By Garth Shanklin
For the fourth time in school history, the New Richmond Lions advanced to the regional semifinals of the state playoffs. Unfortunately, much like their three previous trips, the Lions would see their season come to an end in week 12.
New Richmond traveled to Mason High School to take on the Trotwood Madison Rams, who entered the game as the seventh seed in the Division III, Region 12 bracket.
The Lions started the game with the ball and were unable to move down the field on their first drive. The team lined up to punt, and thanks to a misplay on the part of the Rams, the Lions ended up with the ball back. They had to punt again later in the drive.
Trotwood started from their own 33-yard line and promptly scored on a 67-yard touchdown run by Raveion Hargrove. The Lions marched down the field, but were forced to settle for a 28-yard field goal off the foot of Clayton Farmer.
One play later, Trotwood connected on a 62-yard touchdown pass from junior Markell Stephens-Peppers to fellow junior Caleb Johnson to put the Rams ahead 14-3 with 5:10 left in the first quarter.
New Richmond again was forced to punt on their next drive, but another Trotwood special teams mistake gave the Lions the ball back.
Three plays later, New Richmond quarterback Josh Anderson attempted a pooch punt that was blocked at the line of scrimmage. Trotwood’s Daylon Duverglas picked up the punt and returned it 56 yards for Trotwood’s third touchdown of the quarter. The extra point made it 21-3 Rams with 1:32 left in the quarter.
New Richmond head coach Josh Stratton said the team does not usually give up long scoring plays, which made it difficult to come back from early.
“That doesn’t happen to us very often,” Stratton said. “It was pretty hard to come back from because it snowballed on us. They’re really good. It just shows us where we need to be if we’re going to go to the next level. Kids are more energized than they ever have been before. It’s good that they’re not satisfied.”
Trotwood added their fourth touchdown on a five-yard run by Hargrove early in the second quarter. Stephens-Peppers connected on two more touchdown passes in the period, one for 67 yards and the other a 29-yard strike. New Richmond trailed 41-3 at halftime.
The Lions came out strong defensively in the third quarter, as New Richmond held the Rams to just six yards in six minutes of possession aided by a running clock. The Lions scored on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Anderson to Ethan Gundler for their first touchdown of the game. Trotwood’s William McDaniel dove in for a one-yard touchdown run to finish off the scoring.
Anderson finished the game 10 of 18 passing the ball for 84 yards. He also gained 30 yards rushing on 14 carries. T.J. Gelter rushed for over 100 yards for the Lions.
Stratton said the Lions’ made some adjustments throughout the game in an effort to play better on offense, but they never really were able to get things going on that side of the ball.
“We slowed the tempo down, we made some personnel adjustments,” Stratton said. “I really thought we were really close to getting our passing game going all night and it just never clicked.”
Part of the problem the Lions’ had with their passing game was an inability to protect Anderson early on in the game. According to Stratton, the speed of the Rams’ defense forced the sophomore quarterback to adjust his style of play.
“They were fast,” Stratton said. “They had pressure on the quarterback, and I think as the game went on we got pressure on the quarterback. Josh has been able to scramble and run by people all year, and you’re not running by those guys. It was kind of a reality check for him, he had to change what’s been working for 11 weeks, all of the sudden it doesn’t work.”
Anderson’s ability to stay in the pocket, combined with defensive adjustments by the Rams and the Lions’ sudden ability to rush the ball, allowed New Richmond to score their first touchdown of the game in the third quarter.
“We got our running game going a bit for whatever reason,” Stratton said. “They brought less pressure, which enabled us to lock on a bit to their defensive lineman. Their defense isn’t very big, they’re just fast. You only get to block them for a short amount of time.”
The players doing that blocking upfront for the Lions were, for the most part, seniors. The team had 13 seniors on their roster this season, and they have definitely left their mark on the program, according to Stratton.
“They’ve done more for this program than I have, definitely,” Stratton said. “Those guys were a staple. They were in our weight room every day for four years. I think five or six of them started as sophomores. They’ve played a lot of football over the last three years. Three league titles in a row, back-to-back playoff appearances, double-digit wins their senior year.”
The team’s list of seniors consists of wide receiver/defensive back Ethan Gundler, tight ends Gage Kramer, Seth Butler and Dawson Cromwell, running back Jacob Cyrus, kicker Clayton Farmer and several lineman: Chris Nazareth, Chase McDonald, Cory Higgenbotham, Kennith Moore, Peyton Schweikart, P.J. Simmons and Zach Hubbard.
“None of them are guys people were writing newspaper articles about,” Stratton said. “They were linemen, safeties, tight ends. They’re football players. Guys that love the game of football. They were guys behind the scenes that don’t get their name in the paper.”
If any positive thing can come out of the loss, it’s motivation for the next season. While the Lions are not quite allowed back in the weight room as a team yet, several players are still improving through the school’s strength and conditioning classes.
“They’re really excited and motivated,” Stratton said. “We don’t joke around or hide the truth: we believe the reason why we’re good is our weight program. We believe wholeheartedly in our program and our kids do too. We have a couple weight lifting classes during the day and we’ve got guys breaking records every day right now. We had a sophomore offensive lineman yesterday squat 465 pounds.”