forced to bring on Frantal for a field goal.

Eau Claire begins conference play when it travels to UW-Stevens Point next Saturday. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.

——

Albion 23, UW-Eau Claire 20

UWEC;7;10;0;3;—;20

Albion;13;3;7;0;—;23

First Quarter

A: Brendan Teal 98 kick return (Jackson Cooney kick), 14:48.

A: Kyle Thomas 49 pass from Justin Thomas (kick failed), 12:16.

UWEC: Joe Swanson 3 pass from Jonathan Malueg (Brady Frantal kick), 4:43.

Second Quarter

UWEC: Austin Belot 10 run (Frantal kick), 9:53.

A: Cooney 29 field goal, 5:57.

UWEC: Frantal 26 field goal, 0:00.

Third Quarter

A: K. Thomas 20 pass from J. Thomas (Cooney kick), 8:27.

Fourth Quarter

UWEC: Frantal 36 field goal, 14:55.

Team & Individual Statistics

RUSHING (att-yds): Eau Claire (38-188): Belot 19-96, Isaac Garside 1-48, Ivan Ruble 10-24, Will Adair 1-9, Nick Kudick 3-9, Malueg 4-2. Albion (37-109): Phillip Jones-Price 16-63, K. Thomas 12-20, Jacob Clark 5-14, Ryan Roberts 3-13.

PASSING (comp-att-int-yds): Eau Claire: Malueg 11-20-3-85. Albion: K. Thomas 10-17-1-205.

RECEIVING (rec-yds): Eau Claire: Brycen Froehlich 2-25, Adair 2-20, Trey Fitzgerald 1-11, Peyton Mayer 2-11, Tristan Bradley 1-6, Ruble 1-5, Garside 1-4, Swanson 1-3. Albion: J. Thomas 6-176, Kolby Canfield 5-35, Teal 2-16.

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