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New Richmond football team earns first win of season at Ellsworth

The defense has been carrying the load for the New Richmond Tigers during the first half of the 2012 football season.

On Friday the offense stepped up its production considerably and the Tigers were able to earn their first victory of the season. The win came at Ellsworth, 14-7, ruining the Panthers' Homecoming festivities.

The Tiger defense was superb in Friday's game, limiting Ellsworth to 126 yards of offense. In comparison, the Tiger offense was able to generate 326 yards of offense.

From the first drive of the game, the Tiger offense played with more confidence. After struggling to run up the middle all season, the Tigers marched the ball down the field on the opening drive. Tiger coach Jason Eckert said Ellsworth was playing its defensive ends and outside linebackers with wide splits, so the Tigers ran off tackle plays in the vacated gap. The first drive was nearly all accomplished on off tackle plays. The only play that wasn't was the scoring play. When Ellsworth bunched in to shut off the middle, quarterback Kaleb Kier pitched the ball to halfback Connor O'Loughlin, who scored on a 4-yard sweep.

The Tigers had another chance to score late in the second quarter, driving to the Ellsworth 7-yard line before being turned back.

With some momentum under their belts, the Tigers opened the second half just like they'd opened the first: with a long scoring drive. The running of Kier and fullback Taner Hoppe generated most of the yardage as the Tigers were able to drain down the clock. With Ellsworth now expecting running plays, Kier threw a fade pattern down the sideline to Drew Durham who caught the pass for a 21-yard touchdown.

Ball control was the name of the game for the Tiger offense. With Hoppe and Kier combining for 49 carries and 213 yards rushing, the Tigers were able to control the tempo of the game with their ground attack.

Ellsworth scored its only touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. The Tigers had a reserve defensive back on the field because of an injury and he ran the wrong coverage, leaving Ellsworth's Dennis Schutz wide open for a 42-yard score.

That was about the only success in the Ellsworth passing game. Ellsworth completed 4-14 pass attempts for 75 yards. Ellsworth receiver Alex Campbell, who is set to be a walk-on for the Wisconsin Badgers next fall, caught just two passes for 27 yards.

Tiger defensive backs Sevin Davis and Allan Wollenberg both intercepted passes during the game. Eckert said Davis was lined up against Campbell for most of the night, with help from a safety over the top.

This was one of the first times this season the Tigers were able to match up evenly size-wise with the opposition's linemen. This allowed the Tiger coaches to make a change in the defensive front. Defensive end Keilan Mehls and defensive tackle Jake LaMirande switched positions for the game. At 180 pounds, Mehls isn't big enough to battle the 230-250 pound linemen the Tigers have been facing. But when he is matched up against a similarly-sized opponent, he can use his quickness and mobility to be a factor inside. With LaMirande and Zac Parfitt at each defensive end, Ellsworth was never able to establish any sort of running attack to the outside.

Another factor that helped the Tigers in this game was special teams. After the disastrous punting efforts for the team all season, there were no problems on the Tigers' three punts Friday. Parfitt boomed all three punts, averaging 43 yards per kick, and he dropped two of them inside the Ellsworth 20 yard line. LaMirande took over the long snapping duties for the Tigers and the snaps on the punts were cleaned up this week.

While this was a big step in the right direction for the Tigers, Eckert said there is still plenty of room for improvement. The Tigers were called for 13 penalties and they were costly. A holding penalty nullified a third quarter touchdown pass.

"There's still a heckuva lot we can do better," Eckert said.

The win keeps the Tigers' hopes of making the WIAA playoffs alive, but they must win each of their three remaining games to reach the playoffs. This Friday the Tigers will play at Amery, which is 0-4 and was eliminated from playoff eligibility with its 46-0 loss at Somerset on Friday.

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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