Robins-Hodags go head to head Friday for Bell rights|
It’s all or nothing for Rhinelander Friday as the Hodags would love to ruin the Red Robins’ season by posting an upset victory in the 79th annual Bell Game at Mike Webster Stadium, thus squashing any chances for an Antigo playoff berth.
In fact, this game could be viewed as their own “Super Bowl” so to speak. Maintaining a perfect record of 0-6, the Hodags would like nothing better than to take control of the Gene Shepard Bell, something they have not seen in their facility since 2006.
After last week’s loss, Rhinelander coach Jim Moore disputed the notion that a Bell Game victory alone would make the 2013 season a success. But he said, at this point, any victory is a needed one for the program.
“I’m really proud of the past Bell games we have won, but we'd like to win some more than those upsets and those come-from-behind deals and ones that we're not supposed to win. We'd like to have a winning record and win the Bell too, but at this stage of the game, winning would feel real good," Moore said.
The Hodag offense is led by new starting quarterback sophomore Brandon Reinthaler, who completed 7 of 18 passes for 62 yards against Medford Friday.
Conner Johnson is Rhinelader’s leading rusher with 316 yards on the season. Ryan Nehls, a wide receiver, who has big play capabilities, had a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown versus Merrill and a 65-yard TD reception against Kingford, Mich. In the backfield, Nehls went 58-yards for a touchdown against Wittenberg-Birnamwood.
Its defense is led by linebacker Adam Woebbeking and nose tackle Johnson, while corners Austyn Zarda and Mason Shallow are second and third in tackles on the team.
While Rhinelander’s coach would love to be battling for a playoff spot, the Bell Game is traditionally its biggest game of the season.
"It's just a great traditional game. The Bell goes with it. Whoever wins it, gets to ring it at the end of the game. It's homecoming week, which is a little extra," Morre said. "You don't really need to get too fancy or emotional with your talks because every year they talk about the Antigo Red Robin-Rhinelander Hodag game. Here it is."
The Hodags will enter Friday's game without two key two-way starters. Offensive tackle/defensive tackle Bryce Bilogan (knee) and halfback/linebacker Cole Oettinger (ankle) have both been ruled out for the contest.
The Hodags will get three starters back Friday as Mason Shallow (concussion), Eric Tracy (suspension) and Chris Connors (ankle) return to action. The addition of Shallow and Tracy should help a Hodag secondary that allowed 164 passing yards and three touchdowns on only seven pass attempts last week at Medford.
“Having played in a Bell Game my senior year was huge,” Antigo head coach Matt Weberpal said. “We were in a must-win situation in order to make the playoffs, just like this year. As a player, it’s always fun to have that opportunity to ring the Bell on the bus on the ride back.”
Antigo enjoyed more success on offense last week versus Lakeland with Jake Maly carrying for 152 yards. Quarterback Matt Wolter enjoyed rushing for 114 yards in 11 attempts, while adding 185 yards though the air.
Tight end Josh Hale was on the receiving end of Wolter’s 81-yard pass and another 40-yard pass. However, the offense could be without fullback Jake Zabrowski (ankle). Senior Randy Krebs is looking to fill that position.
Antigo’s defense will need to do a better job of stopping the run and it’s been lacking a bit in previous games. The Robins enter the game with the fourth-rated defense in the GNC, allowing 300 yards per game.
“We have told the guys that records do not matter when Friday night comes. Rhinelander will be ready to play. They are a very physical looking team and we need to be ready to play a team like that,” Weberpal said.
Antigo leads the all-time series with a 49-27-2 record against the Hodags. Interesting facts about the Bell Game, Rhinelander won 10 straight games, from 1943 to 1952, while Antigo was 23-2 during its Gordon Schofield era.
The Gene Shepard Bell game will kick-off at 7 p.m.
—Jeremy Mayo, sports editor at Northwoods River News, contributed to the story.
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