By Craig Marx, Editor
Despite a good showing of fans and supporters for the Antigo Red Robins’ 1976 state championship reunion game this past Saturday, the Robins were unable to keep up with the Merrill Bluejays long enough in a 40-20 loss at Schofield Stadium.
Antigo got on the board first, scoring on a 68-yard reverse by senior running back Will Dixon – less than three minutes into the game, the Robins found themselves up 7-0.
Merrill had a balanced attack all day that the Antigo defense struggled to contain. After a sustained drive lasting over five minutes, Bluejays quarterback Zach Mootz threaded a pass over the top of the Robins safeties for a 35-yard touchdown completion to Ben Tabor. After missing the point after, Antigo still had a 7-6 lead.
The Robins fumbled on their next possession giving the Bluejays the ball at the Antigo 10-yard line. Braeden Dorn converted a later two-yard run for a TD, where another missed PAT gave Merrill just a five-point lead with 1:23 remaining in the opening quarter.
Adam Schmidt added a touchdown rush on a hard run up the middle for 13 yards to begin the second quarter. With Wagner booting the ball well, Antigo went up 14-12 on the visitors. The Robin defense would force a 4th and 3 for Merrill on the next series, but a 25-yard completion from Mootz to Tabor allowed the Bluejays to take over deep into Antigo territory. Dorn would plunge ahead for a three-yard rushing TD, and after making up for lost points with a two-point conversion, gave Merrill a 20-14 lead with 4:05 left in the half.
Antigo marched down the field as the first half came to an end. An interception by Matt Winter, doing his best Russell Wilson impression to scramble from the pocket and avoid the pass rush, would seal the opening 24 minutes of play.
The Bluejays received the kickoff to begin the second half and took the ball downfield to the Robins’ 15-yard line. After a Hunter Hinze fumble, Jericho Kelly fell on the ball to secure the turnover and temporarily deny the Bluejays a pivotal score. Unfortunately, the Robins would only trade miscues as an errant pitch intended for Kelly rushing out of the backfield was recovered by Merrill’s Jared Olhoff.
With 4:07 left in the third quarter and excellent field position to start, Mootz scored on a QB keep up the middle to give Merrill a 26-14 lead over the Robins.
On Antigo’s next drive, the maroon and white machine was able to string together a sustained offensive possession that petered out with an incomplete pass on 4th and 6 intended for Luke Berner inside the Merrill 10-yard line.
The Antigo defense stalled the Bluejays with less than four minutes remaining and forced a punt. After a muffed ball was recovered by Merrill at the Antigo 11-yard line, a quick four-yard rushing TD for Dorn two plays later would give the Bluejays a commanding lead at 33-14 with 2:52 remaining in the game.
Making a quarterback switch, or at least moving Winter out to wide out allowing Wade Farmer to take over behind center, the two connected on the next drive to give Antigo a breath of life. Farmer hit Winter in stride on the far sideline, placing the ball directly in a window where only his fellow junior had a chance to make the catch over the covering defensive back. The pass went for 73 yards and a timely Antigo score with 1:57 left.
New kickoff man Luis Hernandez executed a beautiful onside try that would impress most college kicking scouts. Although having the perfect distance and bounce, Merrill recovered the last-chance kick and drove down the field. Antigo would get the ball back deep in its own territory, only to end the game with a pick-six and a 40-20 defeat.
Statistically, Antigo led Merrill in nearly every category except the numbers that mattered. The Robins strung together 347 yards of total offense (255 rushing and 92 through the air), while the defense allowed 255 yards from the Bluejays (162 on the ground and 93 passing yards).
Will Dixon led the Antigo rushing effort with 154 yards.
Their first conference loss this season, the Robins are now 3-3 overall and 2-1 in the Great Northern Conference. Antigo looks to travel to Lakeland this Friday evening, and also has its sights on the Rhinelander Hodags next week for a joint Bell Game and Homecoming Week spectacular.