The Rhinelander High School football team cashed in on a Great Northern Conference win at Ashland on Friday and are now playoff bound, marking only the third time in RHS history. The Hodags got touchdowns from senior Drake Martin and junior Walker Hartman and their defense fended off a late Oredocker comeback at Weikal Field. It was also the first time RHS made it the WIAA playoffs since 2012.
Rhinelander's defense started strong and Hartman forced an Ashland fumble and recovered the ball at 4:22 in the first quarter. The Hodags moved the ball down the field on a 24-yard screen pass from junior quarterback Quinn Lamers to Martin. And than on a 3rd and 11, Hartman broke out with a 44-yard run to set up RHS's first score of the night. Martin capped off the drive with a one-yard score and also added the two-point conversion to give Rhinelander an 8-0 lead.
The Hodags had trouble stopping the Oredocker's run game after the first, and that was especially evident in the second quarter. Ashland was able to keep Rhinelander off the board and maintained offensive possession a majority of the second. Facing a 3rd and 29, junior quarterback Jackson Bonneville completed a pass to junior receiver Alec Lindenberg to get to the one-yard line. Senior running back Issak Livingston scored on the one-yard run with 15 seconds left in the first half. Ashland was unable to complete the two-point conversion and RHS would take an 8-6 lead at halftime.
On the first drive of the second half, the Hodags forced Ashland to a three and out. Bonneville botched a punt to give RHS the ball on Ashland's 33-yard line. Rhinelander took advantage of the field position and Hartman scored on a 19-yard counter at 6:03. Martin scored the two-point conversion to push Rhinelander ahead by 10 midway through the third.
The Hodags defense would force two more Oredocker punts on their next two possessions but their offense was unable to tack onto their 16-6 lead. Early in the fourth junior Ben Sinclair had a sack to push Ashland to a third and 30. Rhinelander got the ball back but after facing a third and 30, Lamers had an incomplete pass forcing RHS to punt. Martin's punt was blocked and Ashland got the ball on the Hodag's 30 with 3:10 left in the contest.
The Oredockers took advantage and Bonnewille found senior Willy Bearskin on a 19-yard pass to the corner of the end zone on a fourth and 10. The two-point conversion was unsuccessful and Ashland pulled within four at 16-12.
Ashland attempted an onside kick and sophomore Caleb Olcikas covered it up near midfield. From there, the Hodags were able to run the clock out and would hold on to win 16-12 and secured their spot in the playoffs.
Rhinelander was outgained 223-193 in total yards on the night but had a 155-141 edge on rushing yards. Ashland passed for 82 yards while RHS was held to 38 passing yards. Rhinelander converted 3-7 third downs while the Oredockers converted 9-18 on the night. Livingston led Ashland with 81 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries while Bonneville was 7-13 passing for 82 yards.
Lamers finished with a 42.9% completion rate for 38 yards. Despite tweaking his ankle in the first-quarter, Martin finished the night with 73 yards on 22 carries. Hartman had four carries for 64-yards on the night and also added 7.5 tackles on defense and a forced fumble. Sinclair charted 4.5 tackles and a sack and junior Jacques Tulowitzky chipped in four tackles.
Rhinelander finished the regular season 6-3 overall and 3-3 in the GNC standings. The Hodags received No. 6 seed in the WIAA Division 3 playoffs and will travel to River Falls on Friday, October 25th to face the Falcons and No. 3 seed. The game is set to start at 7:00PM at UW- River Falls.