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New Richmond football makes playoffs, faces Baldwin-Woodville Friday

Injuries forced the New Richmond football coaching staff to improvise all during the week leading into Friday's game at Osceola.

The Tigers were able to make the changes work, producing an 18-7 win over the Chieftains that locked up a spot in the 2011 WIAA playoffs for the Tigers.

In the previous game against Amery, leading rusher Nate Jones suffered a concussion and the coaches didn't know whether he'd be available for Friday's game until late in the week. He continued to have lingering effects from the concussion, so it was decided to give Jones another week to recover.

Then on Tuesday, starting linebacker Zac Parfitt, who was just returning from a shoulder injury, reaggravated the injury. That left the Tigers thin at linebacker, because Jones starts there too.

More changes were needed after Wednesday's practice. Starting quarterback Drew Durham was serving as the scout team quarterback, as he's done all season. As Durham followed through on a pass attempt, his throwing hand struck the hand of a pass rusher. The impact broke Durham's thumb and tore ligaments. He was scheduled to undergo surgery on Monday.

Durham's injury forced the coaches to change some of the plans they'd made because of Jones' injury. The decision was made to move senior halfback Dalton Sabby to quarterback, where he'd gotten a few reps already this season.

That left both halfback spots open. Senior Kaleb Kier and sophomore Connor O'Loughlin, the top reserves, both stepped into the lineup.

The retooled offense got off to a solid start on Friday, driving the length of the field for a touchdown on its first possession. Sabby scored the touchdown on a quarterback sneak.

The score remained 6-0 until the final 10 seconds of the first half. In the final drive of the half, senior Ryan Keehr was inserted at quarterback, with Sabby moving back to halfback. The Tigers got the ball to the Osceola 32 with 10 seconds left in the half. The Tiger coaches had Sabby line up at outside receiver. Keehr was instructed to see whether the Osceola safety shifted out toward Sabby or whether he remained in the middle of the field.

When the safety moved to the outside, Keehr looked for Kier swinging out of the backfield. Keehr lofted a pass just over the reach of an Osceola linebacker, with Kier making the catch for the touchdown.

That score would be pivotal, because Osceola got its only touchdown in the third quarter. The Chieftains' score came as Sabby was battling to gain extra yardage on a run along the sideline. An Osceola player pulled the ball from his grasp and ran in for the touchdown, cutting the Tiger lead to 12-7.

All through the game the Tigers leaned heavily on fullback Taner Hoppe, but most of all in the fourth quarter. The Tigers went on a lengthy drive in the fourth quarter, with Hoppe carrying on nearly every down, only to have the drive stall due to penalties. When the Tigers got the ball back, they went right back to Hoppe and this time they finished the drive with Hoppe scoring on a 1-yard run.

Eckert said the offensive line was relied on heavily in the Tigers' game plan and the linemen did just what the coaches asked.

"Especially late in the game, (the linemen) wore them down," Eckert said.

The Tiger defense didn't give up a point in the game. Osceola could only muster 87 total yards of offense. The Chieftains were 3-15 passing for 21 yards against the Tiger defense. The Tigers picked off two of those passes, with Sabby and linebacker Andy Kittel getting the interceptions.

Sabby and Hoppe provided the bulk of the offense for the Tigers on Friday. Sabby finished with 83 yards rushing and Hoppe with 80 yards. The Tiger offense produced 279 total yards.

The win assures the Tigers a spot in the playoffs and it looks like they will be included in the Division 3 bracket this season. The brackets will be decided by the WIAA once this week's games are all completed.

Now that the Tigers are in the playoffs, they can decide whether Baldwin-Woodville joins them in the playoffs. The Tigers host B-W on Friday and the Blackhawks need a win to join the WIAA party. The Blackhawks are coming off a 20-15 win over Amery.

"They always play us tough," Eckert said. "With the guys they've gotten back (from injuries), they've gotten some confidence."

Eckert said he is assuming that Jones will be back for Friday's game. He said he plans to alternate Sabby and Keehr at quarterback, depending upon the situation.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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