Undefeated showdownTigers and Beavers face off to determine top team in Heart O’ North Conference; Spartans host ECN Huskies
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
The Northwestern Tigers and Cumberland Beavers represent opposite extremes on the football field.
By the numbers, the Tigers have the best defense in the HON conference. The Cumberland Beavers have the best offense.
Northwestern likes to run the ball, and Cumberland likes to pass.
The two teams go head to head tonight to determine the top football team in the Heart O’ North Conference. Cumberland (3-0, 4-0) and Northwestern (3-0, 4-0) are the only undefeated teams remaining in the conference.
“I think it’s a great match-up on paper,” said J.R. Buckley, Cumberland head coach. “We’re pretty athletic; they’re pretty physical. Both teams are scary at times, and they’re well-coached.”
The Beavers bring a speedy and diverse passing game that has averaged 41 points per game this season. Northwestern relies on its hard-hitting defense and physical running game.
The Tigers are just behind Cumberland in average points scored per game with 35, but defensively they hold the advantage. Northwestern leads the conference with an average of 15.25 points allowed per game compared to 20.75 for Cumberland.
“They’re confident but they’re not overconfident,” Northwestern coach Dennis Scherz said of the Tigers. “They’re definitely a group that’s still kind of figuring out where they are, and I remind them of that every day .”
Northwestern may benefit from playing at home tonight.
Tiger Stadium has been a notoriously difficult place to play since it opened in 2008. Northwestern holds a 22-3 all-time record on its home turf, including 3-0 this season.
“The first thing you think when you play at Northwestern is, ‘Gosh, I wish we were playing at home,’” Buckley said.
Last year’s game between Cumberland and Northwestern was also held in Maple. Northwestern entered that game reeling from injuries and with just one win in the conference. However, the return of injured running back Zak Anttila gave the Tigers a morale boost and helped them to a 21-0 shutout of the Beavers.
The Tigers rode the momentum from their victory over Cumberland for the rest of the season and closed out conference play with two more wins to earn a spot in the playoffs.
The winner of tonight’s game will secure a berth in the 2012 playoffs.
The Beavers have put up big offensive numbers this season. They scored 50 points in their first two conference games and have defeated HON opponents by an average of 21 points.
Quarterback Kyle Narges has already thrown for more than 600 yards. He’s averaging well over 10 yards per pass and has 11 touchdowns for the Beavers.
Junior Damen Feiertag and senior Taylor Johnson have been reliable receivers for Narges. Johnson had three touchdown catches for the Beavers in their victory over Bloomer last week, and Feiertag is nearing 250 years receiving for the season.
Zach Nyhus leads Cumberland on the ground. He has been averaging about 100 yards per game and has the speed to break away for big gains.
The Tigers enter today’s game with some uncertainties after a pair of players were injured in last week’s victory over Hayward.
Northwestern’s hopes for a conference title last season fell apart due to injuries, but Scherz said he isn’t worried about a repeat this year.
“It just creates opportunities for other guys, and as much as we miss the players that are injured, it’s just part of the game.” Scherz said.
“You have to roll with it. You’re going to have those kinds of things. We have to be able to adjust as a team to that, and we’ve got guys who can step up and play. There’s no question about that; we’ll be fine.”
Peter Lindsay is a threat to run or throw for the Tigers at quarterback, and Nathan Sikorski has been Northwestern’s big yardage player. Mark Pooler is difficult to stop near the goal line, and Tyler Blair also played well for the Tigers in their last outing against Hayward. He may be asked to take on a bigger role with running back Nick Murray out due to injury.
Northwestern won handily against Hayward, but Scherz said the Tigers need a better effort against Cumberland.
“We scored 40 points but we were out of sync the whole night,” Scherz said. “They know it. Peter was a little off throwing the ball, and Mark couldn’t hold on to it; it’s just one of those nights.”
The Tigers lost two fumbles against Hayward. Cumberland also had a pair of turnovers in its win over Bloomer, but the Beavers countered by picked off three passes.
Against Northwestern, Buckley said Cumberland will need to bring a more aggressive style of play. The Tigers defense, led by Justin Miesbauer, has a bruising reputation.
“I just hope we go up there and when we get hit, because we know we’re going to, we hit back,” Buckley said.
Northwestern has yet to shut out a team this year. The closest they’ve come was their 34-12 win over Ashland to start the season. Cumberland’s best defensive effort was its 27-9 victory over Bloomer.
“We’re not going to go up there with a chip on our shoulder, but I think we have something to prove,” Buckley said.
Fans of the Northwood-Solon Springs football team will get their first look at eight-man football tonight when the Evergreens host the Siren Dragons in Minong. The Evergreens have been on the road since the start of the season and hold a 1-2 record going into today’s game. The Dragons are 2-1 overall.
Spartans vs. Huskies
The Superior High School football team will be looking for its second straight victory when the Spartans host the Eau Claire North Huskies at 7 p.m. today at Ole Haugsrud Field.
The Spartans are 2-2 overall and 1-2 in the Big Rivers Conference. They are coming off a 17-14 win at Rice Lake last Friday.
The Huskies (0-4, 0-3) are still searching for their first win this season despite scoring a respectable 53 points. On defense ECN has allowed 167 points, an average of 48 points a game.
In comparison, Superior has scored 65 points and allowed 59, averages of 16 and 15, respectively.
SPARTAN SPIN: Running back Aaron Wakefield-Zubiate is expected to be back in action after missing last week’s game with an injury. … Tonight’s game will be carried live at ifan.tv. … The concession stand special tonight is a ham and cheese sandwich with chips for $3.