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Tigers end season with 35-point win

Going into its final game of the season, the Northwestern High School football team needed a victory to keep from ending the season with a winless record. Their opponents, the Cumberland Beavers, also wanted a win, as they were winless in the Hea...

Going into its final game of the season, the Northwestern High School football team needed a victory to keep from ending the season with a winless record. Their opponents, the Cumberland Beavers, also wanted a win, as they were winless in the Heart O' North Conference and had just one non-conference victory to their name.

"They didn't win a conference game but we didn't underestimate them at all," said P. J. Freeman, NHS team captain. "We wanted this bad. We had a good practice this week and we were focused and ready to play."

The Tigers' focus paid off, as Northwestern took the lead early in the game and defeated Cumberland soundly, 41-6.

"We're excited," NHS coach Peter Lawton said. "This was something that we needed emotionally and physically for everybody on this team. It was a great way to send our seniors out. We've battled through adversity all year with construction, moving around practices, games (away and) at home. I'm just so proud of these guys right now. It was the right thing to happen on a night like tonight."

The Tigers' win came at Griggs Field on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus, their home field away from Maple this year. And while it was raining in Superior and much of the Northland, the Northwestern game was never interrupted by even a single drop.

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Northwestern received the kickoff to start the game and quickly showed it was determined to win. Starting at their own 10, Freeman had a huge run on the first play of the Tigers' drive to move Northwestern near midfield. The Tigers then ground out another first down before sophomore Ryan Miesbauer got away from the Beavers defenders and sprinted to the end zone to give Northwestern a 6-0 lead with 10:11 left in the first quarter.

"The momentum was there right away and then we just kept going," Miesbauer said.

On their first drive of the game, the Beavers used their passing game to pick up three first downs before penalties put them in poor position. The Tigers' Cullen Larson broke up a long pass that likely would have resulted in a touchdown to end Cumberland's drive.

At the start of the second quarter, Tigers fans were given a bit of a scare. Northwestern fumbled on its first play of the quarter and Cumberland recovered the ball deep in their own end. Freeman erased the error and put fans at ease, however, when he intercepted a pass on the Beavers' first play and returned it for a touchdown to lead, 12-0.

The Tigers didn't let up at that point, as Freeman quickly recovered another fumble on Cumberland's next drive. Miesbauer had two big gains before making his way into the end zone again. Junior Zach Vantil gave Northwestern the extra two points and the Tigers' lead stretched to 20-0.

The Beavers finally got on the board on their next drive when Josiah Helbig grabbed a pass from Brandon Enget to make it 20-6. That was all the scoring Cumberland would get though as the Tigers continued to dominate on both sides of the ball.

Miesbauer got his third touchdown of the night with 5:10 left before halftime, Vantil caught a pass from quarterback Nick Lahti with 56 seconds left and Larson made the two-point conversion to give the Tigers a 34-6 lead after the first half.

Freeman earned his second touchdown of the night at 5:26 in the third quarter, and Vantil's kick made it 41-6 for the Tigers, which ended up as the final score.

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After the game, an emotional Freeman hugged family members and friends as he stood on the field following the last game of his high school football career.

"It's just indescribable," Freeman said. "Everyone keeps telling you when you're a freshman that it goes by fast, and you don't realize it until now, the last game of the season."

For Freeman, the win was especially poignant.

"Last year I tore my ACL and I was out for a whole season," the senior running back said. "I didn't get to really play much, so this year meant more because I got to play my senior year at least. This is my highlight, this last game coming out with a victory. It was a tough season, but we've been in every game. We've worked hard to get to this point."

Although Freeman thought the whole team worked hard for the victory, he said the Tigers' offensive line should get credit for the win.

"Waylon Wermter, Donnie Hissa, Chase Turner, Travis Kauther and Jon Lundeen -- they were the ones that made this win," Freeman said. "They got all the yards, and holds were huge. We (running backs) are always in the paper; I want them to be in the paper."

A number of Tigers benefited from the offensive line's hard work by posting a lot of yards. Miesbauer had 198 yards on 15 carries and Freeman had 161 yards on 17 carries.

Jimmy Hosey picked up 24 yards on five tries, while Kevin Derick added 17 yards on five carries. Lahti passed for 47 yards and one touchdown.

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Coach Lawton said he asked the team to give the same effort they've been giving all season long going into the game.

"There's nothing more we can ask. Send these seniors out right and great things will happen. They really showed it tonight. This is going to catapult us into next season."

Miesbauer also felt the win would be important in the next season.

"It sets the tone for next year, letting them (competitors) know that we're going to be here," he said. "It's good to end the season with a bang; nothing's better."

Freeman will not be playing on the field, but he said he will still be at some Northwestern football games next year.

"I expect great things," Freeman said of his returning teammates. "They're really young and they're going to keep getting better. I know that. They're going to keep working hard and I'm looking forward to watching them."

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