By Garth Shanklin
The New Richmond Lions opened the season by surrendering 49 points to Indian Hill, and while mistakes on special teams and offense means that only 28 of those 49 points were actually scored on the Lions’ defense, it’s hard to deny the team has improved greatly on that side of the ball.
In their last four contests, all wins, New Richmond has allowed a total of 33 points, or just over eight points per game. The team continued that defensive prowess in week five, shutting down Blanchester in a 35-7 win.
Sophomore quarterback Josh Anderson opened the scoring for New Richmond with a 13-yard touchdown run at the 5:39 mark of the first quarter. The Lions led 7-0 until 8:58 remained in the second stanza, thanks to a 40-yard touchdown pass from Tristan Greene to Brent Hopkins.
The Lions then blocked a Blanchester punt, and a few plays later they converted on a 17-yard touchdown run by T.J. Gelter.
Anderson hit Gage Kramer for an eight-yard touchdown pass with 28.1 seconds left in the half to put the Lions ahead 21-7.
They added two more touchdowns, one on a 10-yard pass from Anderson to wide receiver Corey Bozic and another on a 32-yard scamper by Anderson, to complete the scoring.
Head coach Josh Stratton said the defense initially got beat by the Wildcats, but after an adjustment, the team was able to keep Blanchester in check.
“On defense, we put together another great game,” Stratton said. “We had 13.5 tackles for loss, four picks…they found a weakness early on in the game plan in the middle of the field throwing the ball and that’s when they scored. We made an adjustment, fixed it, took it away and it was lights out after that. I don’t think they got in the red zone.”
This performance is only the most recent in a long string of defensive prowess by New Richmond. Stratton said he hasn’t had a defense play this way before.
“I’ve never had a defense this physical, this fast,” Stratton said. “They play with extreme confidence, they’re fun to watch. I love watching them play.”
The only downside to the team’s recent run of victories has been on the offensive side of the ball. Anderson finished the contest against Blanchester having completed 16 of 28 passes for 139 yards and a pair of touchdowns, along with an interception. He also carried the ball 11 times for 106 yards and two more touchdowns. T.J. Gelter ran the ball 17 times for 69 yards and one touchdown.
Kramer led the Lions in receptions and yards with five for 42 and a touchdown. Bozic had three catches for 30 yards in addition to his score. The numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, which is why Stratton said his offensive performance was a little bit off against the Wildcats.
“We were just really average on offense,” Stratton said. “We never really got in the groove. We had a short field most of the night because of our defense, but we really only had one good solid drive, that was right before half. It was like a four-minute drive, we went 70 yards. We did a nice job managing the clock and moving the ball.”
It’s important for people, even those on the New Richmond staff, to remember Anderson is still just a sophomore, according to his coach.
“We put a lot on him and expect him to perform at a high level but he’s still 15,” Stratton said. “We forget that at times and I’m sure everyone else does too. He’s doing a great job right now.”
Stratton was especially impressed with the fact that Anderson completed his passes to seven different Lions receivers, something that arises from the trust the sophomore has with his teammates.
“I love the fact that he’s spreading the ball around,” Stratton said. “His teammates do too, it shows camaraderie. The fact that they’re all able to gets touches motivates them even more, and he understands that, sometimes to a fault. There are times when I wonder what he’s reading, and he says ‘This guy hasn’t touched the ball yet,’ which is pretty insightful.”
In terms of defense, Stratton said the team simplified the way they prepare for games this season, which has allowed them to focus on the fundamentals.
“We were not good on defense last year and we had to fix it,” Stratton said. “We fixed some philosophical alignment issues from me down and got after it in the weight room. Our weight program is as good as anybody’s. We went back to the fundamentals. We were not a good fundamental team. We were bad at tackling, block shedding, pursuing the football. Those are what we focused on, kept it simple. It doesn’t matter how well we play, every week we practice fundamentals. Game plans are half of what they used to be.”
The Lions will look for their fifth win of the season when they travel to Western Brown for a tough conference matchup on Friday, Sept. 30 at 7 p.m.
“That’s a big deal around here, regardless of their record,” Stratton said. “It’ll be a dog fight, we’re excited to go to their place.”
The Broncos dropped a 49-22 decision to Campbell County last week to fall to 1-4 on the season, but they still bring challenges to the table on both sides of the ball, according to Stratton.
“They’re still throwing it all around the yard,” Stratton said. “They have a quarterback who’s probably thrown it for twice the yards we have. They’re multiple on defense, so we have to practice against that. They’re aggressive on defense, offensively they have a couple of nice receivers and we have to keep the ball out of their hands, if they get loose we may have trouble catching them. It’ll be a tough, hard-nose game, and we must show up and play with fundamentals.”