PREVIEW: It's a runner's gameWhen the Northwood-Solon Springs Evergreens moved from 11-man football to eight-man last year, the players and the coaches had a steep learning curve. This year, the Evergreens enter the season with one year of experience and a firm grasp of how the eight-man game works: “Everybody scores more. A lot more,” said Daniel Gengenbach, one of five seniors on the team this year. “It was very rare that you would have just a touchdown or two in a game. Usually 30s and 40s for each team wasn’t out of the ordinary.”
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
When the Northwood-Solon Springs Evergreens moved from 11-man football to eight-man last year, the players and the coaches had a steep learning curve.
This year, the Evergreens enter the season with one year of experience and a firm grasp of how the eight-man game works:
“Everybody scores more. A lot more,” said Daniel Gengenbach, one of five seniors on the team this year. “It was very rare that you would have just a touchdown or two in a game. Usually 30s and 40s for each team wasn’t out of the ordinary.”
The Evergreens found themselves on both sides of the scoring spectrum last year. Their highest output was 77 points in a victory over Birchwood, but they also gave up 75 points in a loss to New Auburn.
For the 2012 season, the Evergreens averaged 42.6 points per game and gave up 36.9 points.
“It’s a lot faster-paced game,” said Dennis St. Clair, a senior lineman. Even a small breakdown on defense can lead to a touchdown, he said, so good game preparation and execution are essential.
The Northwood-Solon Springs Evergreens begin year two of eight-man football with a new head coach.
Brian Amys takes over as head coach of the Evergreens after serving as an assistant coach last year. Outgoing coach Brian Trettin resigned after accepting a teaching position at Hayward.
“We’re real excited about eight-man. It gives us so many more opportunities with how to really showcase these guys,” Amys said. “One thing that we like about eight-man is, in 11-man football you can sometimes hide a guy in the field that isn’t up to varsity level. You can put him somewhere he’s not going to get picked apart. In eight-man, everybody has to be used; everybody has to be valuable to you.
“These guys, every one of them, every play, gets to show what he has.”
This year’s team will be without much of the nucleus that drove the Evergreens in their first season of eight-man football.
Seven seniors graduated from the 2012 squad, leaving Amys to replace his quarterback (Brett Missinne), top running backs (Brandon Wilcox and Austin Meyer) and much of his line.
Wilcox led the Evergreens in 2012 with 11 rushing touchdowns and 1,096 yards on the ground. He averaged more than 6 yards per carry and was named to the Lakeland Eight-Man All-Conference first team as a running back.
Meyer had 14 touchdowns on carries and 715 yards rushing. He also added five more TDs on 195 yards receiving and averaged 14.3 yards per carry.
“We’re a much smaller team than we were last year, so we had to change up our game plan a little bit,” Amys said. “We’re going to try to do some passing, get these fast guys out into open space and get them the ball.”
Northwood-Solon Springs is going with a small but speedy lineup in 2013. The Evergreens intend to take full advantage of their running game, mixing in a few passing plays to keep opponents on their toes.
Mason Barth, who had some big-yardage games for Northwood-Solon Springs last season as a sophomore, said he likes the team’s chances this year.
“Eight-man is a runner’s game,” Barth said. “In 11-man, if you miss a tackle there’s going to be another guy coming in to help you. In eight-man, you miss a tackle and it’s a touchdown.”
Barth said about 90 percent of the team poses a legitimate threat on the ground this season. He also thinks the Evergreens’ style, opting for a no-huddle to churn out play after play, will wear down opponents.
Juniors Barth and Kacey Block, senior Josh Downs and sophomore Brady Vig all have the potential to be 1,000-yard rushers, Amys said.
“We’re going to spread it out. We’re going to change it up and give everybody a chance to show their speed,” Amys said. “We’re not going to be a one running back team. We’re going to have a lot of different attacks.”
Block takes over at quarterback. He played some varsity snaps last season and understands the offense, Amys said.
“We’re going to be a lot smaller than we were last year, but I think we have the quickness and the athleticism to be just as great as last year,” Block said.
With the smaller, speedier lineup this season, Block said it is a definite advantage for the Evergreens to be playing 8-man football. The team should benefit from both the smaller field and the more porous defenses they’ll face.
“It spreads out the field more for us and it gives us more gaps to run through for us quicker guys,” Block said.
“Last year we had a lot more size and this year we’re smaller, so we’re going to have to use our skilled people rather than our big people,” Gengenbach said. “What we lack in size hopefully we can make up for in skill and speed. That’s what we’ve got to rely on this year.”
In eight-man, the job of the defense is much more challenging. A 20-point lead can easily be surrendered in a single quarter.
“Anything can happen in eight-man football,” Amys said. “A couple big plays and it turns around.”
“That’s the way 8-man football goes. It’s a lot quicker,” said junior Ethan Luedtke. “It’s a lot easier to get a big play because there’s nobody in the back to stop those.”
The Evergreens lost much of their heft from 2012 with the graduation of seniors like Gage Harwick and Jake Dahlberg.
Many teams will have a size advantage over Northwood-Solon springs, but the Evergreens are hoping their speed will help them get tackles in the open field.
Holding down the defense this year will be a collection of smaller players. Amys said St. Clair and Luedtke will likely be leaders.
Prairie Farm finished the inaugural season of eight-man football undefeated in conference play and is among the favorites again this year. Luck looks to challenge for the title, with Northwood-Solon Springs and Bruce hoping to break into the top tier as well.
“They (Prairie Farm) lost the best player on their team, but they’ve still got a lot of big guys,” Block said. “But I think they’ve got to be looking out for the other teams like us and Luck. I think it’s going to be a chase.”
Luck may also be looking for some revenge against the Evergreens in their non-conference season opener Saturday and an Oct. 18 rematch.
The Evergreens ended the 2012 season with a come-back win over Luck. Northwood-Solon Springs trailed by 20 points at halftime, but a strong second half gave the Evergreens the 47-36 victory.
“I think we surprised everybody coming out for the second half,” Block said. “We had a huge different mentality, a huge drive to win that game for our seniors.”
“Our coach talked to their coach and he said he’s still losing sleep over it,” Gengenbach said.
Luck will have its first chance to avenge last year’s loss at 4 p.m. Saturday in Rice Lake.
“I know they’re looking forward to that game,” Amys said. “I know they’re ready for us.”