EAGLE RIVER - The Rhinelander High School football team held its dress rehearsal for the regular season on Friday and, as with any dress rehearsal, it uncovered some wrinkles that still need to be ironed out as the Hodags change their offensive scheme.
It was virtually a push for the Hodags in their two scrimmage sessions at Northland Pines High School. The Hodags and Eagles each scored a touchdown in their matchup, while Crandon edged Rhinelander 6-0 in the second session.
Rhinelander head coach Chris Ferge was less concerned about who scored than he was with getting a look at his team in full pads against players wearing a different colored jersey.
"Some good, some bad," Ferge said of his takeaways from the scrimmage. "The good thing is that we can look on tape and fix (it). We are going to get stronger. We came out of this thing healthy. We did make some plays. The things that I saw are fixable, so I'm positive about how we're going to come out of this. I'm excited about making those changes and getting prepared for Antigo."
The main message to the team afterward was about finishing plays. Rhinelander outgained its opponents 130-107 but left a few plays on the field.
"These kids have got to be positive and they have to be confident," Ferge said. "They've got to see themselves making these plays before they actually do them. It's a different process for kids who have never thought about it."
"Confidence, it starts with (the individual)," Ferge added. "They've got to be confident making plays. I know they have the athletic ability and now it's time to make it happen."
Each session featured 15 consecutive plays by one team on offense before the other team got the ball for 15 plays.
The Hodags got off to an auspicious start defensively against Northland Pines as senior defensive lineman Brett Klewer came up with interception on a ball that was deflected at the line of scrimmage.
From the 40-yard-line, Pines then followed with a nine-play drive that ended in a 13-yard touchdown pass over the head of defensive back Eric Tracy.
Northland Pines drove back down to the 15 before the Hodags ended the segment with a sack.
After an eight-yard gain by Cole Oettinger on the first play from scrimmage, the Hodag offense struggled for traction until the 10th play of the session against the Eagles. On that play quarterback Brandon Reinthaler rolled left, picked up a key block from Oettinger and chucked the ball downfield to senior Mason Shallow for a 26-yard touchdown connection.
The Hodags moved back down to the 14 before their series of plays came to an end as Nathaniel Sampson could not hold onto a pass inside the 10 after getting hit along the far sideline.
Crandon scored on the ninth play of its possession on a 18-yard pass over Carter Olson. Crandon drove back down to the eight, but was picked off at the goal line by Shallow on its final offensive snap.
The Hodags had first and goal from the 6 following a 23-yard pitch and catch from Reinthaler to Tracy. Cole Oettinger banged it down to the 2, but the Hodags were unable to score on three chances from there.
Ferge said the inability to punch it in from close range should be taken with a grain of salt, given that the team has not installed its goal line package yet.
"That would have been something (where) I would have had a different package in," he said. "The spread isn't the greatest offense when you're on the 1-yard line. When we had the offsides, I was actually hoping they would move the ball back five yards, I wanted the extra five yards to run some more. A couple pass plays we had down there (we were in) the wrong formation. Kids didn't line up in the right formation. We will get better. We have a different package for goal line. I'm not too worried about it."
Downs were not officially kept during the scrimmage. Had they been, all three scoring drives would have ended on downs before the touchdowns were scored. However, after the failed attempt at fourth and goal, Rhinelander elected to bring the ball back to the 40. Passes to Luke Roberts and Shallow got the Hodags down to the 19 for a final crack at the end zone, but Reinthaler underthrew Roberts at the goal line.
Reinthaler finished 9 of 16 in the scrimmage for 123 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. Flankers Shallow and Tracy each finished with three receptions. Shallow finished with 46 yards and a score. Tracy had 41 yards. Roberts added two catches for 33 yards. Oettinger finished with 16 yards on six carries and added a reception for three yards.
The Hodags had three pass plays of 20 yards or more during the scrimmage. "But we wanted more," Ferge said of the big plays. "We've got to have more. A lot of it too was my play calling. If I'm calling everything deep, I'm not giving my quarterback enough confidence, or my receivers enough confidence. I've got to call more things underneath. We've got to run the ball, we've got to run the ball well. We've got to stick to our blocks and there's a lot of growth, a lot of things we can do in this offense."
Pass defense has been a point of emphasis for the team entering this season. Opposing quarterbacks were 8 of 12 for 70 yards with two touchdowns and two picks against the Hodag defense.
Ferge said the turnovers were a positive and he was not overly alarmed by the team surrendering a pair of touchdown passes.
"We were playing a lot of people a lot of different positions, so I'm not really worried about it," he said. "We wanted a lot of kids on defense to get reps and it's not always our No. 1s out there. This is a scrimmage, so I'm not to worried about it.
"We've been working on turnover stations a lot in practice and we're going to see that come through. That is going to show through. We're going to see that in our games. We will be up on turnovers."
Now the attention shifts to Antigo next Friday night. It will be a non-conference matchup between the two longtime Great Northern Conference rivals.
Ferge said the team will be able to learn plenty from the scrimmage in preparation for the Week 1 matchup at Mike Webster Stadium.
"Fixing mistakes with our offense," Ferge said of what the team will work on in practice this week. "We do pretty much have everything in. We do have to get better blocking, tackling. We've haven't had one week were we could actually (tackle). Tackling's really raw right now. We've got to get better with our tackling."
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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