BILLINGS – After years of being a bubble team of sorts, Richey-Lambert feels like it is finally breaking through.
Richey-Lambert earned a big win over 6-Man East rival Westby-Grenora last Friday 52-45. The win ended the Thunder’s 16-game winning streak and catapulted the Fusion to the No. 1 spot in this week’s 406mtsports.com high school football rankings.
“It was a great game,” Fusion coach Shawn Lien said. “I guess I was just very happy with the way our kids responded. When they came back and put us down, it could have been one of those deals where the kids were just like, ‘You know, we never beat them and they don’t get beat.’ They could’ve just thrown in the towel and the way our kids came out and played in that second half, it was impressive.”
Westby-Grenora led 21-16 at halftime but a 30-6 advantage in the third quarter gave Richey-Lambert the edge. Lien said the key to the game was just keeping the ball out of Westby-Grenora’s hands.
Richey-Lambert is now 4-0 and is averaging about 67 points per game. And in a rugged division where they have come up short to teams like Westby-Grenora and Savage in recent years, as well as Wibaux since the Longhorns dropped down from 8-Man last year, Richey-Lambert appears to have taken that next step as a true contender in the 6-Man ranks.
Though, the progression has been there. Last year Richey-Lambert lost to Wibaux in the final seconds, and also held Westby-Grenora scoreless in the second half.
“I felt we were kind of getting that way last year and were making that step,” Lien said.
Now, the Fusion have gotten over that hump.
The Fusion sport 13 players on the roster including five seniors. Seth Prevost has been the team’s standout thus far, scoring the majority of the team’s touchdowns while leading the team in tackles. Senior Bryce Reitz has been a two-way star with senior Tyler Thiessen playing well on the defensive side of the ball and senior Garrett Cayer contributing significantly on offense, including some clutch catches against the Thunder, according to Lien. Junior receiver Blake Lien has been another weapon on offense, while junior quarterback Gabe Gonsioroski has been spreading the ball around to a number of players and keeping defenses on their toes.
All of those weapons have allowed Richey-Lambert to evolve into a more modern-style offense that airs it out more.
“It allows us to use a lot of our speed. We spread people out and take advantage of our speed,” Lien said. “We got really deep with a lot of guys who are really good route-runners and catching the football. It allows us to do some different things. We’re usually a power football team but now with this speed, it allows us to do a lot of things that I think make our kids a lot better. The kids have really rallied around this offense.
“If we can get rolling, I think we’re hard to stop.”
Lien is in his 10th year coaching the co-op and 15th overall as a head coach. He knows, despite the Fusion’s hot start, there is plenty of work to be done if they want to show how far this group has come, adding that defensively the Fusion need to clean some things up. Richey-Lambert hits the road to No. 6 Geraldine-Highwood this week and will end its season taking on Wibaux, which is currently ranked No. 2 in 6-Man.
But there is one key element this year’s squad has, something Lien said had not been there in recent years, which gives him confidence in what his players can accomplish.
“Just the continuity in these guys,” Lien said. “It happened so much quicker for us this year. Especially coming in and putting in a whole new offense, doing everything completely different defensively. Just how fast they picked this stuff up and ran with it has been amazing to see and how comfortable they are with this new offense.
“These kids have got each other’s back all the time on the field. Just kind of one of those camaraderie type deals. It’s been really neat to see. They’re rolling with it this year.”