The Rhinelander High School football team celebrated its first win of the season last week in Ashland. The Hodags close out the regular season Friday against Mosinee at Mike Webster Stadium. (Submitted photo by Denise Check)
10/17/2013 7:30:00 AM Basking in the glow After Ashland victory, Hodags return home for regular season finale
The RHS football team will not be taking part in this year's WIAA playoffs, but there will still be plenty on the line Friday when the Hodags face Mosinee in the regular season finale at Mike Webster Stadium.
Mosinee (6-2, 3-2 Great Northern) is playoff eligible and all but assured of a spot in the tournament regardless of the outcome Friday, but a win may bolster the Indians' chances of getting a home game in Level 1 of the playoffs.
Rhinelander is playing for pride and looking to give its seniors a proper sendoff on home turf.
"We're looking at it as our playoff game, playing a quality opponent, and see if we can get another one," RHS football coach Jim Moore said.
The mood around practice was markedly different this week after the Hodags defeated Ashland 30-6 in Week 8. After a season of offensive struggles, the Hodags racked up a season-high 365 yards and 30 points against the Oredockers. Connor Johnson was the team's first 200-yard rusher since October 2008 and the team did not punt in the game - the first time that has happened this season.
"Those are real good numbers," Moore said. "I did see the 365, that was great. The offensive line can be proud of blocking for a 200-yard rusher and they can be proud of rushing for 365. Things were working well and we got some linemen to the second level."
Moore said the win has given the team confidence, an intangible that was noticeable in the Ashland win and this week during practice.
"Once you start getting confidence - it's funny, we're not actually faster, but we are moving faster because we have a different feeling in our hearts and an overall feeling that this is more fun," he said.
Unfortunately for the Hodags the injuries continue to mount. Bryce Bilogan (knee) and Mason Shallow (concussion) are expected to miss another week. Cole Oettinger (ankle) remains questionable for a second consecutive week and the team lost lineman Marc Nylund to a concussion during the Ashland win. He is doubtful for Friday's game.
"It's disappointing to the players who cannot play," Moore said. "Bryce is out, Mason's out and Cole's been hobbling with the ankle, but it does give other kids opportunities and gives them a chance to see if they can step up and how they'll figure into the future plans."
In Nylund's case that means more playing time for sophomore lineman Tim Palubicki, who Moore said filled in admirably when pressed into duty last week.
"Tim Palubicki came in. He hasn't played much, but he jumped right in and the first play, I called a 58 toss and he had to pull and he pulled around the corner and led the darn thing and threw a nice block," Moore said.
Mosinee will provide a stronger challenge for the Hodags this week. The Indians have the third-best scoring defense in league play (14.2 points per game), but have the best scoring defense if you factor in non-conference games (9.6 points per game).
"Defensively, they run a 4-3 and they're pretty sticky," Moore said. "They've played pretty good defense and we're going to have to be at our best to move the football. But I like the schemes that we've had the last couple weeks, we're playing with some confidence with that win and we're getting comfortable with that I-formation."
Offensively, the Indians run a balanced pro-style attack. Senior quarterback Zach Pyan has been a dual-threat weapon. Through the air, he is completing 55.8 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,261 yards and 17 touchdowns, with six interceptions. On the ground, he's the team's second-leading rusher with 360 yards and four scores.
Chris Tomski (627 yards, 7 TDs) is the team's primary running back. Jeremy Weinberg (26 catches-490 yards-7 TDs), Elliot Sparby (25-317-0) and Zach Bornheimer (12-156-6) are the team's leading receivers.
"Offensively, they're running their pro style with their I-formation. Sometimes they runs twins and run some motion. They usually throw the ball quite a bit," Moore said.
Apart from the Xs and Os, the Hodag seniors will have the added emotion of playing their final game. Moore said the last game is difficult, regardless of a team's record.
"We keep telling them how special it is and how fast it goes and here it is," he said. "You'd think, with a 1-7 season, it would be kind of dragging on, but it does (go fast). The kids have been so positive. We've been saying that all season (but) it will be a tough night for the seniors when that final whistle goes off."
Notes: The Hodags are planning to have some football-related activity after the regular season finale. Under WIAA regulations, teams who do not qualify for the playoffs are allowed to play an "extra" game against another non-qualifying team. Rhinelander is looking to set up a game, but Moore said if no suitable partner is found, the team would likely conduct an intrasquad scrimmage either Oct. 24 or 25.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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