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Gritty Tigers earn dramatic opening win

New Richmond senior Blake Kretovics (7) stretches to reach the goal line for the Tigers' first touchdown in Friday's 17-14 win over River Falls. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia

Two young football teams clashed when the New Richmond and River Falls squads took the field Friday, Aug. 18.

While there were bumps along the way, the Tigers put together an outstanding finish that resulted in a 17-14 opening win at the New Richmond Middle School field.

New Richmond scored 10 points in the final minutes of the game to pull out the victory. New Richmond got a 3-yard touchdown run from junior Drew Momchilovich to tie the score. The Tigers got the ball back with just over three minutes remaining. They calmly marched down the field, reaching the River Falls 5, where they called timeout with :03 remaining on the clock.

Senior kicker Sean Flandrick then drilled the ball through the uprights from 21 yards out as time expired to complete the victory for the Tigers.

The Tigers didn't look nervous in the opening drive of the game. They marched the length of the field, relying heavily on seniors Blake Kretovics and Mikah Kier to pick up most of the yards. A 21-yard run by Kier and a 16-yard pass from Kier to Kretovics were key pieces in that drive. Kretovics scored the opening touchdown of the season on a 5-yard run.

River Falls matched that score later in the first quarter.

A turning point of the game was the defense played by the Tigers in the final minutes of the first half. Twice River Falls drove inside the Tiger 5-yard line. The first drive was stopped when linebacker Christian Germain sliced in and tackled a River Falls running back just short of the goal line.

Two plays later, the Tigers fumbled the ball back to River Falls. This time it was Kretovics who came up with the big play, crashing into the River Falls quarterback to force an incompletion on fourth down.

River Falls took the lead on an interception return touchdown in the third quarter.

In the first half, River Falls was able to overpower the Tigers at the point of attack. Tiger coach Keith Badger said the coaches didn't make many adjustments at halftime, but the players figured out how to deal with that approach. River Falls finished the game with a 243 to 201 edge in total yards, but that figure was much more even in the second half.

The Tiger defense was led by Kretovics and senior linebacker Clayton Van Dyk. Van Dyk led the team in defensive points. It's pretty amazing considering he hadn't been able to be part of any contact drills in the pre-season. He suffered a hand injury and had a pin removed from his finger the day before the game, with a cast now covering the hand.

Van Dyk didn't start, but he made the tackle on his first play. Badger said it showed that Van Dyk had done his homework so he knew everything about his role when he was ready for game action.

Van Dyk led the team with 18 defensive points. Kretovics and Charlie Tornio finished with 16 points.

Badger said one of the seniors who played an important role was Brett McGregor, who was inserted into the offensive line for the final drive of the game.

"We were really thankful we had Brett McGregor. That was a mature to thing to handle," Badger said.

The final drive led to Flandrick's game-winning kick. Flandrick and Colton Pahnke are soccer players who are in their second season of volunteering to handle the football team's kicking duties. Both kickers were lobbying for the chance to take the final kick, but Flandrick had been handling the extra points with no problem, so the coaches were confident in sending him out to boot the game winner.

While River Falls was a young opponent, the Tigers' next opponent is a veteran team blessed with plenty of physical talent. The Tigers will resume their rivalry with Rice Lake this Friday on the Warriors' home turf.

"Our kids are ready. (Rice Lake) is faster than they've ever been, but we'll be fine," Badger said.

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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