HON Preview: Tigers seek third straight HON title
By: By Mike Granlund, For The Telegram, Superior Telegram
The Northwestern Tigers football team has dominated the Heart O’ North Conference the last two years, going 14-0 in league play to accumulate two crowns.
Included in those years are three victories (one was in the playoffs) over the second best team, Bloomer. During those three games, the Tigers outscored the Blackhawks by a combined 130-7 score.
Can they do it again? Severe graduation losses were anticipated but the Tigers have often been able to overcome this and just “reload” with more talented, hungry athletes.
This year the Tigers are facing another issue: injuries. Opening with a split in their non-conference schedule (a 34-6 win over Ashland and a 25-7 loss to Medford) the Tigers have had injuries to key seniors. Mike Parkins, a two-way starter could be lost for the season with an injury, Gabe Dinkel is out for the year with a knee injury and Zak Anttila, the Tigers’ only returning starter on offense, is possibly out for the season with a dislocated hip.
Anttila was primed to have a breakout season after gaining 671 yards on the ground last year. Coach Dennis Scherz looks to plug the holes with some capable replacements, including cornerback Nolan Graff, who will do double duty and play halfback for Anttila.
Junior Grant Pearson will get the nod at safety for Dinkel and Johnny Parkins will replace his brother as a linebacker and tight end.
The Tigers still have a strong and imposing offensive line in Jake Nelson, Jake Moniot, Duncan Magerl, Paul Langford and Josh Zimner. Alex Reynolds is a solid tight end, and the Tigers’ pride of running backs include halfback Justin Alexson and junior fullbacks Mark Pooler and Justin Miesbauer. Junior quarterback Peter Lindsay has shown an ability to put the ball in the air when given time to throw.
Defensively, Northwestern has many of the same big linemen at tackle and Brock Haugrud and Luke Schulz at the ends. Andrew Perry joins Pearson at safety, and Mike Naumann and Graff have been impressive at the cornerback spots.
Linebackers Parkins, Langford, and Alexson are solid; Alexson was honorable mention all-state last season; and freshman Jordan Orme is the placekicker for the Tigers.
The rest of the conference in the order that they play Northwestern:
The Rails are the highest ranked team in the conference right now in the weekly AP poll after opening with wins over Grantsburg (7-6) and Ashland (12-6). Spooner features sophomore quarterback Gavin Anderson throwing to his brother, senior Logan Anderson.
Top rusher, Brandon Schutt returns to the backfield. Spooner qualified for the playoffs last year, finishing 6-4, and will face a Tiger team that is vulnerable due to injuries.
The conference championship could be determined on Sept. 9 at Tiger Stadium in the Gordon L. Nelson Athletic Complex in Maple. Bloomer was the favorite of most pundits to win the HON even before the Tigers’ siege of injures.
With six starters back on offense and four on defense, the Blackhawks have experience. Leading rusher Mitch Boettcher and speedster Levi Nayes will get most of the carries. With 22 seniors, many of the names are very familiar to Tiger fans: LB Jake Zwiefelhofer, DB Garrett Sarauer, LB Jacob Prill, FB Jeremy Seibel, OL Sam Nauman, TE Charlie Yohnk and OL Ben Canfield all have been starters.
Bloomer had beat Black River Falls 52-12 and lost in five overtimes to powerhouse Somerset 20-14. Bloomer was 9-2 last year, with both losses coming to Northwestern.
The Bulldogs are young with only 18 players in the combined junior/senior classes. Coach Billy Knickerbocker is a bright young coach, but football is a numbers game so it could be a long seasons for the ’Dogs.
Winless the past two years, the Bears just put up an impressive 48-7 win over Osceola. Junior Neil Rasmussen (35-of-57 passing) throws to senior Austin Haugestuen (23 catches in two games). Kirk Haugestuen and Bruce Rasmussen are co-head coaches. Mitch Nelson is a capable running back. Mark Barron down as a conference sleeper.
The most dangerous offensive team the last couple years has been the Beavers (2-0). This year will be no exception with talented Adam Bielmeier at receiver and Brady Rose lining up wherever coach J.R. Buckley needs him.
Depth and defense were a problem for Cumberland last year, but Rose is a legitimate star with 17 touchdowns last year. This year, Rose has eight TDs, 248 yards rushing and 175 yards receiving.
In their five wins last year, they scored an average of 43 points per game. The scoreboard should be lit up on Sept. 30 at Maple.
Black and gold meets black and gold on Oct. 7 at Hayward. The Hurricanes would like nothing more than to topple the Tigers.
They are the last conference team to beat Northwestern, winning in Maple on the last game of the 2008 season. Jake Dotterwich and Abe Reker are two players to watch.
The regular season ends in Maple with the Lumberjacks. Last year the ’Jacks made it a three-way race with seven straight wins to open the season but double digit losses to Bloomer, Northwestern and then Colby ended coach Woody Keeble’s season.
Two-time all-conference lineman Zach Mulhollland is back as well as RB Mark Schmidt.
Three-year starting quarterback Eric Effertz has graduated and will play basketball at UW-Superior this year.
Opinions and/or story ideas can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org