By effectively mixing the run and the pass, the New Richmond football offense was nearly unstoppable in the Tigers’ playoff opener on Friday night.
That offensive success carried the Tigers to a 41-12 win over Mosinee in Level 1 of the Division 3 playoffs. The Tigers face one of the ultimate football tests in the second round of the playoffs next Friday. The Tigers will travel to Menomonie to face the Mustangs, the Big Rivers Conference co-champions. Menomonie may be the most successful football program in western Wisconsin. The Mustangs have played in a state championship in eight seasons and they are always considered a threat to advance again under Coach Joe LaBuda.
“I’m sure they’ll be big and be physical,” said New Richmond coach Reggie Larson. “I’m sure we’ll have to play our best game to be competitive.”
The game carries even more intrigue with New Richmond scheduled to become of the BRC football conference in 2020.
The Tigers are coming off a performance where they played well on both sides of the ball. Mosinee has a strong quarterback and several quality receivers. The Tigers benefitted from a few Mosinee dropped passes in the first half to build up a 21-10 lead.
The offense the Tigers are playing in the playoffs is vastly different than at the beginning of the season. The Tigers started the season by needing to pass to be effective. That has changed. In the playoff win, the Tigers used an effective running game to keep picking up first downs. With Mosinee forced to respect the Tigers’ running game, the Tigers were able to hit pass plays for big yardage.
Larson said one of the reasons the running game is more successful is the progress of halfback Zach Panek. A car accident, then an injury, slowed Panek’s ability to contribute.
“Panek’s really come on. In the last five weeks he’s been steadily getting better. That’s the explosive guy we thought we’d have at the start of the season,” Larson said.
Between Panek and Joe Powers, the Tigers have two halfbacks that are capable of making big plays. Panek’s progress has lessened the burden on Powers, who is also one of the Tigers’ starting cornerbacks on defense.
Mosinee won the coin toss and took the ball to start the game, but the Tigers were able to make a quick stop. The Tigers then marched toward the end zone, with Powers finishing the drive with a two-yard score.
Mosinee was able to drive deep into Tiger territory on its second possession, but the Tiger defense stopped them short of the goal line. The Tigers then showed their quick-strike ability, with quarterback Tim Salmon connecting with receiver Joey Kidder on a 50-yard touchdown.
The teams then traded touchdowns, with Powers scoring on a six-yard run to make the score 21-7. Mosinee hit a deep pass in the closing moments of the half to set up a field goal, making the halftime score 21-10.
Larson said the coaches made adjustments at halftime to their pass coverage, which kept Mosinee off the scoreboard in the second half, other than a late safety.
The Tigers opened the second half with another touchdown drive. Mosinee was forced into a quick punt and the Tigers marched down the field again for a score to make the score 35-10, effectively putting the final outcome to rest.
The Tigers had excellent offensive balance. Salmon passed for 192 yards, completing 10 of 14 passes. Panek rushed for 98 yards. Kidder led the team with six catches for 125 yards.
New Richmond’s coaches were concerned how the Tigers would respond to adversity in this game. The Tigers finished the regular season with four games where they reached running clock, winning each of those games by 32 points or more.
“We did a good job of sticking together, taking their best shot and responding,” Larson said.
The Tiger offense has been putting up some gaudy numbers in the second half of the season. This is the sixth straight game where the Tigers have scored 40 or more points. In the past five weeks, the Tigers have outscored their opponents 207 to 32.
In Friday’s game, Larson said Cooper Strand and Jackson Seidling were the defensive leaders. Larson said Seidling has been “practically unblockable.”