Northwestern football coach Jovin Kroll talked earlier this week about how the Tigers had to “get over the hump,” and it was pretty clear what he was talking about.

Kroll was talking about beating St. Croix Central, a program which had stymied Northwestern in the Wisconsin high school football playoffs from 2016-18, with the Panthers advancing to the state championship game in each of those years.

This year it was the Tigers’ turn as senior running back Brennen Werner rushed 20 times for 122 yards and two touchdowns in leading Northwestern to a hard-fought 14-0 defensive victory over St. Croix Central in their Wisconsin Division 3 Sectional 1 playoff opener Friday night in Hudson, Wisconsin.

“The guys put it all together tonight and played with a fire they have not had this year,” Kroll said. “This win really meant something to everyone in this program. Our seniors have worked for four years to finally be able to beat that program — many were walking around with tears in their eyes, they were so happy.”

Northwestern (6-1) had a 245-79 advantage in yardage over the Panthers (6-2) as Tanner Kaufman and Nick Makela led the way with eight tackles apiece. Werner added seven tackles and Colin Trautt had an interception.

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The game was moved to Hudson due to field conditions in Hammond, Wisconsin.

The third-seeded Tigers will close out the season at top-seeded Ellsworth (7-0) at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19, with the game a day earlier to accommodate deer hunting. Ellsworth advanced with a 44-0 winner over Somerset.

Kroll said in the year of COVID-19, with the craziest playoff format we’ve ever seen, with four-team pods being used instead of a true playoff bracket, nothing is quite the same. However, this win certainly had a lot of meaning as the win brings a certain statewide respect.

“For all the things that did not happen in 2020, they will have this accomplishment to look back on with pride,” Kroll said. “And let’s face it, for future seasons with computer rankings taking into account past postseason results, we needed this win.”

Northwestern 7-7-0-0—14

St. Croix Central 0-0-0-0—0

NW — Brennen Werner 10 run (Dawson Kriske kick)

NW — Werner 1 run (Kriske kick)