HON PREVIEW: Expect more surprises in the HON conferenceThe Heart O’ North football conference saw one of the most exciting seasons ever last year. Cumberland emerged as the conference champion. The Beavers’ 6-1 record bested Northwestern, Barron and Bloomer, who all were 5-2. Spooner, at 4-3, also qualified for the WIAA playoffs.
By: By Mike Granlund, For The Telegram, Superior Telegram
The Heart O’ North football conference saw one of the most exciting seasons ever last year. Cumberland emerged as the conference champion. The Beavers’ 6-1 record bested Northwestern, Barron and Bloomer, who all were 5-2. Spooner, at 4-3, also qualified for the WIAA playoffs.
The conference was so close that Spooner, the fifth-place team, was actually close to being the first-place team. A loss to Northwestern on a Jordan Orme field goal on the last play of the game, and a touchdown by Bloomer with 1:24 to go in that game, prevented the Rails from a 6-1 record. So you can say they were 1:24 from a championship.
The Rails, in turn, knocked Barron out of the title with a marathon three and a half hour game that Barron thought they had won only to have a kick return for a touchdown called back in the last minute of play.
As even as the HON was last year, it was only indicative of the balance over the years. Most people think of Bloomer and Northwestern as dominating, but in the last seven years, six different teams have won the championship. Only those two who were so close to the trophy last year, Spooner and Barron, have failed to win in those seven years.
The 2013 season promises to have many surprises as well. The following is a capsule of each team.
The Blackhawks are the favorites once again. Colton Seibel is a tough fullback, Ryan Buske provides some speed and Matt Salm, Lucas Hilger and Owen and Cory Zwiefelhofer were on the HON all-conference team last year. Don’t think a loss to Somerset this year diminishes their outlook. A 22-14 overtime loss to last year’s WIAA Division 4 state champion only enhances Bloomer’s reputation.
The big news in Cumberland is the opening of Endeavor Stadium. Complete with artificial turf, the complex replaces the legendary (but often wet) Moser Field.
The defending HON champ returns bruising fullback/linebacker Jaylen Lansin, defensive end A.J. Ricci, and water bug-quick runner Zack Nyhus from a team that only lost to Northwestern last year in the HON. As we predicted, Damon Feiertag was an all-conference receiver. All-conference honorable mentions Taylor Koenig and Justin Doriott also return. The Beavers enter conference play as somewhat of an enigma, though, as they shellacked Grantsburg 40-6 but were soundly defeated by Cameron 26-7.
Depth continues to be an issue for the Bears. One player who is attempting to help is Jaren Paulson, a 6-foot-8 QB/WR who doubles as a soccer player this fall. A huge difference-maker is Jason Balts, maybe the best all-around athlete in the conference. Balts played running back and receiver last year and this year will be asked to play quarterback, replacing Neil Rasmussen and his 2,396 yards passing and 30 TD passes. Balts passed for more than 200 yards and ran for more 100 yards in the Bears’ opener. With Balts at the helm, don’t count them out.
The Rails could be the sleeper team this year. They have a three-year starter at quarterback in Gavin Anderson and one of the best ends in the HON in Tanner Vik. Look for exciting games from the Rails as they will air out the ball early and often as evidenced by their 29-28 win over Baldwin-Woodville last week.
Only 2-5 in the HON last year, Hayward lost some very close games.
Joe Stark returns at QB and is a top quality athlete. Running back Alec Duffy, linebacker Garred Becker, and kicker/lineman Jeremiah Johnson all return for the Hurricanes after garnering all-conference honors last year. The ’Canes play on Rod Lundberg Field, named after their late and much-beloved athletic director.
Can a team with one win turn it around and win the conference the next year? Not likely, but the Bulldogs do have a shot at doing just that. The senior class is very strong with many quality athletes. Jake Schofield comes back for his third year as the quarterback, Jonny Chamberlain is an exciting running back, Cole Laliberty is a rock solid lineman, Robert Disher was second-team all-HON and Walker Olson is a top all-around performer for Chetek-Weyerhauser.
Count them out. The Lumberjacks were 0-8 last year and look to struggle this year as well. Don’t feel too bad for the ’Jacks, though, they won the HON as recently as 2006 (and also 2003) and they have a former player in Zach Anderson playing for BCS Bowl participant Northern Illinois.
The HON transformation is now complete; the Northwestern Tigers are running a new offense. The double wing offense that has served them well for 40 years is still in the playbook but has been superseded by multiple sets, including the read-option that has been so successful for college and even NFL teams (especially Collin Kapernick and the 49er’s).
Fans will be interested to know that the passing game has been moved up a little as well.
The Tigers are a young team with only nine seniors. A solid offensive line is always the basic strength of a successful team and the Tigers have one in Elias Alexandrou, Jay Karich, freshman Alex Tecker, juniors Logan Moreau and Lucas Masterson and tight end Mitchell Graskey.
Alex Tuura, Ryan Pufall and Carter Shelafoe have been the wide out and the quarterback is Luke Freeman, a heady and quick runner who is 5-for-5 passing so far this year. Tyler Blair is a two-way starter at linebacker and fullback and Trevor Guenard is a swift running back and cornerback.
The big story for the Tigers (besides the offensive formations) is sophomore running back Nate Pearson. The solid 6-0, 185-pound halfback has run for 409 yards in two games. Yards will be harder to come by in the HON, but Nate Pearson is a talent.
Defensively, many of the players go two ways, but linebackers Taylor Agamaite and Micah Goetsch and cornerback Nick Johnson are one-way starters. Nathaniel Lewis and seniors Jeffrey Pearson and Michael Jamison filter in.
The HON is blessed with great kickers this year, and Tiger coach Dennis Scherz would not trade his for any others. Jordan Orme is an outstanding junior who is a threat on long field goals and often boots kickoffs through the end zone. Scherz is 41-14 in his five plus seasons at the helm of the Tigers.
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