The Battle for the Paddle has become an upstream excursion for the Litchfield football team.

Annandale blew open a close game with four consecutive touchdowns as it beat the Dragons 40-13 Friday. It was the Annandale’s fifth consecutive win over Litchfield, the fourth straight since the inception of the Battle for the Paddle rivalry game.

“We’ve played Annandale for the last 16, 17, 18 years,” Litchfield coach Jim Jackman said. “There was a span of maybe 12 years where we got beat maybe twice. And now it’s just a situation where, you know, you look at the last three years coming in (to Friday’s contest), the game went back and forth and Annandale found a way to win.

“Tonight, obviously, they controlled the second half,” Jackman said. “Their size and physicality gave us some issues.”

Litchfield opened strong after receiving the opening kickoff. The Dragons marched 75 yards on 15 plays and took more than seven minutes off the clock before quarterback Ben Asleben punched into the endzone on a 1-yard run.

But the celebration was short-lived for the Dragons, as Annandale’s Riley Niedzielski busted a 50-yard run on the Cardinals’ first play from scrimmage. Annandale eventually scored on a 2-yard run by Brett Honsey, but Litchfield blocked the conversion attempt to maintain a 7-6 lead.

That stood up until early in the second quarter, when Annandale’s big play ability showed up again, this time on a 68-yard touchdown run by Alan Luna. The Cardinals two-point conversion attempt failed, however, putting the score at 12-7.

Litchfield demonstrated its own big play capabilities away, though, as Alsleben hit Bennett Lecher for a 43-yard gain on the ensuing drive, and later hit Drew Kotzer for a 4-yard touchdown pass and a 13-12 lead.

But that was Litchfield last flash of offense for the game. The Dragons finished the first half with 205 yards of offense, but managed just 15 yards more through the bulk of the second half.

“Offensively the first half, we did a pretty good job of moving the ball,” Jackman said. “There’s probably one series where we’ve gotta find a way to score some points. And against a team like this, obviously, we don’t want to give up the big play defensively, which we did a little bit in the first half. Because then, our offense is back out on the field, and we don’t have time to touch base, gove over film, go over some reminders and things like that.”

After the back-and-forth of much of the first half, Annandale’s size and depth began to take its toll on the Litchfield defense.

The Cardinals closed the first half with a 58-yard drive that took seven minutes off the clock and ended with a 2-yard run by Niedzielski and a 20-13 halftime lead.

Annandale wound up with 350 yards rushing on 51 carries, led by Niedzielski’s 23 carries for 166 yards.

“They had a good O-line,” senior linebacker Patrick Benson, who had 13 tackles, said of Annandale. “They got a good push on us. We couldn’t stop their run attack.”

“Annandale’s a good team,” Jackman said. “They have a lot of weapons with their size, their athleticism on the outside. They’ve got good backs, no question … and the scheme they run. Their general size makes it challenging.”

With its ground game and a lead established, Annandale also could make life much more difficult for Litchfield’s offense, Jackman said.

“The second half, the challenge is, you’re behind, you’re trying to force some things a little bit,” he said. “You know, those big defensive linemen are able to kind of come at you, get those arms up and cause some problems. It was a couple things we didn’t do as well in the second half. We didn’t get in that rhythm, and offensively, the scheme we’re running right now, rhythm is a huge thing.”

Regardless of the outcome of Friday’s game, however, Jackman had a message for his team as they gathered in the north endzone at Litchfield High School field.

“Like I told the kids, my goal is we get to play them again (this season),” Jackman said. “If we get to play them again, that means that we’re somewhere in the state, playing in the playoffs. I believe they will be there, no question about it. I’d like us to be, too.”

Brent Schacherer is publisher of the Hutchinson Leader and Litchfield Independent Review.

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