The two largest defensive front walls the New Richmond football team will face in 2012 were those the Tigers ran up against in their first two games.
The second of those games was the Tigers' home opener last Friday against Durand. The Tigers could manage just 141 yards of offense in the 20-0 loss to the Panthers.
Tiger coach Jason Eckert said he's expecting the team to begin having more offensive success this Friday when the Tigers play at Prescott. Prescott lost last Friday to Somerset 40-17. Somerset led the game 40-0 early in the third quarter.
Prescott does have one large lineman the Tigers will have to contend with, but the Cardinals do not have the tackle-to-tackle bulk that River Falls and Durand possess. Prescott is led by all-state lineman Troy Jacobson. Eckert drew a comparison between Prescott's linemen and New Richmond's linemen, where Tiger senior Jake LaMirande has been a standout in both games this season.
"The bright spot in the first two games has been Jake," Eckert said. "He's a heckuva football player."
The Tiger offense has struggled to run and pass the ball in the first two games. The running game was stuffed by Durand, which had a front wall of players ranging from 225 to 260 pounds.
"They were just better than us up front. We couldn't get any push," Eckert said.
The Tiger quarterbacks combined to complete three of 15 passing attempts in the game. Eckert said the quarterbacks are holding the ball too long and are being forced to scramble when they should be getting the ball out quick to their first reads.
While the offense struggled, the defense did have some positives in Friday's game. The Tigers forced Durand to turn the ball over on its first two possessions on fumbles, with Drew Durham diving on the ball for the recovery both times.
Durand scored once in the final minute of the first quarter and twice in the second quarter. The Tiger defense held Durand without a point in the second half.
The Tiger pass defense bottled up Durand's passing attack. The Panthers completed 1-5 attempts for nine yards.
The Tigers also put up a good battle against Durand's single-wing running attack. Durand only had one long play in the game, a 40-yard run by T.J. Auth that set up the Panthers' first touchdown. Auth easily could have scored on that play, but Tiger linebacker Dominic Ficociello chased him down from behind and tackled him at the Tiger 4-yard line.
The one player who caused the Tigers consistent trouble was Durand's Jake Weber. Whether Weber was receiving the ball on the direct snap or off a handoff, he did a masterful job of following his blockers to get consistent yardage on Durand's sweeps. Weber had 162 of the Panthers' 323 rushing yards.
The best offensive weapon the Tigers had Friday was the running of senior Kaleb Kier. Kier led the Tigers with 64 yards rushing in 16 attempts. He played halfback much of the game. He was moved to quarterback in the third quarter and led the Tigers on their best drive, which got as far as the Durand 21.
A scary moment in the third quarter occurred when senior Zac Parfitt was injured while chasing down a long Durand punt return. Parfitt lay on the field for several minutes and was taken away in an ambulance. Eckert said that Parfitt suffered a neck whiplash injury on the play, but he did not suffer a concussion. Parfitt was able to rejoin the team on Saturday for their team review of the game film.
Eckert said he believes Durand will battle Somerset for the Middle Border Conference championship and that the Tigers put up a good effort against one of the conference's best teams. He said the Tigers made good progress from their opening game and there should be plenty of improvement this week too.
"All the things from this week are fixable," Eckert said, pointing to areas like missed tackles and sustaining blocks as key areas where the Tigers need to improve.