BY CRAIG MARX
ANTIGO TIMES EDITOR
Owning up to a number of festive occasions – the titular game of Homecoming Week, Senior Night and most importantly the Gene Shepard Bell Trophy Game – the Antigo Red Robins made sure the bell itself would remain maroon for another year with a 25-6 win over the Rhinelander Hodags at Schofield Stadium on Friday evening.
The Robins overcame a slow start in the crisp, autumn air to put together an impressive defensive effort in the second half. Antigo struggled with snaps, losing three fumbles to Rhinelander on bad exchanges. The Robins closed the window on the Hodags after taking a 19-6 lead in the fourth quarter, picking off Rhinelander on three consecutive possessions to secure a win.
The Hodags managed to score first in the second quarter as the strong-legged Gunnar Millot hit a 23-yard field goal with 8:20 remaining in the first half. After a strong kickoff return to the Antigo 44-yard line, junior running back Jack Shinners gave Antigo its first lead of the night on a 10-yard rush with 5:24 left in the second.
With the Robins leading 7-3, Millot booted a 30-yard field goal with just seconds remaining in the first half to cut the Antigo lead to one point.
Rhinelander received the kickoff to begin the second half but went three-and-out on its first possession. Antigo fumbled its second snap of the evening to give the Hodags a great opportunity at midfield, but a stalled drive ended on fourth down with two yards to go when Cole Spaulding was wrapped up for a three-yard loss on an option toss.
Antigo punched in a three-yard rushing touchdown from CJ Levis with 4:14 left in the third quarter, giving the Robins a 13-6 lead following a missed point-after attempt. The Robins looked to be in business after the Hodags threw their first pick of the evening on their next drive, but a subsequent fumble by Adam Schmidt on the very next play negated what could have been a coffin nail in Rhinelander territory.
The Robins forced a turnover on downs at the Antigo 33-yard line to begin the fourth quarter. Marching 67-yards on tough runs by Schmidt and Will Dixon, Antigo ate up precious time on the clock before scoring on a Schmidt four-yard plunge for a score with 6:23 remaining in the game. As Rhinelander tried to score quickly with its passing attack, Robin safety Matt Winter picked off the Hodags’ junior quarterback Logan Freund and took the ball in from 34 yards out for a game-sealing pick-six.
Leading by what would eventually be the final, 25-6, Freund would later be picked off by Antigo defensive backs Frank Kneeland and Deakin Czerneski on consecutive drives to give the Robins the victory and retention of the Bell Trophy for another year in the trophy case.
Will Dixon led all rushers with 121 yards on 17 carries while his teammate Schmidt provided 91 rushing yards on 18 carries. Between six different ball carriers, the Robins totaled 316 yards on the ground. Once again, the Antigo passing attack was virtually non-existent as Winter and substitute quarterback Wade Farmer combined for a 2-for-6 evening with 14 total yards through the air.
Freund finished 16 of 31 with 152 yards passing. Between Freund, Spaulding, and Anthony Kowalski, Rhinelander managed just 48 yards on the ground against Antigo.
Antigo improved to 5-3 overall and 4-1 in the Great Northern Conference. The Robins will travel to Medford to face the Raiders this coming Friday for the last regular season game of the year. The Hodags, who dropped to 2-6 overall and 0-5 in the GNC, close out the season at home this coming Friday against Ashland.
Antigo 25, Hodags 6
Hodags 0 6 0 0 – 6
Antigo 0 7 6 12 – 25