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Tigers blanked by Panthers

Northwestern High School's Brody Payton (81) attempts to catch a pass while being defending by St. Croix Central's Mike Steinmetz (25) during Friday night's WIAA Division 4 Level 2 playoff game. (Dave Newman / dnewman@rivertowns.net)1 / 2
Northwestern High School quarterback Kade Bartelt (11) looks for running room during Friday’s WIAA Division 4 playoff game against St. Croix Central in Hammond, Wis. Giving chase for the Panthers is Chris Matteson (75). (Dave Newman / dnewman@rivertowns.net) 2 / 2

Mike Granlund

For The Telegram

The season came to an end for the Northwestern Tiger football team with a 28-0 loss to St. Croix Central in a WIAA Division 4 Level 2 game Friday night in Hammond.

Despite temperatures near freezing, blowing snow, and 20-mile-per hour winds, a good crowd came to watch the defending state champion Panthers play the upstart Tigers, fresh off a Level 1 win over unbeaten Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau.

The Panthers dominated in ball control, running 59 plays and gaining 269 yards (all on the ground) to just 30 plays and 69 yards for the Tigers.

SCC also held Northwestern junior Reagan Ruffi to 55 yards on 16 carries. Ruffi finished with a season total of 1,788 yards, a Tiger record.

Andrew Hanson added 18 yards rushing to go along with a team-high 18 tackles. Tyler Ronning, Gervase Thompson IV and Nate Ohman also had double digit tackles.

 “We couldn’t move the ball against their big defensive line,” NHS coach Jovin Kroll said.

“We also couldn’t run all of our stuff with the conditions the way they were. Mostly, though, it was a very good team we played against out there.”

Friday’s game began with St. Croix Central taking the opening kick and driving inside the Northwestern 20 before the Tiger defense stiffened, holding them on downs at the 10-yard line. The drive consumed the opening nine minutes.

The Tigers first series ended with a three-and-out and a punt. The snap from center, however, sailed over the punters head and into the end zone where he intentionally kicked it out of play for a safety.

The ensuing free kick gave the Panthers the ball at their own 41 and another long drive ended with a 6-yard Collin Nelson touchdown run. Derek Myer booted the extra point kick for a 9-0 lead.

Northwestern began its next drive at its own 11 and moved the chains into Panther territory at the 41, but couldn’t get any further and the half ended with SCC leading 9-0.

Northwestern sophomore speedster Bryson Mazur scooped up the second-half kick at the 11 and returned it 44 yards to the Panther 45.

 But the Tigers couldn’t get a first down on four running plays and turned the ball back to the Panthers.

Another long drive and another Nelson touchdown, this time from 14 yards out, gave the Middle Border Conference runner-ups a 15-0 lead with 4:22 left in the third.

A penalty on the ensuing kickoff forced the Tigers to start on their own 9-yard line and the resulting punt gave St. Croix Central a short field at the 35, of which the Panthers took advantage of and scored an insurance touchdown on an Alec Fischer 1-yard run for a 21-0 lead.

With only 7:18 left to play, it looked dim for the Tigers, who took to the air and moved the ball with the help of a completion and two pass interference penalties.

 But Fischer put the icing on the win for SCC with a one-handed interception and a 71 yard sprint to the end zone with less than three minutes remaining. Meyer’s kick finished the scoring at 28-0.

The Tigers said goodbye to four seniors following the game —Ronning, Timmy Hissa, Andrew and Bartelt.

“I was very happy with our four seniors,” Kroll said. “The leadership they showed with this bunch of very young players says a lot about the character of those seniors. That was a big part of our success.”

St. Croix Central (10-1) will now play Bloomer in a Level 3 game Friday. Bloomer pulled off an 18-12 upset win over Middle Border Conference champion Osceola, who had the No. 1 ranking in the state polls. Osceola was unbeaten and was the only team to defeat St. Croix Central.

TIGER TALES: The Tigers are now 1-2 against the Panthers in the playoffs. Besides this year, the Panthers won 35-20 last season and Northwestern won 42-13 in 2009. … Northwestern’s last two seasons have ended with playoff losses to the eventual state champion. The Tigers lost to SCC last year and Osceola 52-15 in 2015.

Northwestern.................. 0     0      0      0   —    0

St. Croix Central.............. 2     7      6     13   —  28

FIRST QUARTER

SCC — Safety.

SECOND QUARTER

SCC — Collin Nelson 6-yard run (Derek Myer kick).

THIRD QUARTER

SCC — Nelson 2-yard run (kick failed).

FOURTH QUARTER

SCC — Alec Fischer 1-yard run (kick failed).

SCC — Fischer 71-yard interception (D. Myer kick)

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING — N, Reagan Ruffi, 17-55; Andrew Hanson, 6-18; Kade Bartelt, 2-3. SCC, Collin Nelson, 13-76; Keagan Berg, 17-70; Alex Fischer, 12-72; Ryan Larson, 12-51.

PASSING — N, Bartelt, 1-2-1-2. SCC, Nelson, 0-1.

RECEIVING — N, Brody Payton, 1-2.

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