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Football: Illness doesn't hold Tigers down

New Richmond running back Noah Towberman (9) cuts between blocks from Cole Tappe (8) and Brett McGregor (58) to pick up good yardage on this play in the first half of the Tigers' win on Friday. Dave Newman / RiverTown Multimedia

The effects of the team-wide illness were still evident when the New Richmond football team returned to the field on Friday, Sept. 1.

The Tigers built a 25-6 lead, but the effects of the illness began to show as the Tigers tired in the second half, seeing their lead fade to 25-20 in the fourth quarter against Baldwin-Woodville. But in the final seven minutes of the game the Tigers found a new level of strength. In that span they scored three touchdowns to put away the Blackhawks, 47-20. The game was the Middle Border Conference opener for both teams.

New Richmond had been unable to play the previous Friday because of an illness that struck more than 20 players on the roster. New Richmond coach Keith Badger said the ill players lost a collective 200 pounds, with players losing anywhere from five to 17 pounds from the effects of the illness. Five starters weren't able to practice last Tuesday and two were still out Wednesday. Two reserves were held out of the game because they were still not fully recovered.

The first 15 minutes of the game went about as well as imaginable for the Tigers as they rolled up an 18-0 lead. The Tigers needed just over a minute to score the opening touchdown on a 25-yard pass over the middle from Mikah Kier to Blake Kretovics. The next time the Tigers got the ball, they played more of a ball-control style in marching 74 yards for the score. Drew Momchilovich took the ball on a direct snap to score from one yard out.

The third Tiger possession started in the final moments of the first quarter. The Tigers mixed several passes with a multi-faceted running attack to cover the 79 yards. This time it was Noah Towberman who scored from one yard out.

B-W struck back with its only big play of the night, when Jaden Northrup scored on a 71-yard run on a counter play that caught the Tigers by surprise.

The second half started with the Tigers partially blocking a punt. That left them 52 yards to drive. Kretovics ran for 26 yards, setting up a 25-yard touchdown run by Kier, where he slipped several tackles en route to the end zone.

Later in the third quarter and into the fourth quarter, it was clear the Tigers' energy level was starting to wane. Badger said the coaches tried to substitute as much as possible, leaving some younger players with more game time than the coaches had planned. B-W took advantage, scoring twice to cut the Tiger lead to 25-20.

In the final seven minutes, the Tigers summoned whatever energy they had left and fought back. Kretovics had several key carries in the next drive, before he broke free for a 39-yard touchdown.

That score rejuvenated the Tigers. Dylan Minke intercepted a pass on B-W's first play after the kickoff. That set up an 11-yard scoring pass from Kier to Braeden Gefeke. The Tigers then came up with a defensive stop, leading to a 29-yard scoring run by Cooper Strand.

The depth at the running back and receiver positions was a saving grace for the Tigers. Kretovics, Kier, Towberman and Strand all rushed for 58 yards or more. Six different Tigers caught passes. The depth at receiver allowed the coaches to use Kretovics more often in the backfield.

A number of Tigers also stood out on defense. Christian Germain led the team with 27 defensive points. Kretovics, Noah Kirchoff and Clayton Van Dyk also ranked among the defensive leaders.

Badger said the illness and its after effects are just something the Tigers had to deal with to get to their ultimate goal.

"Every great story has a great struggle. This is just part of our story," Badger said.

The Tigers are expecting another great struggle this Friday. They will play at St. Croix Central, where the Panthers return many of the players who helped them win the 2016 WIAA Division 4 state championship.

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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