Tigers clinch playoff berthThe Northwestern High School football team is headed to the playoffs. Needing a win against the Ladysmith Lumberjacks Friday night to qualify for the playoffs, the Tigers responded by jumping out to a 27-0 lead after one quarter and going on to win 54-16.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
The Northwestern High School football team is headed to the playoffs.
Needing a win against the Ladysmith Lumberjacks Friday night to qualify for the playoffs, the Tigers responded by jumping out to a 27-0 lead after one quarter and going on to win 54-16.
Northwestern, 5-4 overall and 4-3 in the Heart O’ North Conference, ends the regular season on a three-game winning streak.
The opening round of the WIAA football playoffs will be held Oct. 21 or 22. Pairings are expected to be announced by 5 p.m. Monday.
“We had that pivotal point in the middle of the season where you either get better or you’re done real quick,” said Northwestern coach Dennis Scherz.
The Tigers pulled off an upset victory over Cumberland on Sept. 30 to keep their playoff hopes alive, and since then, Northwestern has not lost a game.
“It’s been a project ever since the Cumberland game,” Scherz said. “They did the things they needed to do. They made that decision, and this team has improved each week.”
One player who has come on particularly strong for Northwestern down the stretch is senior Justin Alexson. He ran the ball in six times Friday night to tie a school record for touchdowns in a single game. Four of those touchdowns came in the first quarter, including two in the last eight seconds of the period.
Northwestern’s first TD came just three minutes into the game on a 61-yard opening drive for the Tigers. Alexson put Northwestern at Ladysmith’s 22-yard line with a 34-yard run on the second play from scrimmage, and Mark Pooler picked up a second first down for the Tigers four plays later to move to the 10-yard line. Alexson carried the ball in on the next play, and Jordan Orme kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
The Tigers forced Ladysmith to go 3-and-out in its first series and then stormed down the field again with a string of four straight first downs to reach the Lumberjack 16-yard line. Northwestern’s drive ended suddenly with a fumble, but less than a minute later Ladysmith fumbled the ball back to the Tigers to set up a 5-yard TD run for Alexson.
Strong running from Alexson and Pooler set up the Tigers’ third TD of the night to go up 19-0 with eight seconds left in the first quarter.
On the ensuing kick, the ball caromed off a player and Northwestern’s Andrew Perry was quick to dive on the ball to return possession to the Tigers. Alexson then finished the quarter with a 40-yard touchdown run with no time remaining on the clock.
Ladysmith cut into Northwestern’s 27-0 advantage at the start of the second quarter when Markus Armstrong broke away for a 63-yard run. He was brought down at the Tigers’ 10-yard line by Nolan Graff; but the Lumberjacks went to Armstrong again to reach the 1-yard line, and Otis Hamilton push into the end zone on the next play.
From there, Northwestern scored the next four touchdowns to force the game into running time.
Alexson and Pooler each scored in the second quarter to close out the first half with the Tigers leading 41-8, and Zak Anttila and Alexson ran in touchdowns in the third quarter to round out Northwestern’s scoring.
Ladysmith had a touchdown and two-point conversion in the fourth quarter.
“Our focus now is the playoffs,” Scherz said. “I wouldn’t want to be the team that gets us first round because we’re just not what our record shows right now. We’re a much better team than that.”
Northwestern 27 14 13 0 — 54
Ladysmith 0 8 0 8 — 16
N — Justin Alexson 10-yard run (Jordan Orme kick), 9:01.
N — Alexson 5-yard run (kick failed), 4:46.
N — Alexson 2-yard run (run failed), 0:08
N — Alexson 40-yard run (Mark Pooler run), 0:00.
L — Otis Hamilton 1-yard run (Matthew Whittenberger pass to Hamilton), 10:18.
N — Alexson 10-yard run (Orme kick), 4:19.
N — Pooler 1-yard run (Orme kick), 0:17.
N — Alexson 22-yard run (run failed), 9:19.
N — Zak Anttila 5-yard run (Orme kick), 4:47.
L — Hamilton 3-yard run (Mark Schmidt run), 9:05.