UPDATED: Northwestern Tigers earn 45-34 victoryMAPLE — The Northwestern High School football team improved to 2-0 Friday night with a 45-34 victory over the Grantsburg Pirates.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
MAPLE — The Northwestern Tigers are still finding their legs, but the young football team took a step forward Friday night with a 45-34 victory over the Grantsburg Pirates.
A touchdown and field goal in the third quarter gave Northwestern a 34-38 edge, and the Tigers put the game away late in the fourth quarter when Trevor Guenard ran in a 14-yard touchdown.
"We made a thousand mistakes, but there were a lot of things we did really well," Tiger coach Dennis Scherz said.
The Tigers finished with 12 penalties, including three that brought back touchdown runs. They also gave up a pair of touchdowns in the final two minutes of the first half and lost a fumble at the 2-yard line in the fourth quarter.
But Northwestern had bright points in its victory over Grantsburg as well.
For the night, the team had 519 yards of total offense. The Tigers held Grantsburg to a single touchdown in the second half, and they controlled the ball when it counted.
“Controlling the ball like that for as much as we did, that’s amazing for a young team,” Scherz said. “So there’s a lot of good things to build on. If you can make that many mistakes and win, you’re going in the right direction — you’ve just got to clean it up.”
Sophomore Nate Pearson had another big game for the Tigers, finishing with two touchdowns and 252 yards rushing. He has already topped 400 yards this season.
“Bambi — that’s what we call Nate Pearson,” Scherz said. “He runs like a deer, so he got that nickname last year. But he’s really turning into a special player.”
Quarterback Luke Freeman also impressed Scherz. Freeman was 4-of-4 passing for 43 yards and added 89 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
“He had a tough road because I didn’t know if he could run this offense. And I’ll tell you what, he proved me wrong,” Scherz said. “He’s smart, quick and defenses, when you have good ball skills, they don’t know where the ball is.”
Tyler Blair and Guenard had one TD apiece, with Guenard running for 120 yards on 10 carries. Kicker Jordan Orme went 6-for-6 on extra point attempts and booted a 31-yard field goal in the third quarter to give Northwestern some breathing room.
“Every extra point was critical,” Scherz said. “They (Grantsburg) didn’t make some, and that was kind of the difference there in a lot of ways.”
The night began poorly for Northwestern when Grantsburg running back Joseph Gaffney scooped up the opening kick and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown.
The bad luck continued for the Tigers with a fumble on their very first play. Jay Karich moved quickly to cover the ball for the Tigers, but they ended up punting after three plays.
Grantsburg returned the ball to Northwestern on a failed fourth-down attempt, and the Tigers took over at the Pirates’ 22-yard line.
On the first play, Pearson broke through for a touchdown, but the play was called back on an illegal motion penalty. Northwestern moved back another five yards with a false start on the next attempt.
The Tigers’ first positive yardage of the drive came when Freeman moved them up to the 12 with his first pass of the night. The Tigers picked up three more yards on a handoff before another penalty set them back to the 18-yard line.
A short pass to Mitch Graskey and an 11-yard run by Guenard put Northwestern 4 yards from the end zone, and Blair punched through with 5:27 left in the first quarter to tie the game at 6-6. Orme then gave Northwestern the lead on the extra-point attempt.
The atmosphere at Tiger Field was tense after the penalty-laden drive, but Scherz said his players were unfazed.
“We’re young. They don’t even know to be upset,” Scherz said. “They really don’t, and that’s a good thing.”
“If you stay mad at yourself or your teammates you’re not going to get anywhere,” said Guenard, a junior. “So we have a motto: ‘Just forget it and play on.’”
The Tigers surged ahead in the second quarter, scoring three touchdowns to take a 28-14 lead with 2:41 left in the first half. Pearson had the first TD on a 27-yard run less than a minute into the quarter. Freeman then followed with a pair of touchdowns, diving in from the 1-yard line and then taking the ball 28 yards on a quarterback keeper.
Before the end of the half, Grantsburg managed to erase Northwestern’s lead.
The Pirates looked to their passing game for their first touchdown, as Tristan Brewer connected with Josh Glover for a 31-yard score.
Grantsburg kept possession when the Tigers botched the ensuing kickoff, and Gaffney ripped through Northwestern’s defense with runs of 18 and 27 yards to score his third touchdown of the night and tie the game at 28-28.
Gaffney finished with 89 yards rushing in the second quarter and 120 for the night.
“We just have young kids, and young kids have breakdowns,” Scherz said. “Sometimes those breakdowns turn into touchdowns — even two of them in two and a half minutes.”
The Tigers reclaimed the lead on their first drive of the third quarter, despite an early penalty that wiped out what would have been a 43-yard touchdown for Freeman. Pearson made the final run at the 1-yard line to give Northwestern a 35-28 lead.
The Tiger stayed in front when Grantsburg missed its extra point attempt following a Gaffney TD three minutes later.
Orme extended Northwestern’s lead with a field goal in the closing minutes of the quarter, and the Tigers had possession of the ball for all but 1:38 of the fourth quarter.
The Tigers ate up six minutes on their first drive, but turned the ball over at the 2-yard line.
When Northwestern got the ball back less than a minute later, runs from Pearson and Freeman put the Tigers at the 9-yard line.
Guenard ran into the end zone with 2:05 to play, but a holding penalty took away the touchdown and put the ball at the 14-yard line. On the next play Guenard ran the ball in again, and this time there were no flags.
“We’d had two or three touchdowns before like that and they didn’t count, and lots of runs,” Guenard said. “Yeah, it sucked, but we just got right back up on our horse and we did it again.”
The Tigers open Heart O’ North Conference play this week with a game at Spooner. The Rails fell to Northwestern last season, 24-21, on a last-second field goal.
Northwestern 7 21 10 7 — 45
Grantsburg 6 22 6 0 — 34
G—Joseph Gaffney 80 yard kickoff return (kick failed), 11:44
N—Tyler Blair 5-yard run (Jordan Orme kick), 5:27.
N—Nate Pearson 27-yard run (Orme kick), 11:05.
G—Gaffney 26-yard pass from Tristan Brewer (Andrew Coy run), 9:29.
N—Lucas Freeman 1-yard run (Orme kick), 5:07.
N—Freeman 28-yard run (Orme kick), 2:41.
G—Josh Glover 31-yard pass from Brewer (kick failed), 1:46.
G—Gaffney 27-yard run (Glover pass from Brewer), 1:09.
N—Pearson 1-yard run (Orme kick), 8:25.
G—Gaffney 26-yard pass from Brewer (kick failed), 5:37.
N—Orme 31-yard field goal, :32.
N—Trevor Guenard 14-yard run (Orme kick), 1:32.