Eight seconds separate Tigers from playoffs
That's how much time was left on the clock when the New Richmond football team saw its hope of reaching the 2008 WIAA State Playoffs snuffed out by the Amery Warriors last Thursday.
New Richmond scored five minutes into Thursday's game and the Tigers led the rest of the night, until the fateful final drive. Amery drove 93 yards in the final three minutes, scoring with eight seconds left on the clock, to beat the Tigers 25-20.
The Tigers and Warriors finish the season with 3-4 records in the Middle Border Conference. New Richmond's final overall record settles at 3-6.
For much of Thursday's game, the Tigers played quite effectively. The Tigers moved the ball on the ground with steady success, gaining 338 yards on the ground.
The Tigers were able to control the ball so well that Amery only ran two plays from scrimmage in the first quarter. Of course, in that stretch, Amery had an 82-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
In the opening drive of the game, the Tigers drove 65 yards for the touchdown. Sophomore halfback Cody Taubman got the touchdown, going 19 yards up the gut on a draw play.
Amery answered with the kickoff return touchdown, taken the distance by junior Ryan Elwood.
That led into another long Tiger drive. This time the Orange and Black marched 77 yards for the score. Junior halfback Jeremy Slicer got the score on a 4-yard run, putting the Tigers in front 12-7.
Amery fumbled on its second play of the next possession, with the Tigers recovering at the Warrior 37. The Tigers took advantage quickly. A 13-yard blast by fullback Troy Cran and a 15-yard sweep by Taubman moved the ball to the Amery 1. From there Tiger quarterback John Peper burrowed into the end zone for the score. Tony Stockey's run on the two-point conversion put the Tigers in front 20-7.
Amery's next possession ended when Tiger defensive back Corey Berger intercepted a deep pass at the Tiger 5-yard line.
After a Tiger punt, Amery drove 45 yards to score with 2:45 left in the half. That made the score 20-13. Amery tried a field goal on the last play of the first half, but the 28-yard kick was off target.
Amery's coaches were gradually figuring out that the Warriors' best chance was to run the ball. Junior Tanner Tryggestad hammered home that idea when he broke away for a 64-yard touchdown that came 27 seconds into the third quarter. Suddenly the Tigers' lead was down to 20-19.
One of the Tigers' best chances of the second half came in the third quarter, when they received a punt at the Amery 32. On the next play the Tigers tried a pitchout, but the pitch was muffed and Amery recovered.
There was one other great chance that was wiped away by a penalty. Slicer had a 25-yard touchdown called back on a penalty. While Amery had two insignificant penalties in this game, the Tigers were flagged six times, most coming at critical moments.
After the lost touchdown, the Tigers drove to the Amery 7 before being stopped on downs with 2:49 left in the game.
Amery then moved the ball swiftly down the field, picking up big yardage by running sweeps and throwing short passes. Amery got the ball to the Tiger 1-yard line with 38 seconds left on the clock. Twice the Warriors tried to run up the gut, but the Tiger defensive front turned them back each time. With 11 seconds left, Amery used its final timeout. The Warriors faked another dive into the line. This time quarterback Brant Luehman flipped a pass to Matt Koehler at the goal line for the touchdown.
"We just needed one stop, or that one touchdown that came back," said Tiger coach Jason Eckert. "There were too many calls that kept hurting our drives."
Amery had poor field position for most of the second half, thanks to several punts by Berger that were downed inside the Warrior 10-yard line.
One thing the Tigers were able to establish in their first season under Eckert was an effective running game. The Tigers had four backs gain more than 50 yards in Thursday's game. Sophomore Shaun Peper led that group with 89 yards.
Eckert said the felt bad that the seniors didn't get the chance to experience the state playoffs.
"They worked hard all year. I wanted to see them get rewarded for that by making the playoffs," Eckert said.
Eckert and the coaching staff worked hard to improve the team on several fronts this season. Team unity and fundamental skills were areas where the coaches concentrated their efforts as much as on offense and defense.
"The seniors learned to care about one another and care about the team. Putting the team first is important when you're trying to change a losing program," Eckert said.
As soon as the season ended, the coaches started looking toward next season. Improving strength and fundamental skills will be a top priority. The coaches now have a year's worth of film to study, to learn what to expect from opponents that were new to most of the Tiger coaches this year.