Most football defenses are geared around the linebackers getting freed up to make the bulk of the tackles, and Northwestern High School in Maple is no different, but occasionally a player wreaks enough havoc up front to where he gets the tackle himself.

Adam Thompson is that player.

The 6-foot-2, 245-pound senior defensive tackle has led Northwestern in tackles the past two seasons and will be looking to do that again when the Tigers (5-1) play at St. Croix Central (6-1) in their Wisconsin Division 3 Sectional 1 playoff opener at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13 in Hammond.

Thompson’s approach to defense is simple.

“I try to make every tackle every play,” Thompson said.

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And that’s perfectly fine with the Tigers.

Thompson, an all-region and all-state honorable mention selection last season, is a good bet to be named Heart O’ North Conference defensive player of the year when the all-conference selections are announced Friday.

Thompson has 42 tackles this season, including an incredible 19 for loss — almost half his total — including two quarterback sacks.

“To lead our team in tackles as a defensive tackle — that’s pretty amazing,” Northwestern coach Jovin Kroll said. “That doesn’t happen very often, and it’s a credit to the job he does. He’s very explosive. He’s not supposed to be making all the tackles, but he is."

Northwestern’s Adam Thompson (56) takes down Bloomer’s Ethan Rothbauer (10) for a loss in the second quarter of the Tigers game at Gordon L. Nelson Field in Maple earlier this season.  (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Northwestern’s Adam Thompson (56) takes down Bloomer’s Ethan Rothbauer (10) for a loss in the second quarter of the Tigers game at Gordon L. Nelson Field in Maple earlier this season. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Thompson plays with the proverbial motor, and he needs to. He also plays guard and is a two-year starter on both sides of the ball, so he rarely comes off the field.

“I try my hardest to follow along with the play,” Thompson said. “I never give up on the play, even if they gain like a 40-yarder. I still run down the play, and I’ve gotten tackles 40 yards downfield.”

With a bench press of 295 pounds, a squat of 435 and deadlift of 485, Thompson certainly isn’t lacking in strength, either, easily topping the “1,000 pound club.”

Thompson, one of 11 seniors on the squad, plans to attend Wisconsin-Stout, but said he will never forget his senior year, even if it wasn’t quite what the Tigers were expecting due to COVID-19.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen, but we’re happy to have a season,” Thompson said. “This is as close as we’re going to come to a state playoffs. This is like a Level 3 (state quarterfinal) playoff game.”

And if Northwestern wins, the Tigers would get one more game Thursday, Nov. 19, against the winner of Somerset (3-3) and top-seeded Ellsworth (6-0) to close out the season.

“That’d be a bonus,” Thompson said.

Football familiarity

The programs are no strangers to each other despite being located nearly 140 miles apart.

Northwestern lost at St. Croix Central in the 2016, 2017 and 2018 playoffs, with the Panthers going on to play in the state championship game each year.

Some Tigers may have wanted another crack at Cumberland to try to avenge their only loss of the season, but not Thompson.

“Playing St. Croix Central is better, in my opinion,” Thompson said. “We’ve never beaten them in the last few years, so it’d be pretty awesome to beat them.”

Cumberland is playing in another pod as the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association lost so many teams they ended up cutting a division, down to six. WIAA officials did what they said they were going to do, putting teams into pods based not just on regions but also records, where the teams with the better records have been grouped together, and the teams with the lesser records have been grouped together. With no state title to advance to, they’re hoping for competitive games.

“So you see a team that finished in the middle of our conference with a No. 1 seed, where they probably would have been a No. 5 seed if this were normal, but of course, this is nowhere near normal,” Kroll said.

So to get a program the caliber of St. Croix Central was just fine by Kroll.

“We’re excited to have an opportunity to do something Northwestern hasn’t been able to do,” Kroll said. “The one glowing disappointment with those (2016-18) teams, especially that ’18 team (which lost in the state quarterfinals), is we haven’t been able get over the hump and get past St. Croix Central and on to Madison.

“So this is it. There is no Madison, but there is the opportunity to try to beat St. Croix Central. I don’t think any of us can come out of these pods and really say (who is the state champion), because any given week, you can talk about what could have been, but whoever wins these games can wear that with honor," Kroll said.

