Central, New Richmond football teams focusing on playoff possibilities
Though they came out at opposite ends of a 39-0 score last Friday, the St. Croix Central and New Richmond football teams are both very much focused on finding a way into the WIAA state playoffs at the end of the season.
The Panthers are cruising, at 4-0 overall and 2-0 in the Middle Border Conference. The Tigers are 0-4 after Friday’s 39-0 loss to Central, but there is still a firm belief among the Tiger coaches that advancing to the playoffs is a real possibility.
Both teams face challenging games this Friday. Central plays at Baldwin-Woodville in the Hawks’ Homecoming game. B-W is also 2-0 in the conference and they rank as one of the surprises of the area with their strong start to the season.
If New Richmond is going to be a playoff team, this Friday’s game at Prescott is critical to their hopes. Prescott is also 0-2 in conference play and this is the Tigers’ chance to get things moving in the right direction.
St. Croix Central
The Panthers followed their game plan perfectly to start Friday’s game at New Richmond. The Panthers want to keep the ball away from the Tigers. There’s no better way to do that than opening the game with a 16-play scoring drive.
“Our opening drive set the tone,” said Central coach Tony DiSalvo. “Our kids came ready.”
The Panthers then forced a New Richmond punt, leading to Central’s second score. Central led 13-0 and New Richmond had only run three offensive plays.
Central’s offense again was led by the running of Austin Kopacz and Ryan Larson, who combined for 229 yards on 24 carries. In this game there was another offensive wrinkle, the passing of Kopacz to tight end Derek Myer. Myer caught touchdown passes of 37 and 27 yards. DiSalvo said Myer is forcing his way into the game plan by playing much more physically this season, on offense and defense. His play at defensive end has sparked the Panther pass rush. DiSalvo said the pass rush should get even better. He expects Peyton Nogal to return this week. Nogal missed the first four games due to a broken foot.
A key for the Panther defense Friday was the play of freshman noseguard Carson Hinzman. He took away New Richmond’s inside running game, making 11 tackles.
“He certainly doesn’t look like a freshman,” DiSalvo said of Hinzman, who is listed at 6-4 and 260 pounds.
The four opponents the Tigers faced this season so far have a combined record of 14-2. That’s little solace to an 0-4 team, but Tiger coach Reggie Larson said the Tigers have faced a stacked schedule to start the season. He said he thinks Friday’s game is the chance to show what the Tigers are capable of doing. He said the Tigers will need to play more physically, to match the style of game that Prescott plays.
While the Tigers lost to Central last Friday, there were highlights. The Tigers did move the ball at times. They had a pass intercepted inside the Central 10 yard line in the first half and the Tigers marched deep into Central territory several times in the second half. They just weren’t able to finish drives.
Larson said he was pleased with the play of Joe Powers on both sides of the ball. Powers gave the Tigers another option at running back to go along with Cooper Strand and he did well in run support on defense.
Tim Salmon got most of the work at quarterback for the Tigers against Central. With Salmon and Joey Kidder, Larson said the Tigers have two good athletes who can both be good leaders for the team.
Larson said the Tigers had an excellent week of practice leading into the matchup with Central. He said he hopes the team can maintain its positive attitude after the difficult start to the season.
“This can’t break us. We can still (make the playoffs),” Larson said. “If we do, we’ll probably get Rice Lake and we were 36-33 with them.”