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1st place on line tonight in Hayward

At the start of the football season, Northwestern High School senior Matt Lindsay said fans should expect a high-intensity game when the Tigers traveled to Hayward.

At the start of the football season, Northwestern High School senior Matt Lindsay said fans should expect a high-intensity game when the Tigers traveled to Hayward.

“Both teams are going to go flying at each other,” Lindsay said. “Both teams are going to be pretty good this year.”

The senior’s remarks have been prescient.

Heading into today’s game at Hayward, Northwestern leads the Heart O’ North Conference with a 4-0 record, and Hayward is just behind at 3-1.

The two teams shared the conference championship last year after Hayward nipped the Tigers 40-38 in the regular season. Hayward handed Northwestern its only conference loss in 2015 and was the only team to defeat the Tigers at home in 2014.

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“They’re well coached and have executed their scheme well,” said David Crail, Northwestern head coach. “Last year’s game came down to what team was going to execute better at the end. They were able to do that, and it allowed them to win a close game.”

A two-point conversion with 3:09 remaining provided the winning points in Hayward’s 40-38 victory last year.

Lindsay returned an interception 57 yards to give the Tigers a 32-26 lead in the third quarter, and Carter Spangenberg made it 38-26 later in the quarter with a 15-yard touchdown run.

However, Hayward answered with a touchdown in the third quarter and then won the game late in the fourth quarter on a touchdown and two-point conversion run by Howie Leuschen.

“This game has the potential to be as close as last year’s contest,” Crail said. “We both have great athletes on both sides of the ball, and we both have shown the ability to take over a game, both offensively and defensively.

“It is going to come down to which team is able to execute their stuff the best.”

Hayward is led by quarterback David Freund. The senior is 32-of-55 passing for 772 yards and 11 touchdowns this season with two interceptions. He’s also added nine touchdowns on 334 yards rushing.

Xavier Cummings is Hayward’s top receiver, with 22 receptions for 610 yards and eight touchdowns.

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On the ground, Riley Donaghue has 543 yards rushing in five games. He is averaging 7.4 yards per carry.

For the Tigers, Spangenberg leads the way with 586 yards rushing. Northwestern as 1,372 total yards rushing this season.

Jared Anttila has thrown for 399 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions, and his lead target has been Tyler Little, who has 15 catches for 285 yards and seven touchdowns.

“I will be a great atmosphere,” said Brian Trettin, Hayward head coach. “Last year’s game was a slugfest. It should be a physical football game with the team with the fewest amount of mistakes coming out as the victor.”

With Hayward’s loss to Chetek-Weyerhaeuser last week, the Tigers enter today’s match-up with a one-game lead over Hayward in the race for the conference crown.

Northwestern could lose today and still claim a share of the conference title, but Crail said the Tigers are treating the game as a must-win.

“There has been nothing that has changed in regards to our focus on this game,” Crail said. “This game was circled at the beginning of the season, and it is still circled this week. We make a point to not let other teams’ outcomes have any impact on the way that we prepare during the week.”

Following tonight’s game, the Tigers will face Cumberland (2-4, 2-2) and Ladysmith (1-5, 0-4) to close out the regular season. Hayward plays Bloomer (5-1, 3-1) next week and Cumberland the week after.

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If the Hurricanes win today and sweep their two remaining games, they would claim at least a share of the HON title.

“This is exactly where teams want to be at this time of year,” Trettin said. “Playing for conference championships.”

TIGER TALES: Since Trettin took over as head coach of the Hurricanes in 2014, Hayward has not lost to Northwestern. Prior to Hayward’s recent winning streak, the Tigers had claimed five straight victories over the Hurricanes. Northwestern outscored Hayward 186-48 during that stretch. … Hayward and Bloomer are the only HON teams to defeat Northwestern more than once at home since the Gordon L. Nelson Athletic Complex opened in 2008. Both teams have defeated the Tigers twice. … The Hurricanes suffered their first loss of the season last week at Chetek, falling to the Bulldogs 46-28. Hayward scored less than a minute into the game to take a 7-0 lead, but Chetek scored the next two touchdowns to go up 12-7. The Hurricanes moved back in front at 11:54 of the second quarter, 13-12, but Chetek scored four more touchdowns in the quarter to take a 40-21 halftime lead. The Bulldogs finished with 467 yards passing and 69 rushing. Hayward had 216 yards rushing and 81 passing.

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