They say you can tell the measure of a team by how they respond to adversity and the New Richmond Lions were up against it on Friday, Sept. 27 as they faced off with a Southern Buckeye Conference foe for the second time in consecutive weeks.
Coming off of a heartbreaking loss to Western Brown on Sept. 20, the Lions answered the bell, holding off Norwood 28-26 to get back to their winning ways.
“I thought that in the Western game, their players stepped up to make big plays while our players failed to do that,” first-year head coach Josh Stratton said. “We addressed that with our guys and we didn’t dwell on it. We came out and had a great week of practice, which was really impressive by our young men.”
That week of practice, which Stratton would rank as one of the best of the season to this point, manifested itself in a quick start for the Lions on Friday night.
Playing “the best 1-4 team in the city,” as Stratton referred to the Indians, New Richmond once again found themselves playing against some adversity.
“Norwood is really good,” Stratton said. “They are extremely well coached, (they have a) great scheme (and have) playmakers all over the place. They have a lot of seniors on the team that stepped up and made big plays, but we were able to weather the storm.
“We made enough big plays to win, which is the opposite of what we did against Western. We learned from our mistakes and capitalized on the situations we were in against Norwood to come away with a victory.”
Coming away with the victory wasn’t all that easy, however. Every punch New Richmond threw, Norwood answered right back.
Just when it seemed like the Lions were ready to put the game to bed, blocking a punt in the endzone and covering it up for a touchdown to take a 14-point lead, the Indians drove the ball down the field and cut that lead back down to eight.
The decisive plays of the game came during the final minutes of the contest when the New Richmond defense was standing strong on in an attempt to make a goalline stand.
“(Norwood) made some personnel changes and put their best wide receiver (Jared Peters) at quarterback,” Stratton explained. “We were expecting some kind of quarterback run and that’s what we got. They motioned and confused a couple of our kids and that’s how they scored (the touchdown, making it 28-26).
“On the two-point conversion, they kept (Peters) in at quarterback, so we were heavy, expecting the run and they tried a jump pass. He threw it a little low and we tipped it out of bounds.”
With first and goal from the one yard line, it took the Indians three plays to score the touchdown and Stratton said if it weren’t for the confusion with the motion, he’s not sure they would have scored to begin with.
The win put the Lions 4-1 on the season and 1-1 in the SBC with an out-of-conference game against Blanchester on the horizon on Oct. 4.
A fairly successful season to date, Stratton pointed specifically to two classes that have made the Lions a force.
“I think our seniors have all played to the expectation,” he said. “They’ve been really solid, from our linemen, our linebackers, our quarterback to our skill guys, our wide receivers, our DBs; they’ve all played to the expectation that we’ve set for them. They’ve all done what was expected of them and they’ve been great leaders.
“Our sophomores have played out of their minds. We started six or seven sophomores (against Norwood) and they’re playing on both sides of the ball. Our sophomore class is really talented and they’ve stepped in and filled some roles for us.”
Stratton pointed out that the junior class is just small, with only 10 on the roster and injuries has made that number even smaller.
While that sophomore class seems to be the future of the New Richmond program, that strong core of seniors are still looking to go out with as good of a record as possible. For that to happen, Stratton has sold his team on a mindset that mirrors what they are learning in their algebra classes.
“We approach every game exactly the same,” Stratton said about the upcoming schedule. “We want to get better as individual players and give maximum effort every single day in practice.
“The motto is that the opponent is just a variable and just like you’re solving an equation, if the variable changes, but you follow the correct steps to solve the problem, the variable becomes unimportant.”
What Stratton said is important for his team is two-fold. Offensively, Stratton wants to continue to improve the passing game’s potency, completing more passes and making first down into a successful endeavor to avoid 2nd and 3rd and long.
On defense, the goal is simple: get off the field on third down. Statton said the team’s spread offense operates on a rhythmic basis and if the defense allows conversions on third down, the offense can’t get into the flow it needs to be successful.
The Lions will work on their passing efficiency and rhythm at home Friday night at 7:30 as Blanchester becomes the next variable to enter into New Richmond’s equation.