Slow-starting Evergreens rally past Cardinals
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
MINONG — Two quarters of fumbles and missed tackles had the Northwood-Solon Springs football team looking sluggish Friday in its home opener with the Luck Cardinals.
But the Evergreens didn’t fade away, and in the third quarter showed why they’ve become known as a second-half team.
Northwood forced fumbles to end three of Luck’s four drives in the third quarter and broke away for a pair of long touchdown runs to earn a 26-20 victory.
“This is a team that doesn’t make me nervous,” said Evergreens coach Brian Trettin. “This is the hardest working unit that I have ever been around. They’re just a team that has that fire in their eyes.”
The Evergreens trailed 20-14 at halftime after fumbling the ball four times in the first quarter and once in the second. Northwood recovered all but one of those fumbles, but the broken plays added up and left the Evergreens struggling for yards.
“We knew they (Luck) were going to be physical and fast,” Trettin said. “I’ve got to give them all the credit in the world for one heck of a ball game.”
Northwood’s one lost fumble put the team in a hole early in the game. The Evergreens were at the 35-yard line on their opening drive when the ball came loose and Luck’s Jesse Rennicke scooped it up. He ran about 60 yards untouched to give the Cardinals a 6-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.
The Evergreens answered with a 7-play, 51-yard drive in their second series, led by strong running from Josh Malone and quarterback Phil Larson, who broke through a hole in Luck’s line for a 39-yard score. Larson also kicked the extra point to put the Evergreens ahead, 7-6.
Northwood added to its lead three minutes later on a 44-yard scamper by Malone, but a mental error on the ensuing kickoff gave the touchdown right back, as Jake LaDuke went 84 yards on the return for Luck. A two-point conversion pass from Trent Strapon to Ben Kufalk tied the game at 14-14.
Northwood cut back on its fumbles in the second quarter but still sputtered on offense, going three-and-out once and turning the ball over twice on downs.
Luck used the Evergreens’ troubles to take control of the game and reclaim the lead. The Cardinals made it 20-14 with a touchdown from Brodie Kunze and came dangerously close to adding a second TD in the closing minutes of the half. Time expired with Luck in a fourth and two situation at Northwood’s 3-yard line.
“We made mistakes in that first half, real mistakes,” Trettin said. “We work on that stuff all the time; it’s just something we’ve got to keep perfecting. Our guys are starting to learn that you can’t have those mistakes.”
In the second half, the Evergreens played with renewed energy and quickly began to wear away at Luck.
Just four plays into the Cardinals’ first series of the half, they fumbled away the ball at Northwood’s 34-yard line. They fared little better in their second series — punting after three plays — and then turned the ball over again on fumbles during their final two drives of the quarter.
“We went into halftime confident because we are more conditioned,” Larson said. “We’re in great shape, and we always do better in the second half.”
Larson led Northwood’s comeback in the second half, running for two touchdowns about three minutes apart. A 59-yard run at 5:17 tied the game at 20-20, and the game-winning touchdown after a Cardinal fumble gave the Evergreens the ball on their own 13-yard line. It took just two plays for Larson to find a seam in Luck’s defense and break away to go the length of the field.
“I give a lot of credit to my linemen,” Larson said. “They had a heck of a game blocking for me. Without them I wouldn’t get those yards and those touchdowns.”
In the fourth quarter, the Evergreens held Luck scoreless to secure the win. Brian Flamang came up with a big stop to force a Luck turnover on downs with 3:30 to play, and when the Cardinals got the ball back for a chance at one final drive, Larson came up with an interception to kill the Cardinals’ hopes.
“It’s a great win. Home opener, we couldn’t be happier,” Larson said. “We came out sluggish, made some mistakes — just like we did in Bruce — but we picked up in the second half, played a lot harder and came away with the win.”
The Evergreens finished with 387 yard rushing while holding Luck to 172 yards.
Larson led way with 185 yards rushing, followed by Malone with 110. Tyler Long added 71 yards on the ground for Northwood-Solon Springs, and Nick Murray had 19 yards.
On defense, Malone’s eight tackles led the team, and Leo Alcantar finished with six tackles.
Northwood 14 0 12 0 — 26
Luck 14 6 0 0 — 20
L—Jesse Rennicke, 60-yard fumble return (kick failed), 9:15.
N—Philip Larson, 29-yard run (Larson kick), 6:12.
N—Josh Malone, 44-yard run (Larson kick), 3:20.
L—Jake LaDuke, 84-yard kickoff return (Trent Strapon pass to Ben Kufalk), 3:07.
L—Brodie Kunze, 6-yard run (run failed), 4:37.
N—Larson, 59-yard run (kick failed), 5:17.
N—Larson, 91-yard run (kick failed), 2:11.
First downs 13 10
Rushing yards 387 172
Passing 1-for-2 3-for-7
Passing yards 3 26
Penalties-yards 5-35 4-20