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Spartans, Tigers host homecoming games

Former Northwestern High School football coach David Crail calls a timeout during a Tiger game during the 2016 season. Crail is now the head coach of the River Falls Wildcats who play the Superior High School Spartans at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 5. (Jed Carlson / / 2
Former Northwestern High School football coach David Crail has a chat with a referee during a Tiger game during the 2016 season. Crail is now the head coach of the River Falls Wildcats who play the Superior High School Spartans at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 5. (Jed Carlson / / 2

It’s do-or-die time for the Superior High School football team.

With a Big Rivers Conference record of 2-3, the Spartans (4-3 overall) need to win their remaining two games to qualify for the WIAA postseason.

It just so happens that both of their remaining opponents are vying for BRC titles, starting with the River Falls Wildcats at 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 5, at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex.

The Wildcats are tied for first place with Hudson and Menomonie. All three teams are 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the BRC.

"This game is big for obvious reasons,” SHS coach Bob DeMeyer said. “It’s homecoming and we must win out in order to automatically qualify for the playoffs. Although we've had injury and illness issues, this team has managed to stay very focused and competitive each week."

River Falls, which has qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and is attempting to win its first BRC title in 23 years, is coached by David Crail, who joined the Wildcats last year after spending 12 seasons with the Northwestern Tigers.

Crail, a Kalispell, Mont., native, was an assistant coach for 10 years at Northwestern before taking over in 2015 and 2016 when he guided the Tigers to a record of 15-6, two Heart of the North Conference titles and two straight playoff appearances.

“Superior is going to provide a tremendous challenge for us,” Crail said. “They have a number of talented athletes and are coached exceptionally well. If you look at some of the games that they have played over the course of the season, they have competed and have been in some tight contests against quality opponents.

“We know that we’re going to get their very best and our guys need to be prepared for that. We also know the situation that they are in, needing to win out, but we’re coming into this contest with a ton to play for as well. Having an opportunity to win the first conference title in more than two decades is a great motivator for us.”

Crail has turned things around quickly in River Falls and the Wildcats are off to their best start since finishing 4-4 in 2012. River Falls had records of 2-7 four of the last five years and were 1-8 in 2015.

“I have a ton of respect for coach Crail and what he and his staff have done to get things rolling with their program,” DeMeyer said. “We all knew it was going to happen with the quality of athletes they had coming up, combined with the manner in which they do things. They're a first class program that does so many things very well."

River Falls' offensive is led by 6-foot-5 quarterback Logan Graetz, who is 91-of-127 passing for 1,531 yards and 23 touchdowns. The Division 1 recruit is also second in rushing with 179 yards and a touchdown.

Seth Kohel leads the Wildcats on the ground with 961 yards and 13 touchdowns. He has also caught seven passes for 190 yards and two TDs.

Jared Creen is River Falls' big-play receiver with 40 receptions for 738 yards and 13 TDs. Graetz can also throw the ball to Joe Stofell and Payton Flood, who both have 18 catches for more than 200 yards.

On defense, River Falls is led by Adam Feyereisen, Mason Prigge and Luke Nelson, all with more than 40 tackles. Peter Noreen is next with 39 tackles to go along with three interceptions and two fumble recoveries, Chance Kamrowski has 4.5 sacks, and Stoffel has 3.5 sacks and an interception.

"River Falls is loaded on offense, defense and special teams,” DeMeyer said. “They have three all-state caliber players on offense in their quarterback, running back and receiver. Our defense has been a strength of this team all season it will have to be again Friday night.”

Superior is led by junior quarterback Jarrett Gronski, who has passed for 428 yards and thrown eight touchdown passes. The junior also leads the Spartans in rushing with 773 yards and 13 TDs.

The Spartan defense is led by Gabriel Sexton and Chase Summerfield, with 52 and 50 tackles, respectively. Right behind are Trevor Dalbec, Will Schorr, Brady Herbst, Caelen Wick and Drew DeBruyne, all with more than 40 tackles. Sam Gidley also had 39 tackles with three fumble recoveries.

"We know the importance of ball security, eliminating mental mistakes, moving the chains and finishing drives,” DeMeyer said. “I'm confident that we'll get our best effort offensively and we'll compete.”

SPARTAN SPIN: River Falls’ season included beating Menomonie for the first time since 1995. The Wildcats’ 25-18 win also snapped the Mustangs’ 18-game BRC winning streak. … Superior hosts Rice Lake (5-2) on Oct. 12. The Warriors, who play Menomonie this week, are in second place in the BRC at 3-2.

Tigers vs. Ladysmith

Northwestern will also celebrate homecoming by hosting Ladysmith at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5, at Gordon L. Nelson Field in Maple.

The Tigers (7-0, 5-0) will attempt to remain undefeated against a Lumberjack team that is 2-4 overall and 2-3 in the HON.

The Lumberjacks are coming off their best offensive performance of the season in a 52-20 win over Barron.

Ladysmith had 499 total yards on offense, including 428 on the ground.

Senior Caden DuPee led the way with 148 yards on 11 carries, including an 85-yard touchdown three minutes into the game.

Jacob Palumbo is Ladysmith's leading rusher with 517 yards and five TDs, followed by C. DuPee with 356 yards and two TD.

Junior quarterback Peyton Rogers has completed 33-of-87 passes for 473 yards and three TDs. Connor Franson has 12 catches for 217 yards and two TDs; C. DuPee has nine catches for 105 yards and Tru DePee had eight catches for 130 yards a pair of scores.

The Tigers have won nine straight over Ladysmith and during that stretch have scored more than 50 points five times, including 62 in 2015.

Ladysmith’s last win over Northwestern was 14-12 in 2008.

With 1,000-yard rusher Reagan Ruffi getting the week off, junior quarterback Jake Brill rushed for a season-high 97 yards on eight carries. He also threw for 141 yards and two touchdowns while completing 5-of-7 passes.

Brody Payton caught both of Brill's TD passes, from 50 and 9 yards out. Payton also returned a fumble 27 yards after the ball popped right in his hands after Keegan Plasch's punishing hit jarred the ball loose from a Spooner player.

On the season, Brill is 18-of-36 passing for 415 yards and four TDs.

Ruffi leads the way on the ground with 1,009 yards and 20 TDs, followed Trevor Janowicz, 494 yards and seven TDs.

Payton now has 12 carries for 342 yards and four TDs.

Defensively, Gervase Thompson IV has a team-high 40 tackles, three sacks and three forced fumbles. Plasch is second with 32 tackles and Jagar Stillson has 30 tackles, four fumble recoveries and four tackles for loss.