By Craig Marx, Editor
Opening the season with the Two Rivers Purple Raiders this Friday, Antigo football looks to continue on a bright new path led by second-year head coach Tom Schofield and his staff.
Taking the reins last season, Schofield and his men took a Red Robins team that finished 4-6 in 2014 and turned the program into a co-Great Northern Conference champion with a 7-3 record overall and 5-1 in regular season conference play. Antigo shared the championship with Medford after a heartfelt loss to those very Raiders in the final game of the regular season conceded sole ownership of the GNC title.
Schofield was named the conference’s coach of the year while senior Max Nowinsky received co-offensive player of the year awards in the GNC. Including honorable mentions, ten different Antigo players from the 2015 season received recognition by voters for their play in conference. Let’s look back at that team and their accomplishments this past season.
Led by senior quarterback Alex Nagel and Nowinsky, the Antigo offense was revamped under Schofield into a new wing-T formation. After two blowout wins in non-conference play in which the Robins defeated Two Rivers 40-12 and Oconto 35-10, the new-look offense and stout defense looked poised going into Week 3.
In what has been a home-and-away series with Menominee (Mich.) for over five seasons, the Robins entered the Week 3 matchup against a solid Maroons team that had clobbered Antigo 56-0 the year prior. Facing one of the Upper Peninsula’s more dominant programs in recent years in the Maroons, Antigo engaged in a dogfight that saw the Robins leading 21-20 at halftime. Once Menominee gained the upper hand in the second half, Antigo saw itself on the wrong end of a hard-fought 42-28 loss.
The Robins came off the Menominee loss ready for GNC play to begin. Antigo began a five-game conference win streak in Week 4 with a 46-0 dissection of the Ashland Oredockers. The Robins defense pulled down two takeaways, including a pick-six for then-senior Elijah Wickersheim, while the Antigo ground game saw Nowinsky rush for 112 yards and three touchdowns.
Antigo continued its conference dominance with a 34-30 win against Mosinee the week later, a team they had not defeated since 2010 up to that point.
In what could be described as the “Game of the Year,” the Robins traveled westward on Highway 64 in Week 6 to take on the Merrill Bluejays for a rare, Saturday afternoon matchup. As Coach Schofield returned to his high school alma mater, his new flock of Robins held the Bluejays scoreless while giving up just 178 total yards of offense in a 14-0 victory. Nowinsky led the team to victory behind 185 yards and a pair of TDs.
The Robins found themselves in injury trouble by the end of Week 7, where Antigo defeated Lakeland 42-34. With starting quarterback Alex Nagel suffering a season-ending broken ankle and backup QB Matt Winter out with a chest injury, sophomore Wade Farmer took their place under center for Week 8’s Bell Trophy Game in Rhinelander. Pulling together a 20-14 win over the Hodags, the injury-stricken Robins virtually limped into the final week of the regular season.
With a chance to secure the GNC title against Medford at Schofield Stadium on the line, the Robins eventually lost to the Raiders 27-21 in what would result in a bittersweet share of the conference championship. Fielding a banged-up squad at the end of the year, the Robins lost in the WIAA Level 1 Playoffs to a familiar foe in quarterback Landon Stepan and his Mosinee Indians 21-0 at home.
Despite promising recruiting numbers during the two sign-ups days held this summer, the varsity team looks to field 34 players this season, a number still larger than last year. The roster includes 12 seniors.
Matt Winter will make the start at quarterback for the Robins after competing with fellow junior Wade Farmer for the position. Both quarterbacks had starting opportunities last season as underclassmen, with Farmer stepping up despite being No. 3 on the depth chart due to Winter’s lung injury suffered in the Merrill win.
“Winter will be getting the start, but it was such a tough competition,” Coach Schofield said about his QB position battle. “Both are fundamentally sound players, and Farmer is such a good runner.”
The Robins backfield will be complimented by returning running Will Dixon, a former fullback who has since slimmed down to play the halfback position. Dixon was utilized as the No. 2 back last season behind the savage Nowinsky. Adam Schmidt will step into the fullback role for Antigo while Jericho Kelly, a breakout junior varsity player in 2015, will assume the secondary halfback position.
Last year, Coach Schofield and his staff implemented their wing-T offense to the Robins’ playbook, a system that has come a long ways since being completely new last fall.
“The scheme is coming along,” Schofield said. “We have a lot of players playing new positions this year – guys that are good athletes playing in the positions that are best for the team. It leaves room for a lot of learning. We’ve seen some bumps along the way but we try to find the positions that complement our scheme more.”
The Robins open the season this Friday at Two Rivers, a team they defeated 40-12 at home in 2015. Facing familiar non-conference foes by hosting Oconto and then traveling to Menominee, Antigo’s GNC schedule begins Sept. 9 against Ashland at Schofield Stadium. The 1976 state championship team will be recognized at the home game against Merrill on Sat. Sept. 24 (1 p.m.), while other noteworthy matchups include at Mosinee on Sept. 16, hosting the Bell Game on Oct. 7, and traveling to Medford to round out the regular season on Oct. 14.
Football is back in Antigo. Check our preview of the upcoming Two Rivers game on the Antigo Times website, to be released later today.
“I’m just excited for the year – excited for football to be back. It’s always exciting to be around and face the new challenges that come with the season, not just as coaches but watching these kids develop. We love to see the kids have these great experiences and every year we just get more excited to start the season,” Schofield added.
2016 Antigo Red Robins Regular Season Schedule
- Fri, Aug. 19 – at Two Rivers – 7 p.m.
- Fri. Aug 26 – vs. Oconto – 7 p.m
- Fri. Sep. 2 – at Menominee (Mich.) – 7 p.m.
- Fri. Sep. 9 – vs. Ashland – 7 p.m.
- Fri. Sep. 16 – at Mosinee – 7 p.m.
- Sat. Sep. 24 – vs. Merrill – 1 p.m.
- Fri. Sep. 30 – at Lakeland – 7 p.m.
- Fri. Oct. 7 – vs. Rhinelander – 7 p.m.
- Fri. Oct. 14 – at Medford – 7 p.m.