The ticket is punched for the New Richmond football team, earning its entrance into the 2019 WIAA state playoffs.
The Tigers punched their ticket by knocking the punchless Somerset football playoff contention on Friday. New Richmond scored on its first two plays from scrimmage and led comfortably the rest of the way, defeating Somerset 40-8.
The win was the fourth of the Middle Border Conference season for the Tigers, assuring the Tigers a spot in the playoffs. The Tigers are tied with St. Croix Central and Baldwin-Woodville for the MBC lead with two weeks remaining. The host Ellsworth next Friday. Ellsworth needs one more win to qualify for the playoffs.
Friday’s game was Somerset’s Homecoming game, but from the first play, it was New Richmond that was doing the celebrating. The game opened with the Tigers returning the kickoff near midfield. On the next play, Tiger halfback Joe Powers burst through the heart of the Somerset defense for a 51-yard run. New Richmond had the lead, just 19 seconds into the game.
Somerset got one first down on its opening possession before fumbling the ball away. The Tigers again struck on their first play, this time with Zach Panek going 73 yards for the score.
The next Tiger possession lasted six plays, but it ended with the same result. A 26-yard catch by Powers on a wheel route set up the score, which came on a four-yard pass from quarterback Tim Salmon to Joey Kidder in the corner of the end zone.
Somerset began to gain some footing late in the first quarter, with Smith carrying the ball on nine straight Spartan carries in one stretch. An interception by Kidder ended the first Somerset extended drive. Kidder returned the pick 50 yards.
Somerset’s next possession ended in a punt to the Tiger 10. For the third time in the first half, the Tigers needed just one play to score. Powers ran a sweep right and went untouched for a 90-yard touchdown. That was the final score of the first half, which ended 27-0.
The second half started like the first half ended, with the Tigers hitting another big play. Powers blazed through the center of the Somerset defense again, this time on a 52-yard run, to extend the margin to 33-0.
The Spartans then went on a 67-yard drive that lasted more than eight minutes, stretching into the fourth quarter. The only Somerset touchdown came on a one-yard sneak by quarterback Ryan Kelly.
The final touchdown fittingly came on another big play on the ground for the Tigers. Panek scored the touchdown on a 52-yard burst.
The Tigers have allowed eight points over their last two games. The defense has become a top quality group. One of the new starters this season is defensive end Jackson Seidling. After an offseason where he worked incredibly hard in the weight room, he was 35 pounds larger. The coaches recognized his potential and moved him from safety to defensive end. His work at end has made it difficult for opponents to run to the outside, a problem that stunted Somerset’s offensive options on Friday.
“He’s been a great player. I think he really enjoys it,” said Tiger coach Reggie Larson. “It was a move we thought could help us and he’s done a fantastic job.”
Seidling said he was happy to make the move, understanding that it was his chance to move into a starting position. He said the transition between positions wasn’t difficult and the coaches have been pleased with how quickly he’s taken to the new role.
The Tigers have been known for their passing on offense this season, but they only needed to pass six times in this game. Larson said the early lead gave the coaches the opportunity to concentrate on the running game.
“We definitely wanted to work on running the ball. If we’re going to go to the places we want to go this season,” Larson said.
He said the players have really taken ahold of the opportunities that are available this season, saying it started with locking up a playoff spot. He said the chance to win a share of the conference title in the team’s final year in the MBC is also proving to be an inspiration for the Tigers.
While the Tigers are moving on, the Spartans know they won’t be making the playoffs.
Somerset coach Bruce Larson saw positives from his offense, particularly the running of fullback Beaudee Smith and the sustained blocking from the offensive line. Smith carried the ball 32 times for 139 yards. The Spartans were able to hold the ball for sustained drives several times during the game.
Larson wasn’t so pleased with his defense. The Spartans weren’t strong at the point of attack and the defense’s pursuit was almost non-existent.
This was the second year where the Larson family members coached against each other, with Reggie winning both matchups against his father. Both Larsons showed fatigue with the weight of this matchup clearly weighing heavily on them.
“It’s hard to be honest,” Reggie said. “It’s uncomfortable. He’s taught me so much. Our personnel is just flat out better right now.”