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Members of the Northwestern Tigers football team may be seen in the reflection of head coach Dennis Scherz’s sunglasses. The Tigers open the season by hosting Ashland at 7 p.m. today in Maple. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Tigers set sights on a comeback season

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Tigers set sights on a comeback season
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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.

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“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.”

Offense

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.”

Defense

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.”

Kicking

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.

Conference outlook

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.

Northwestern Tigers

2014 Football Roster

            Gr.          Pos.

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.

2014 Schedule

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.

2013 Results

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

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Emily Kram
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