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HON title up for grabs

Northwestern High School’s Mike Lindsay (5) races off the field after blocking a punt during the Tigers’ win over the Spooner Rails earlier this season at Gordon L. Nelson Field in Maple. (Jed Carlson /

In today’s game between the Northwestern High School football team and Ladysmith, every quarter will count.

The same is true for the games between Hayward and Cumberland and Chetek-Weyerhaeuser and Spooner.

Heading into the final game of the regular season, Northwestern, Hayward and Chetek are locked in a tie for the conference crown. All three teams hold 5-1 records in the Heart O’ North Conference, and they’ll share the title if they all win today.

For purposes of the WIAA playoffs, however, an overall champion must be named. That’s where things get tricky.

Northwestern, Hayward and Chetek are currently tied in every metric used to determine a champion. The final criterion on that long list is quarters led in all conference games.

Teams earn one point for each quarter they lead and half a point for each quarter where the score is tied. Through their first six conference games, Chetek, Hayward and Northwestern are exactly even.

If each team leads all four quarters tonight, the champion will be determined by a coin toss.

But if a team trails at the end of a quarter — or if the score is tied — that contender is likely out of the race.

“It will be an exciting night for sure,” said David Crail, NHS head coach.

Northwestern (6-2, 5-1) hosts Ladysmith (3-5, 2-4) tonight in what will be the Tigers’ homecoming game. A win will give Northwestern back-to-back HON titles for the first time since the 2009 and 2010 seasons.

“We have had a good week of practice this week,” Crail said. “We want to make sure that we finish our season strong and that we accomplish our main objective for the season, that being winning a conference championship.”

Despite their contrasting records, the Tigers and Lumberjacks have put up similar numbers on offense this season. Northwestern has averaged 28.3 points per game, while Ladysmith has averaged 27.5 points.

Defensively, Northwestern holds the advantage. The Tigers give up an average of 16.5 points per game, compared to Ladysmith’s average of 32.6 points.

Ladysmith comes to Maple with a two-game winning streak. The Lumberjacks defeated Spooner 43-29 last week and Barron 42-12 the week before.

Quarterback Jared Dieckman provides much of the firepower for Ladysmith’s offense. For the season, he has completed 105-of-191 passes for 1,790 yards. Dieckman has thrown 12 touchdowns in eight games, but he also has 15 interceptions.

Riley Herbes and Tyler Sarauer are Ladysmith’s leading receivers. Both have more than 800 yards this season.

Ladysmith’s running game accounts for only about a third of the team’s total yardage. Steven Jerry leads Ladysmith with 510 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. He averages 5 yards per carry.

Northwestern will be looking to stay healthy after playing without several starters in last week’s game.

The Tigers have already qualified for the playoffs but could earn a home game with a victory tonight.

“The guys have maintained a great level of focus and are looking forward to the challenge that Ladysmith will bring,” Crail said.