Tigers becoming a multi-faceted threat
A berth in the WIAA state playoffs was assured and the hopes for a Middle Border Conference championship were kept alive when the New Richmond football team defeated Ellsworth 35-21 in the Tigers' 2017 Homecoming game.
The victory keeps the Tigers' hopes of a Middle Border Conference title alive. The Tigers are 4-1 in the MBC, tied with St. Croix Central in second place, one game behind Osceola. The Tigers will play at Osceola in the final game of the regular season on Friday, Oct. 13.
This Friday, the Tigers conclude their regular season home schedule by hosting winless Amery. New Richmond coach Keith Badger said this is an important game, because the Tigers can't be caught looking ahead to the Osceola game. He said Amery plays out a spread formation style, something the Tigers need to see. Several teams the Tigers could face in the WIAA playoffs run out of spread offenses, similar to what Amery runs.
In facing Ellsworth, the Tigers faced a significant challenge. Ellsworth has passed the ball more than any other MBC team this season. The Tiger pass defense stood up to the challenge, limiting Ellsworth quarterback Drake Flom to 13 completions in 23 attempts. To the Tigers' credit, Ellsworth wasn't able to break any big pass plays. The longest Ellsworth completion of the night was good for 22 yards. One of the Ellsworth passes was intercepted by Tiger linebacker Noah Towberman.
The Tigers also had an improved pass rush in this game. Badger said one of the key plays of the game was when Tiger defensive end Noah Kirchoff drilled Flom, forcing a fumble that was covered by Tiger lineman Nick Andersen. Kirchoff led the Tigers in defensive points in Friday's game.
"We're seeing Noah step up in a role when we needed someone to step into," Badger said.
The Tiger defense is manned largely by juniors and sophomores, so it's been an ongoing process of improvement. Badger said he believes all of the changes are now made. The latest is moving sophomore Cooper Strand from linebacker to safety. The linebackers are now all seniors, with Towberman, Clayton Van Dyk and Blake Kretovics handling those spots.
"Things are starting to fall into place, personnel wise," Badger said.
He said the Tigers came out of the game with some minor dings, but otherwise should have everyone available for Friday's home finale.
And the offense? The Tigers averaged nearly seven yards per play in rolling up 409 yards off offense in Friday's game.
The first quarter of the game was scoreless and Ellsworth scored the opening touchdown on an interception return. It was at that point that the Tiger offense seemed to find its footing. The Tigers' mixture of offensive threats kept Ellsworth off balance. The Tigers had four backs rush for more than 50 yards and they had five players catch passes.
"You can guard one of them, but you can't take them all out," Badger said of the Tigers' multi-threat attack.
And the Tigers use several of the players in different roles. Kretovics has the most responsibility. He plays running back, but he also is used in three different receiver positions.
The Tigers made bunches of big plays on Friday. They had five plays that gained more than 20 yards and none of them produced the touchdowns. But when they got within view of the goal posts, the Tigers found ways to score. Quarterback Mikah Kier ran for two touchdowns and he passed for two more, with Kretovics and Braeden Gefeke on the receiving end of those scoring tosses. While Ellsworth came into the game with the highly reputed passing game, the Tigers outgained Ellsworth through the air, 148-119.
The biggest pass play of the night was produced by the Tigers in the third quarter. On a bootleg, Cole Tappe got behind the Ellsworth safety. Kier found him with a pass for a 47-yard gain.
Towberman led the rushing attack with 95 yards. Kretovics, Strand and Kier all rushed for more than 50 yards as the Tigers totaled 261 yards on the ground.