Tigers set sights on a comeback season
The Northwestern High School football team is looking for redemption in 2014.
The Tigers finished the 2013 season with a losing record (4-5) and only two wins in the Heart O’ North Conference. The team lost its final four games of the season — getting shut out twice — and missed the playoffs for the first time in five years.
“We certainly had a blip on the screen last year, but I don’t anticipate that again,” said Dennis Scherz, head coach of the Tigers.
Micah Goetsch, one of 11 seniors on the team this year, said the new season can’t come fast enough.
“The energy level is just so high right now,” Goetsch said. “Everyone’s looking forward to this upcoming season.”
The Tigers return many of their players from last year’s young team. The extra year of experience shows, Scherz said; and for the returning players the 2013 season provides motivation.
“We’ll be in the weight room working hard, and whenever someone gets a little discouraged or starts struggling with the weight we’ll always come over and say, ‘Bloomer’s doing this. Remember Bloomer,’ ” said Luke Masterson, a senior lineman.
Bloomer put an end to Northwestern’s season last year with a 41-0 drubbing in Maple.
The loss put the Tigers under the .500 mark and also earned the ignominious distinction as the most lopsided home defeat for the Tigers since their new stadium opened in 2008.
Northwestern opens conference play this year at Bloomer on Sept. 5.
“They’re still a team to watch out for,” Masterson said.
The Tigers open their season today at home with a non-conference game against Ashland.
“I have no idea what Ashland’s going to bring to the table,” Scherz said. “They have another new head coach and I don’t know much about him.
“But Ashland’s always a big, physical team, so I’m expecting that.”
For the past five seasons, the Tigers have had at least one player surpass 1,000 yards rushing each year, but this marks the first time that player will return for Northwestern.
Nate Pearson ran for 1,089 yards last season as a sophomore to lead the Tigers. In the four years prior, all of Northwestern’s top rushers had been seniors.
Pearson is expected to lead the Tigers on the ground again this year, but Scherz said he isn’t the only running threat on the team.
“We have multiple threats this year, which will really help us,” Scherz said. “We’ve got Micah Goetsch back; he had a nice year last year and we’re expecting big things out of him, maybe playing some fullback. We’ve got Justin Little, he’s a 220-pound, 6-foot fullback.”
Brandon Copp will be an all-purpose back, and Pearson said Ryan Pufall is another player to watch.
“He’s fast, he’s strong and he knows how to run,” Pearson said.
“Of all the years I’ve known Pufall, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him get tired,” Masterson added.
Pearson said he saw the senior get winded once, but not for very long
“He had his hands down, and then about two seconds later he was back up,” Pearson said.
The Tigers also welcome a new quarterback this season: junior Nick Johnson. Scherz said Johnson has a strong arm and makes good decisions with the ball.
“We’ll have a very balanced running attack, a very physical running attack, but on the same level we’ve got a nice passing game that we want to be able to use along with that,” Scherz said.
Northwestern also has the benefit of a big line this year.
Scherz said the offensive line is probably the biggest in school history
“We’ve got over 1,300 pounds on the line with just five guys,” Masterson said.
Returning linemen include seniors Logan Moreau, a second-team HON All-Conference pick last year, and Masterson; junior Tim Schulz; and sophomore Alex Tecker. Junior Reilley Luoma is slated for tight end with fellow junior Nate Copp at center.
All six players are over 6-feet and 230 pounds.
If the players can perfect their technique, Scherz said, the Tigers will be hard to stop.
“My focus this year is the line. We’re working them hard,” Scherz said. “There’s still a ton of things to be proven by this group. Big doesn’t always necessarily mean successful.”
With many linemen playing on both sides of the ball, the Tigers have plenty of size on defense this year. Scherz said the team should match up well with anyone, but he is concerned about the potential for penalties.
“This year in Wisconsin the rules have drastically changed — in my mind — of how you can tackle, the role of the helmet, the placement of the helmet, all those kinds of things,” Scherz said. “I’m nervous about it because I could see the flag coming out a lot on things that maybe were just part of the game before.”
During preseason practices, the players went back to the basics and practiced tackling with the new rules in mind.
“The drills we’re doing, all the defensive drills are kind of opposite of what we used to do. The days of getting the helmet across are done,” Scherz said. “It’s a lot more rugby-style kind of things; that’d be the best way to put it.
“The problem is, your head is attached to the rest of your body. We’ve never taught using the helmet as a tool, but it’s still part of your body.”
Masterson said the more cautious approach to tackling has been an awkward change, but he doesn’t think it sets the Tigers back defensively.
Goetsch hopes the changes will be better for the players in the long term.
“We’re taking our head out of tackling, so it’s less concussions,” he said. “More stops and less concussions.”
