New Richmond football team plays strong half, turnovers result in 26-13 loss
Enthusiasm filled the New Richmond football stadium when the Tigers built a 13-6 lead over River Falls early in the second quarter of the 2013 season opener on Friday.
The Tigers didn't play badly the rest of the game, but three special teams mistakes proved devastating as River Falls finished with a 26-13 win.
This was New Richmond's first game under new varsity coach Keith Badger. The Tigers showed a great deal of excitement, and through the first half it looked as though that passion would overcome the Tigers' lack of experience.
River Falls opened the game by driving 84 yards for a touchdown. It took the Tigers one series to figure out the Wildcats' option offense, so River Falls did little damage offensively the rest of the night.
The Tiger offense also was hard to figure out. The Tigers rolled to touchdowns in their first two possessions of the game.
The first drive covered 70 yards, mostly on the running of quarterback Sevin Davis and clutch receptions from tight end Keilan Mehls. Davis scored the first touchdown of the season, spinning away from would-be tacklers to reach the end zone from 6 yards out.
The Tiger defense quickly stopped the next River Falls possession, forcing a punt. In this possession the Tigers got halfback Connor O'Loughlin involved out of the pistol formation. O'Loughlin did most of the damage, capping the drive with an 18-yard touchdown run that put the Tigers in front, 13-6.
"If that didn't reinforce that our offense can work, I don't know what will," Badger said of scoring on the first two drives of the season.
New Richmond's defense came up with another stop on the next Wildcat possession, leading to the first of the Tigers' special teams misfortunes. The River Falls punt was extremely short and one of the Tigers tried to catch the short kick. He was hit before he could secure the ball and River Falls recovered the fumble.
River Falls quickly converted the turnover into a touchdown, giving the Wildcats a 14-13 lead at halftime.
Neither team could make much offensive progress in the third quarter. The Tigers had two bad snaps that ended drives.
Early in the fourth quarter the Tigers were forced to punt. River Falls was able to break away on the return for a 60-yard score.
"We got out of our lanes and gave up the big play," Badger said.
The Tigers got a bad break on the ensuing kickoff. River Falls had been kicking the ball low, not wanting the Tiger returners to get a chance to break a big play. On this attempt, the squib kick hit one of the Tiger blockers and the ball bounced directly back to a River Falls player. River Falls proceeded to drive the ball for the final score of the night.
The statistics of the game were nearly equal, with River Falls finishing with 242 total yards of offense, compared to 189 for the Tigers. The Tigers were hoping for balance on offense. That came true, as the team finished with 95 yards of rushing and 94 yards from passing.
Badger said he saw good adjustments by the Tiger offense, based on changes the River Falls defense was making. He said Mehls was open early in the game on passes down the seam. When the Wildcats took those routes away, it opened up passing options to outside receivers and halfbacks.
The Tigers are hoping to see big improvements now that they've got a game under their belts. They'll need it, because they will face a fierce Rice Lake team this Friday on the Warriors' home artificial turf.
"Our theme this week will be dealing with adversity, starting with the heat," Badger said, saying the team has changed practice times and adapted practice schedules to keep the players safe in the oppressive heat.
"I think Rice Lake will compete to win the Big Rivers Conference. If we can compete with Rice Lake, I'll have no doubts we can compete in the Middle Border (Conference)," Badger said.