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Tigers clinch share of HON title

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Few people look forward to being doused with a Gatorade bucket of water, but Northwestern High School football coach David Crail is developing a tolerance for the practice.

“That’s something that I’ll take every day,” Crail said Friday night after being ambushed by his players. “It’s not as cold as it was last year.”

The Northwestern Tigers clinched a share of the Heart O’ North Conference title Friday with a 51-13 win over Ladysmith.

The Tigers finish the regular season 7-2 overall and 6-1 in the conference.

Hayward and Chetek-Weyerhaeuser also won their respective games Friday to set up a three-way tie for the conference title.

Hayward and Northwestern shared the HON title last year.

“It’s hard to win conference championships,” Crail said. “If you look at the history of Northwestern, this is the 11th conference championship that Northwestern has won, and this group of individuals is part of two of those — in back-to-back fashion.”

The last time three schools shared the title was 1987, when Bloomer, Hayward and Northwestern finished with identical records.

This year’s title is the second for Chetek and the fifth for Hayward. It is Northwestern’s fourth title in the past eight years.

“We came out just like any other game, the same mindset, and just came ready to play,” said senior Carter Spangenberg, who finished with 232 yards rushing for the Tigers.

Northwestern scored on its first three drives of the night Friday, during which Spangenberg ran for 123 yards, six first downs and a touchdown. Sophomore Reagan Ruffi had 84 yards rushing, three first downs and a touchdown during the same span.

The Tigers moved the ball 235 yards in just 24 plays in the opening three drives to take a 21-0 lead. Jameson Pflug, Spangenberg and Ruffi each scored one touchdown apiece in the first quarter, and kicker Isaac Nichols went a perfect 3-for-3.

“We knew that we wanted to start quick,” Crail said. “We wanted to get things rolling right away and really be able to put the pressure on their passing game, make them have to throw the ball around a little bit, particularly with the windy conditions.”

The Lumberjacks, who’d been averaging about 228 yards passing per game, struggled early. On their first two drives, they were 0-of-3 passing and finished with a net loss in yards.

On their third drive, the Lumberjacks finally picked up positive yardage. Riley Herbes gave Ladysmith good position with a 20-yard kickoff return, and after a 5-yard run by Steven Jerry, Herbes caught an 8-yard pass from Jared Dieckman for a first down — the Lumberjacks’ first of the night.

Five plays later, Ladysmith cut into Northwestern’s lead on a 25-yard pass from Dieckman to Tyler Sarauer.

The Tigers followed with a lost fumble on the first play of their ensuing possession, and Ladysmith took advantage of the short field with a four-play drive that ended in Herbes’ 5-yard touchdown run. The extra point by Nathan Roach left Northwestern with a 21-13 lead.

“We got up early and I think they relaxed a little bit, and that’s a dangerous thing to do against a team that can score in bunches,” Crail said.

Northwestern closed out the second quarter with two touchdowns and a field goal.

Spangenberg set up the first score with runs of 16, 23 and 9 yards to get the Tigers to the 21-yard line. Ruffi then scampered in the rest of the way for his second TD of the night.

The sophomore added a third touchdown shortly after Mike Lindsay recovered a fumble at the Lumberjack 29-yard line with 7:42 to play. The Tigers lost five yards on a penalty before Ruffi ran the ball in for a 34-yard score.

Nichols’ extra-point kick was no good, but the freshman ended the first half on a high note with a 35-yard field goal to put Northwestern up 37-13.

In the second half, the Tigers held Ladysmith scoreless and scored two touchdowns in the third quarter to send the game to running time.

Spangenberg scored the first touchdown on a 32-yard run with 4:53 on the clock, and Tanner Klobucher made a diving catch in the end zone with 26 seconds left in the quarter. Klobucher’s 23-yard catch from Jared Anttila came on fourth down.

Spangenberg finished with 256 total yards of offense Friday, and Ruffi had 191. As a team, the Tigers compiled 620 yards. The Lumberjacks finished with 160 total yards.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my teammates,” Spangenberg said. “We all feel like brothers. We’re one big family, so we play for each other.”

The Tigers open the WIAA Division 4 playoffs Friday at St. Croix Central (6-3, 4-3). Northwestern is the No. 5 seed in the region, and St. Croix Central is the No. 4 seed.

TIGER TALES: NHS joined the HON in 1974, and the Tigers won their first title in 1987. Among current HON members, Northwestern ranks second with 11 football titles. Bloomer leads with 25 titles. Rice Lake, now a member of the Big Rivers Conference, accumulated 20 titles before leaving the HON in 1985. … This year marked the seventh time joint winners were named for the conference title. Two teams tied in 1932, 1935, 1958 and 2015; and three teams tied in 1945 and 1987.

Ladysmith.................... 0     13     0     0    —    13

Northwestern................ 21    16     14    0    —    51

First Quarter

N—Jameson Pflug 1-yard run (Isaac Nichols kick), 9:48.

N—Carter Spangenberg 9-yard run (Nichols kick), 6:44.

N—Reagan Ruffi 4-yard run (Nichols kick), 1:34.

Second Quarter

L—Tyler Sarauer 25-yard pass from Jared Dieckman (kick blocked), 11:08.

L—Riley Herbes 5-yard run (Nathan Roach kick), 9:12.

N—Ruffi 21-yard run (Nichols kick), 7:54.

N—Ruffi 34-yard run (kick failed), 6:36.

N—Nichols 35-yard field goal, :00.

Third Quarter

N—Spangenberg 32-yard run (Nichols kick), 4:53.

N—Tanner Klobucher 23-yard pass from Jared Anttila  (Nichols kick), :26.1.

TEAM STATS

                                                   L           N

First downs................................... 7          27

Rushing yards............................... 63         535

Completions-attempts................... 5-18        4-9

Passing yards............................... 97          85

TDs-interceptions.......................... 1-1         1-1

Total plays................................... 47          61

Total offense................................ 160        620

Fumbles-lost................................ 1-1         2-1

Penalties-yards............................ 4-25       6-58

Time of poss.............................. 23:47      24:13

Punts- average............................. 6-47        0-0

NHS INDIVIDUAL STATS

RUSHING—Carter Spangenberg 20-232; Reagan Ruffi, 9-152; Jared Anttila, 8-55; Jameson Pflug 3-44; Carson Holsclaw, 2-26; Kade Bartelt, 3-19; Keegan Plasch, 1-9.

PASSING—Anttila, 4-8-1-85. Bartelt, 0-1-0-0.

RECEIVING—Ruffi, 2-39; Spangenberg, 1-24; Tanner Klobucher, 1-23.

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