Since his freshman year, Jordan Orme has been the Tigers’ kicker. This year, the senior will finish off his career at Northwestern.
“Isn’t that a shame?” Scherz said. “I don’t know this for a fact, but my understanding is he’s the seventh or eighth kicker in the state. … He’s obviously nice to have.”
Orme was the lone Tiger to earn HON All-Conference first team honors last season. He was automatic on extra-point attempts last season and gave Northwestern the opportunity to go for field goals.
“Jordan’s really a one-in-a-million kicker, especially around here,” Masterson said.
“There’s not a lot of people that put that much time into a specialty thing like that.”
“He’s definitely going somewhere,” Goetsch said. “He’s got a huge leg. He made a 57-yard field goal today in practice.”
Scherz said he hasn’t looked at range this year, but he can tell Orme has matured as a kicker.
“He’s certainly a better kicker than he was last year, and he was a pretty good kicker last year,” Scherz said.
With running back Jonny Chamberlain back for his senior year, the Chetek-Weyerhaeuser Bulldogs are the early pick to win the HON crown this year.
“I think everyone would probably say Chetek has the upper edge,” Scherz said. “And of course Bloomer has tradition, and I suppose Northwestern has tradition.”
Bloomer will sport a new look this year following the graduation of quarterback Matt Salm and running back Colten Seibel, but Masterson said the Blackhawks are still contenders.
“A lot of the teams have a lot of returning players,” Masterson said.
“I think Bloomer took the biggest loss with all of their seniors, but still they’ve got a good program over there.”
The Tiger players said they would also put Cumberland near the top of the conference, and maybe Spooner.
2014 Football Roster
1. Orme Jordan 12 K
2. Jared Anttila 10 QB/DB
4. Connar Wheeler 10 WR/DB
5. Nate Pearson 11 RB/LB
6. Matthew Lindsay 10 QB/LB
7. Noah Anttila 11 WR/DB
9. Isaac Klobucher 10 WR/DB
11. Micah Goetsch 12 RB/LB
13. Nicholas Johnson 11 QB/DB
20. Michael Lindsay 10 RB/DB
21. Brandon Copp 12 RB/LB
22. Dyllan Tribbey 11 RB/LB
28. Connor Johnson 10 RB/DB
29. Carter Spangenberg 10 RB/DB
30. Dakota Wiese 12 WR/DB
31. Ryan Huray 10 WR/DB
34. Dakota Woerle 12 RB/DB
36. Ryan Pufall 12 RB/DB
43. Justin Little 11 RB/DL
44. Jameson Pflug 10 OL/DL
53. Daniel Burbul 11 OL/DL
56. Hunter Wiese 10 OL/LB
58. Kenny Dunny 10 OL/DL
62. Jacob Carlson 11 RB/LB
63. Travis Lewis 10 OL/DL
65. Tim Schulz 11 OL/LB
66. Hunter Ruppe 12 OL/DL
69. Lance Kimmes 12 OL/DL
70. Luca Cockerham 11 OL/DL
72. Nate Copp 11 OL/DL
74. Lucas Masterson 12 OL/DL
75. Logan Moreau 12 OL/DL
76. Rodney Olaf 12 OL/DL
77. Alex Tecker 10 OL/DL
78. Michael Lewis 10 OL/DL
81. Ricky Schiff 10 OL/DL
88. Reilley Luoma 11 OL/DL
Head coach: Dennis Scherz.
Assistant coaches: David Crail, Cody Fechtelkotter, Travis Follis, Pete Lawton, Kyle Polzin, Kyle Scherz, Ryan Scherz.
Friday, Aug. 22 vs. Ashland, 7 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 29 at Grantsburg, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 5 at Bloomer, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 12 vs. Hayward, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 19 vs. Spooner, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 26 vs. Cumberland, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 3 at Chetek, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 10 at Ladysmith, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 17 vs. Barron, 7 p.m.
Aug. 23 — at Ashland (NC) W, 20-14
Aug. 30 — vs. Grantsburg (NC) W, 45-34
Sept. 6 — at Spooner L, 21-13
Sept. 13 — vs. Ladysmith W, 48-22
Sept. 20 — at Hayward W, 35-7
Sept. 27 — at Cumberland L, 42-0
Oct. 4 — vs. Barron L, 20-7
Oct. 11 — at Chetek-Wey. L, 35-3
Oct. 18 — vs. Bloomer L, 41-0
Heart O’ North Conference
2013 Regular Season Results
Bloomer (8-1) 7-0
Chetek-Weyerhaeuser (8-1) 6-1
Spooner (6-3) 5-2
Cumberland (5-4) 4-3
Barron (4-5) 3-4
Northwestern (4-5) 2-5
Hayward/Lac Courte Oreilles (1-8) 1-6
Ladysmith (0-9) 0-7