This is what playing with the “big boys” is like.
When the WIAA football pairings were announced, New Richmond was the smallest school to be placed in the Division 2 bracket. The bracketing sent the Tigers to DeForest, which is near Madison, for the opening round playoff game Friday.
The Tigers were competitive, trailing 14-6 at halftime. In the second half, DeForest wore down the Tigers to win 35-14. The Tigers finish the season with a 6-4 record.
DeForest, the third seed in the D2 bracket, will play at Big Rivers Conference champion Menomonie this Friday. Menomonie drew the second seed in the bracket.
The first quarter of Friday’s game was scoreless as both teams were effective in taking away the other’s offensive plans. But DeForest gradually began to use its size advantage to control the line of scrimmage. DeForest’s bread and butter was handing the ball to running back Cole Drinka and having him patiently follow his blockers until a hole emerged.
Drinka scored on the opening play of the second quarter on a four-yard run. The Tigers answered with an impressive drive, with a 41-yard pass from Seamus Scanlan to Kennan Stowers taking the ball inside the DeForest 10-yard line. The Tigers then tried for the touchdown, but the pass was intercepted at the edge of the end zone.
DeForest went on a lengthy drive late in the second quarter, with Drinka scoring on a seven yard run with 1:08 left in the half. The Tigers got a quick answer that gave them momentum heading into halftime. Stowers took the ensuing kickoff and raced upfield. He made a slight cut at the 40, then turned on the jets to score on a 90-yard touchdown that cut the margin to 14-6 heading into halftime.
That momentum lasted two plays in the second half. That’s when DeForest receiver Aydin Kelliher adjusted to an underthrown pass and took the ball 60 yards for a touchdown.
This was when the difference in the lines really showed. The Tigers couldn’t move the ball and DeForest immediately marched 76 yards for another score. DeForest’s next touchdown came quickly, on a 49-yard pass when the Tigers went for an interception but missed the ball.
The New Richmond offense produced its only score in the fourth quarter. The Tigers hit a couple quick passes to move into DeForest territory, Receiver Jacob Hagman then ran a post pattern and Scanlan placed the ball perfectly for a 40-yard touchdown, making the final score 35-14.
Scanlan finished the game with 19 completions for 190 yards. Stowers led the team with eight receptions for 87 yards. DeForest’s domination up front completely stifled the Tiger ground game, which ended up a -19 yards rushing in the game.
New Richmond coach Reggie Larson said this game raises the expectations for the Tigers for future seasons.
“We’re never going back to Division 3 because of our increasing enrollment,” Larson told his team after the game. “I told them, ‘this is what Division 2 football is like.’”
Larson said the first challenge for the Tigers was adapting to BRC football, which was largely accomplished this season. He said the next step will be competing evenly with programs like DeForest and Menomonie, who will likely be in the same Division 2 bracket in future seasons.