Northwestern’s Aiden Kroeplin (18) celebrates his fumble recovery in the second quarter of the Tigers game at Gordon L. Nelson Field in Maple.  (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Northwestern’s Aiden Kroeplin (18) celebrates his fumble recovery in the second quarter of the Tigers game at Gordon L. Nelson Field in Maple. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

NORTHWESTERN (5-1) AT ST. CROIX CENTRAL (6-1)

What: Division 3 first-round playoff game

When: 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13

Where: Hammond, Wisconsin

Up next: The winner advances to play the Somerset/Ellsworth winner on Thursday, Nov. 19 to close out the season.

Outlook: The third-seeded Tigers enter the playoffs coming off a 35-0 shutout of Cameron, the team’s second whitewash in a row and third this season. Senior running back Colin Trautt (111 rushing attempts, 693 yards, eight touchdowns) led with 122 yards, slightly above his per-game average. Brennen Werner (42-272) is tied with Trautt for the team lead in TDs. Northwestern relies on its running game and a defense that allows fewer than seven points a game since it has completed only 10 passes all season. The winner plays either top-seeded Ellsworth or Somerset in the next round. … The second-seeded Panthers routed Somerset 43-14 last week as quarterback Tadan Holzer (28 completions, 44 attempts, 553 yards) went 5-for-5 passing for 187 yards and three TDs. Holzer also has rushed for 521 yards on 106 carries and scored 10 times. Gabe Siler (92-644, nine TDs) leads the team in rushing and receiving (11 receptions, 251 yards). Up front, they have 6-foot-4, 280-pound junior lineman Carson Hinzman, who reportedly has received NCAA Division I offers from the likes of Wisconsin, LSU, Alabama and Miami (Fla.). “He’s the real thing,” Northwestern coach Jovin Kroll said. The Panthers have outscored opponents 256-89 this season and posted two shutouts en route to finishing second to Ellsworth in the Middle Border Conference. Ellsworth handed Saint Croix Central its lone loss, 26-22. St. Croix Central runs a triple-option offense that relies on deception, meaning Northwestern defenders will need to play like their head is on swivel. “You never know — it’s hard to tell where the ball is going to go,” Tigers guard and defensive tackle Adam Thompson said. “They’ve got some big linemen, so you have to play low. If we play hard, play fast and stay low, we should be able to stop them and hopefully score on offense.”

FREDERIC (2-5) AT NORTHWOOD/SOLON SPRINGS (3-3)

What: Wisconsin 8-player playoff/bowl game

When: 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 13

Where: Minong

Up next: This game concludes the Evergreens’ season.

Outlook: This is a rematch of last week, won 28-14 by the Evergreens as senior running back Collin Krmpotich rushed 14 times for 117 yards and two touchdowns Nov. 6 in Frederic. Evergreens senior quarterback Ben Monson threw a TD pass while leading the defensive effort with eight tackles. Monson was filling in for junior starter Syver Gulbrandsen, who according to coach Matt Hager will be back this week after going through concussion protocol. However, Monson will be out, as he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in last Friday’s game. Gulbrandsen has thrown for 710 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Krmpotich has rushed for 618 yards and seven more scores. Krmpotich leads the team with 59 tackles, Gulbrandsen has 44 and Brady Krmpotich has 35. “In terms of the season, we feel that we have been truly blessed to have already played six games,” Hager said. “Going into the season, we figured we would get three to four games in max. From our original schedule, we only played one of those teams, so almost all of the games have been picked up because other teams had to drop out or quarantine.” The Evergreens have eight seniors who went from thinking they might not play this year to playing into mid-November. “As for the opportunity to play one final game, we are really excited to allow our seniors to get one final chance to play on our home field,” Hager said. “We’re trying to make sure we have a fun week of practice to send these guys out on the right note.”

Northwood/Solon Springs quarterback Syver Gulbrandsen (14) gets around the corner as he runs with the ball during the Evergreens’ game with Shell Lake in Minong.  (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Northwood/Solon Springs quarterback Syver Gulbrandsen (14) gets around the corner as he runs with the ball during the Evergreens’ game with Shell Lake in Minong. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)