The New Richmond football team didn't have the ball often on Friday, Sept. 22.
But whenever the Tigers had the ball, big things happened. The Tigers only ran 22 offensive plays on Friday, but they still managed to roll up 34 points in a 34-16 victory at Somerset.
Quarterback Mikah Kier scored on runs of 49 and 70 yards and Blake Kretovics returned a kickoff 83 yards for a touchdown in the final seconds of the first half. Kretovics' touchdown was the turning point of the game, giving the Tigers a lead they would never give up.
With the win, the Tigers moved to 3-1 in the Middle Border Conference. The Tigers need one more win to qualify for the 2017 WIAA state football playoffs. Their opponent in this Friday's game is in the exact same position. Ellsworth also holds a 3-1 record in the MBC and is hoping to punch its ticket with a win in this Friday's game in New Richmond.
Ellsworth is the polar opposite of the team New Richmond played last Friday. Ellsworth plays the most free-wheeling offense in the MBC. Behind quarterback Drake Flom and a trio of talented receivers, Ellsworth has passed more often, and with more success than any other team in the MBC this season.
The past several opponents of the Tigers have been run-first times, and none more than Somerset, which ran 84 plays on Friday and 83 of them were running plays. Somerset was able to grind out drives in Friday's game and the Spartans scored twice on first half drives. But once New Richmond got the lead, the Tigers were able to blunt all of Somerset's drives before they reached the end zone.
Somerset opened the game with a drive that lasted more than eight minutes. The Tigers needed four plays to answer back. A 35-yard pass from Kier to Joey Kidder, plus two Kier runs, set up a four-yard touchdown run by Noah Towberman.
The Tigers stopped Somerset's next possession and this time, New Richmond only needed two plays to cover 71 yards. The first play was a 22-yard pass from Kier to Cole Tappe. On the next play, Kier faked out the Somerset defense and kept the ball, racing downfield for a 49-yard touchdown.
The New Richmond coaches have been after Kier to run the ball more often.
"I hope he continues to pull the ball on reads and carry the ball to challenge the defense," said Tiger coach Keith Badger. "Those times he pulls the ball, he makes big plays."
Somerset marched the ball downfield late in the first half, scoring with 1:21 remaining to take a 16-14 lead. That lead lasted 12 seconds.
The Spartans made the mistake of sending a line drive kickoff directly at Kretovics. He's been the team's biggest supplier of big plays and he did it again, racing right through the heart of the Somerset coverage for an 83-yard touchdown.
If Somerset held out any hopes, Kier wiped them out on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter. Kier cut around left end and raced upfield for a 70-yard touchdown that put the Tigers in front, 27-16.
Several times in the second half, Somerset was able to drive into Tiger territory, only to be rebuffed by the Tiger defense. On the first play of the fourth quarter, New Richmond defensive end Christian Germain came up with a quarterback sack to end a Somerset threat on fourth down. That put the Tigers in position for their final drive of the game. This drive covered 59 yards, with Kretovics scoring from 11 yards out. It came moments after he'd run for 26 yards.
The Tigers gained 223 yards from scrimmage on their 22 plays, a tidy 10 yards per attempt. Somerset finished the game with 397 yards of offense. Badger said he expects other teams will try to use the same tactics Somerset did on Friday, but said the Tigers will be prepared. Badger said some of the Tigers may have got caught overlooking a winless opponent on Friday.
"We'll be a better defensive team because of the experience. We didn't play to our potential," Badger said of the defense's performance.