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Grieving Amery team upsets Tigers in 2011 Homecoming game, 14-13

New Richmond fullback Taner Hoppe (right) breaks out of the tackle of an Amery defender on Friday.

The New Richmond football team had a great amount to play for on Friday.

But not as much as the Amery football team. Hours before the game, the Warriors attended the funeral for their senior captain who died earlier in the week. The Warriors were able to channel that grief into a heartfelt effort, upsetting the Tigers 14-13.

The Homecoming game loss has immense consequences for the Tigers. It knocks them out of a share of the Middle Border Conference lead. With two games left in the MBC season, it is unlikely that Somerset and Durand will both lose, which leaves the Tigers little chance to regain a share of the conference title.

The loss also damages the Tigers' chances of getting a home game in the WIAA playoffs. The Tigers still need to qualify for the playoffs. They need a win in one of their final two games, either this Friday at Osceola or the following Friday against Baldwin-Woodville, to lock themselves into a playoff spot.

The Tigers appeared conflicted in their play on Friday. They clearly wanted to put on a good showing in front of the large Homecoming crowd. But what happened in Amery also weighed on the Tigers' minds. All during the week they were frequently reminded to play hard, but also to be supportive of the Amery players if they were struggling. The Tigers didn't appear as prepared to deal with the Amery team using their grief to build their intensity and effort throughout the game.

The Amery team played at the level the Tigers were led to expect, struggling through the first quarter. The Tigers used that opening to start well, scoring with 3:27 left in the quarter on a 7-yard touchdown run by senior halfback Nate Jones. Amery looked grief stricken in the first quarter, but that began to change in the second quarter.

On the first play of the second quarter Amery intercepted an overthrown Tiger pass, stopping a Tiger drive at the Warrior 15. Late in the quarter the Warriors drove to the Tiger 4, before trying a 19-yard field goal in the final seconds of the half. The field goal was off target, but the Warriors' focus had clearly turned from the tragedy of the week to winning for their fallen comrade.

If Amery needed any more motivation, they got it in the opening minutes of the second half. The Warriors had been overplaying Jones' running plays and it produced a turnover that the Warriors turned into their first touchdown. Jones tried a sweep left, and the ball squirted out of his hands as he got spun around. The ball landed in the hands of Amery senior Alex Schafer, who ran untouched for the Warrior score. The extra point tied the score at 7-7.

Late in the third quarter the Tigers put together an 80-yard drive, relying on fullback Taner Hoppe for nearly all the yards. Tiger coach Jason Eckert said runs up the middle were about the only thing the coaches could rely on offensively in the second half. The passing game struggled all night and Amery was doing its best to take away the sweep.

Hoppe completed the drive with a 3-yard blast with 2:30 remaining in the third quarter. The extra point kick was missed, leaving the Tigers with a 13-7 lead.

The teams traded punts until late in the fourth quarter, when the Tigers turned the ball over on a bad snap out of the shotgun formation.

Amery was able to run up the middle all night against the Tigers, and the Warriors used inside runs to get into scoring position. With 2:19 left in the game, Amery quarterback Steven Bielmeier found receiver Sammy Leisz behind the Tiger secondary for a 23-yard touchdown pass. The extra point kick gave the Warriors a 14-13 lead.

In the final minutes the Tigers tried frantically to regain the lead. A 34-yard pass from quarterback Drew Durham to Tyler Cran got the ball to the Amery 22. The Tigers could get no closer, turning the ball over on downs with 35 seconds left on the clock.

Tiger coach Jason Eckert and his staff were clearly frustrated during the game, doing everything they could to get the Tigers to raise their intensity level.

"We tried to tell the kids all week they had to be prepared. We came out and absolutely laid an egg," Eckert said.

The Tigers moved the ball well most of the night, but couldn't finish drives. Hoppe and Dalton Sabby both rushed for more than 100 yards, Hoppe finishing with 121 yards and Sabby with 119 yards.

The Tigers now must turn their focus to Friday's game in Osceola. The Chieftains are winless this season, but Eckert said they can't be underestimated. Osceola was tied with Durand at halftime and they have played close games with most of their conference opponents.

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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