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Raiders hope to continue hot start in Region 5

RICHARDTON -- The Richardton-Taylor-Hebron football team is arguably through the most difficult portion of its schedule, but that doesn't mean the Raiders have any intention of slowing down.

Richardton-Taylor-Hebron senior defensive end Gabe Vaagen chases after Linton-HMB quarterback Cole Baumiller during a game Aug. 19 in Richardton. (Parker Cotton / The Dickinson Press)
Richardton-Taylor-Hebron senior defensive end Gabe Vaagen chases after Linton-HMB quarterback Cole Baumiller during a game Aug. 19 in Richardton. (Parker Cotton / The Dickinson Press)

RICHARDTON - The Richardton-Taylor-Hebron football team is arguably through the most difficult portion of its schedule, but that doesn't mean the Raiders have any intention of slowing down.

The Raiders won their season-opener against Linton-HMB and already have wins against Region 5 opponents Hettinger-Scranton and Mott-Regent. The only mark against them is a 54-30 loss to New Salem-Glen Ullin from Sept. 2.

Head coach Travis Olson said the team had a poor week of practice before facing the Holsteins but regrouped in time to top the Wildfire last Friday in Richardton.

"I'm not sure we went into that (NSGU) game with the right mental state," Olson said. "We did play well - we were ahead in the third quarter - but they're a physical football team, and it's going to wear you out. New Salem's a come-and-get-you team. We just had a couple things go bad that we couldn't overcome."

RTH continues Region 5 play on Friday with a 6 p.m. game at Bowman County (2-2, 1-1 Region 5).

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Against Mott-Regent, the Raiders held a 22-8 halftime lead and won 30-22, holding off the Wildfire's potent offense in the fourth quarter.

"I could tell we were pretty focused," senior defensive back Ethan Kuntz said. "We wanted that win."

To rebound from that early loss speaks to the team's chemistry, senior defensive lineman Beau Frederick said.

"From last year, most of our offense is all the same. We picked right up where we left off," he said. "It's just kind of blowing the dust off an old book. We're a tight group of guys and know each other well."

All told, RTH currently has a 3-1 overall record and the Raiders are 2-1 against the three other teams from Region 5 that made the 9-man playoffs last year. That alone gives Olson reason for optimism.

"Matthew (Naumann) is running hard, all our backs are running hard, but that offensive line is really pretty decent up there," Olson said. "They've been together a long time, and they believe they can succeed if they get after it.

"I think our defensive coaches are getting kids in the right places to make some plays. We're banged up now, but they're being put in the right places."

On the other side of that coin, the Raiders understand they cannot start slacking off now. After Bowman County, RTH still has region games left against Beach and Grant County-Flasher, as well as a non-region game at Drake-Anamoose.

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"We're still working on a lot," Olson said. "We watched film (Monday), and we're still far from perfect. Maybe pretty far from being really good. ... These teams are good football teams. These aren't just teams that you show up on Friday and beat. But we have to be critical on doing the little things right."

Sometimes that's as simple as doing what Kuntz calls "knowing your position."

"Coach always says, 'Build your own fence before you help others. Do your job before you help anyone else,'" Kuntz said.

Other times it's a matter of being in control on defense.

"We tell the kids, 'If you make a mistake, make it at 100 miles per hour,'" Olson said. "Then we just have to get them to stop making mistakes but still going 100 miles per hour. (Assistant coaches) Landon Olson and Sean Alder are doing a good job of getting them in the right place and in control."

Maybe most importantly, doing the little things right involves not losing focus again.

"We can't fall asleep. One game you fall asleep, and you're not in the playoffs," Olson said. "There's a lot of good football teams in this region."

Kuntz added: "We just got to be focused and have hard, crisp practices. We can't slack off at all. ... You have to take everything seriously. Everything needs to be a win."

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Olson reaches century mark

The Raiders' win over Hettinger-Scranton on Aug. 26 was the 100th for Olson in his career at Richardton-Taylor-Hebron, which dates back to the fall of 1999.

"That comes from a heck of a lot more than one coach," he said. "It comes from a lot of kids and a lot of support. (Assistant) John McNeilly's been with me for all those wins except for one season."

It was a special moment for Olson, certainly, but it was just as meaningful for his players.

"We felt that it was our duty to win that one for him," Frederick said. "Everyone just kept mentioning it throughout the game: 'Stay focused for that.'"

Kuntz added: "Coach O is everything to all of us. He's one of the best coaches in North Dakota history. He can get you pumped up in a hurry or bring a tear to your eye if he wanted to. ... That (win) was everything for us."

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