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Football: Battered, and finally beaten

New Richmond's Noah Towberman (9) finds room to run against West Salem's defense during the third quarter of last Friday's WIAA Division 3 playoff game at Swanson Field in La Crosse. Rory O'Driscoll photo

The biggest enemy for the New Richmond football team at the end of the season was injuries.

In both of their losses at the end of the 2017 season, the Tigers battled right to the end, only to see their efforts fall just short. That was the case Friday, Oct. 20 when they lost 17-14 to West Salem in the opening round of WIAA Division 3 playoff action. The week before, the Tigers lost in a battle for the Middle Border Conference title to Osceola, 25-24. The playoff loss to West Salem ends the Tigers' season with a 6-3 record.

The playoff loss to West Salem went right down to the final play of the night. New Richmond quarterback Mikah Kier tried to find receiver Dylan Minke with a pass in the end zone, but the ball was batted away as the clock ran out.

That Minke was on offense is a telltale sign of the Tigers' late-season issues. Minke was one of the team's top defensive backs all season, but it wasn't until this game that he was moved to offense too because of the wave of injuries that has overcome the team.

"We were in a pickle the whole week," Tiger coach Keith Badger said, as the coaches worked to develop schemes with the players they had available.

Among the players who were missing was Blake Kretovics, who has played everywhere on defense this season and in nearly as many roles on offense. Two-way starting lineman Josh Boyd was sidelined. Both of the team's kickers, Sean Flandrick and Colton Pahnke, were on the bench with leg injuries. A number of other players could only be used in limited roles because they weren't fully healthy.

"Full strength, I think we would have beaten them, but that's speculation now," Badger said.

Because of the shortage of players available on defense, the coaches had to go to a four-man front on defense with Clayton Van Dyk as the only inside linebacker. Senior offensive lineman Evan Derrick took on a new role the past two games, adding run-stuffing defensive lineman to his resume.

Kier stepped in as the Tigers' kicker. He doesn't have the ability to blast the ball for touchbacks the way the soccer recruits (Flandrick and Pahnke) do, so the coaches had him kick to locations. This kept the ball out of the hands of West Salem's most dangerous returner. Kier also became the team's placekicker, hitting both extra point attempts on Friday.

Friday's game was a battle of ball control. Both teams put together a number of lengthy drives, but both teams had multiple drives run out of steam before they reached the end zone.

West Salem scored first on a 58-yard option play for the only points of the first quarter. The Tigers completed a lengthy drive in the second quarter, with Kier scoring from two yards out to make the score 7-7 at halftime.

West Salem scored twice in the third quarter. The first score was on a short run and the second score was a 43-yard field goal by kicker/quarterback Ryan Bierne.

The Tigers struck back in the fourth quarter when Kier found Minke over the middle for a 48-yard touchdown. Minke was given a limited role on the offense, running jet sweeps and being part of the five-receiver package. He produced, with 62 yards on the ground and the 48-yard pass. His running was an excellent complement to Noah Towberman, who bulled his way between the tackles for 123 yards on 24 carries.

Badger was effusive in his praise of the players who were available on Friday and how they continued to battle.

"Our kids are drained in every single way," 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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