In this Aug. 24, 2018 file photo, Rhinelander’s Drake Martin is tackled during a non-conference football game against the Tomahawk Hatchets at Mike Webster Stadium. Coming off a season-opening 21-0 win at Prescott last Friday, the Hodags are looking to turn the tables against Tomahawk. Rhinelander has lost the last three meetings in the non-conference series and has not defeated the Hatchets since 2010. (Photos by Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
In this Aug. 23, 2019 file photo, Rhinelander’s Ben Sinclair sacks Prescott’s Kyle Holman during a non-conference football game at Laney Field in Prescott. The Hodags held Prescott to 116 yards of offense in a shutout performance last week. Tonight Rhinelander faces a Tomahawk team that was shutout and held to 86 yards in a Week 1 loss at Greenwood.
8/29/2019 7:30:00 AM Avoiding a bogey RHS looks to turn the tide following recent struggles in series against Tomahawk
The Rhinelander High School football team came out of the gates strong this past Friday, blanking Prescott 21-0 in the regular season opener. But the RHS football team also put up an impressive victory against Prescott last season and then failed to win another game the rest of the year.
The Hodags look to change that trend tonight against a team that has been a thorn in its side the last couple of years, the Tomahawk Hatchets, as the Great Northern Conference rivals in every sport except football renew acquaintances at Hatchet Field.
"It all came together last week, but now we've got to focus on the opponent ahead of us and stay hungry," coach Aaron Kraemer said prior to Monday's practice.
Tomahawk's enrollment is less than half the size of Rhinelander - 376 to compared to the Hodags' 772 -but the Hatchets have prevailed in the two games since this rivalry renewed in 2017, a 30-14 win in 2017 and a 14-7 triumph last year. Prior to that, Tomahawk blew out the Hodags 48-0 in an extra 10th game at the end of the 2013 regular season - which turned out to be Jim Moore's last as Rhinelander head coach.
"In recent history, they have been sort of a bogey team for us, a team we can't get by," Kraemer said. "That's the mentality this week. We need to respect our opponent, no matter who they are and we need to make sure we can gain a little respect from them too through this rivalry."
Rhinelander's last win over the Hatchets was a 21-20 win on homecoming night back in 2010.
Tomahawk has been tested in recent years playing in the Marawood Conference that includes perennial small school powerhouses Edgar and Stratford, with the team making the playoffs in that league back in 2015. The Hatchets are bound for the reconfigured Marinette & Oconto/Northern Lakes/Packerland Conference under a state-wide realignment plan in 2020.
The Hatchets, under first-year coach Sam Hernandez who takes over for longtime head man John Larson, are a small outfit this year - with only 22 players on their varsity roster according to WisSports.net. Tomahawk lost to Division 7 Greenwood 38-0 last Friday night and was held to 86 yards of total offense. Here are some storylines to watch ahead of Thursday night's game at Hatchet Field.
Proximity breeds contempt
While this game has no meaning in the conference standings, the Hodags would love to prove something against a team they are quite familiar with. In addition to playing Tomahawk in virtually every other GNC sports, Tomahawk is a member of the same 7-on-7 passing league as Rhinelander during the summer.
All of this makes for a natural rivalry game, regardless of conference affiliation.
"It's all about proximity, being 15 minutes down the road and having an opponent that's so close to us," Kraemer said before later adding, "This rivalry means a lot to us and we want to get back to our winning ways with Tomahawk. That's what we're going to preach this week."
For the second year in a row, the Hodags are playing on a Thursday ahead of the Labor Day holiday. Last year's result was a 13-12 loss at Wausau East.
Kraemer said this week has been about trying to stick as close to the normal routine as possible, despite having one less day to prepare. He gave the team the day off on Sunday following Friday's win and the team returned to the field Monday in preparation for the contest.
"What I want to focus on is making sure our kids are 100 percent healthy and that, mentally, they're prepared to play a football game," he said. "We're going to go through the scenarios that we feel are the most important against Tomahawk. This is a shortened week. We could have brought them in Sunday. We could have had a hard practice (Monday) without the JVs, we could have done several different things, but I truly believe less is more for these kids - not in the aspects of Xs and Os and learning but, in terms of field time, we need to know our essential drills an what's important."
Getting some rest
Helping the Hodags on this short week could be the fact that the team limited the snap count on a number of players last week. Drake Martin finished with 101 yards on an efficient 19 carries. He didn't play on offense at all in the fourth quarter with the Hodags ahead three scores. Peyton Erikson and Walker Hartman also rested on offense, allowing some other running backs to carry the load.
Ultimately, the Hodags had some difficulty finishing drives in the second half with a number of underclassmen in the mix offensively. Rhinelander's final three drives all resulted in turnovers on downs in Prescott territory, but Kraemer said there's a benefit in resting guys, hoping that a short-term sacrifice turns into a long-term gain.
"Those guys are going to tell you they want the ball in their hands and I'm going to tell you, straight up, they got to trust me," he said. "I think late in the season, it's going to pay dividends. Their legs are going to be fresh. They're going to be ready against some of the teams we're absolutely going to need them against in our conference.
"We did something even more beneficial than scoring and that was getting a lot of players in the game and allowing them to have a great experience."
Just wing it
A Hodag defense which held Prescott to 116 yards of total offense will look to have similar success against a Tomahawk team that struggled to move the ball a week ago. It may help playing against an offense that wants to do similar things to what Prescott did last week.
While the Hatchets won't run as much out of pistol, their base offense is the Wing-T, just like Prescott.
"Which is good on a short week, that we'll see something very similar and our defense can get in and play the way they played against Prescott," he said. "I think Prescott had very good athletes, but I also think Tomahawk executes better than Prescott does. When you watch the film they are technically sound in the things that they run and it's obvious that they've run this offense for a very long time. I expect them to be good at the small things."
Tomahawk graduated Wyatt Wenninger and Max Bembinster, who did the most damage on the ground against the Hodags a year ago. Senior Cody Scholz is the team's top returning rusher, with 224 yards and two scores on the ground a year ago. One of those touchdowns came in the Week 2 contest against the Hodags.
Cody Jablonski was a spark plug when used in the run game last year, amassing 215 yards and three touchdowns on only 13 carries. He's been moved to quarterback this season. He had 28 yards on the ground in the loss to Greenwood and was 1 of 5 through the air with an interception.
Wingback Anthony Ierulli and fullback Longa Bishop also figured into Tomahawk's ground game last week.
Putting up a front
Tomahawk contained Rhinelander ground game last year, holding Martin to 49 yards on 18 carries - his lowest output of the season. Tomahawk used a five-man defensive front to put the breaks on Martin last year and Kraemer said the team is preparing for a 5-3 look from the Hatchets as well as the 4-2-5 look it showed last week at Greenwood.
"If my memory serves me correctly, it was about 60 or 70 percent of plays last year they played us in five down linemen. Our offense was a little bit different, obviously, and that might cause a little different dynamic to that scene," he said. "We know what they're capable of, but we certainly think we can challenge the five down lineman front. And if they play us in a four down lineman front, I like our matchups there, too."
Tomahawk has an active defense with a line that likes to stunt. Eight different players recorded at least five tackles in last week's game.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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