The moment has finally arrived, the RHS football team brought the Gene Shepard Bell back after a long streak that dated back to 2006. In the 85th annual Bell Game, the Hodags would bounce back after a tough loss at Medford to outlast the Robins 20-10 on Friday night at Mike Webster Stadium."Winning the Bell is a huge step in the right direction for our program,"
stated Coach Aaron Kraemer. "And one of the goals that we can check off our list, that we created at the beginning of the season. The rivalry between Antigo and Rhinelander is a historic one, and to be able to come out with a victory and have the bell here in our town is amazing. Our players have done their jobs in preparing and competed amazingly. I am proud that they are able to have this memory with each other."
Senior Drake Martin rushed for a pair of touchdowns and sophomore Caleb Olcikas also added a touchdown on a long kick return which was enough to snap the 12-game losing streak against Antigo. The two rival teams have traded between the Bell since 1935. The last time Rhinelander won was in 2006 when they edged the Robins 22-18. RHS advanced to 5-1 overall this season and will only need one more win to be playoff eligible.
"During the Medford game I was proud of the way we responded after halftime,"
said Kraemer. "That response set us in the right direction this week. We had an excellent week of high intensity practice and the players used their experience as fuel to take the next positive step. It is a testament to their belief in the process, in their coaches, in their teammates, and of themselves."
Rhinelander lost the toss to start the game and Antigo received. It did not take long before the Hodags got the ball and marched down the field. Junior quarterback Quinn Lamers found junior Jackson Labs on an 11-yard pass and junior Walker Hartman followed with a 42-yard run to get the Hodags in the red zone. Martin capitalized on a 13-yard run and also added the extra point to put RHS on the board at 7-0 with 2:45 left in the first.
The Hodags defense was able to stop Antigo the following possession and the Robins connected on a 25-yard field goal by Santiago Ossa at 7:20 in the second quarter with RHS ahead 7-3. But that momentum of Antigo was short-lived as Olcikas brought back the kick-off for an 85-yard touchdown just 16 seconds later for the Hodags' second touchdown. Martin made the extra point and RHS would take a 14-3 advantage at halftime.
Rhinelander's defense made a pair of big plays in the second half including a fumble recovery and an interception in just over a three-minute span. First Antigo was facing a 4th- and-7 and Martin came up with strip to force the fumble and the Hodags recovered it on the 30. Senior Peyton Erikson followed with a nine-yard run followed by a six and eight yard run from Martin to get the Hodags to the 47. The next play Martin broke a tackle and scored on the 47-yard run. After the extra point was blocked, Rhinelander went up 20-3.
Just over three minutes later Jacques Tulowitzky intercepted Nevin Cornelius on the 36-yard line The Hodags were forced to punt shortly after, giving Antigo the ball on the 2-yard line. Antigo scored with 1:27 left but was not enough to keep them within striking distance. The Robins attempted an onside kick but Martin recovered on the 49 and the Hodags went on to win 20-10 and took back the Bell and snapped Antigo's 12-game streak in the annual rivalry game.
Lamers completed 50% of his passes on the night for 17-yards. But a majority of the Hodags' 237 offensive yards came on the ground. RHS rushed for 220 yards while held Antigo to 113 rushing yards. Cornelius finished with 148 passing yards but the Robins had two costly turnovers in the second half. Alec Hotchkiss led the Robins with 109 yards on eight catches and had their only touchdown late in the game.
Martin led the offense with 143 rushing yards on 22 carries with two touchdowns. He also surpassed 3,000 career rushing yards in Friday's contest. On defense Martin also added 4.5 tackles as well as one sack and forced a fumble. Ben Sinclair led the team in tackles with 5.5 and also had a sack. Tulowitzky chipped in 1.5 tackles on top of his interception.
The Hodags advanced to 5-1 overall and are now 2-1 in the Great Northern Conference standings. Rhinelander is one win away from becoming playoff eligible and are looking to make that happen Friday night at Mosinee. On Tueday October, 1st there will be a pep assembly at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium for the painting of the Bell. Students are dismissed at 2:55 for the event and the community is welcomed to join.