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Playing for Nate

The Northwestern High School football team took up a new rallying cry Friday night: "Do it for Nate." When the Tigers face Ellsworth today in the opening round of the WIAA Division 4 playoffs, they'll be keeping their star running back in mind. "...

The Northwestern High School football team took up a new rallying cry Friday night:

“Do it for Nate.”

When the Tigers face Ellsworth today in the opening round of the WIAA Division 4 playoffs, they’ll be keeping their star running back in mind.

“We’re going to be pushing for him,” said senior Micah Goetsch. “Even though he won’t be playing on the field we want to support him for getting us to where we are.”

Junior Nate Pearson was sidelined for the season Friday after breaking his collarbone in Northwestern’s regular season finale with Barron.

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Pearson provided much of the Tigers’ firepower on offense. He had 1,440 yards rushing - averaging 7.7 yards per carry - and 14 touchdowns before his injury.

“I feel really bad for Nate because I don’t know if anybody loves football as much as he loves football,” said Dennis Scherz, NHS head coach. “It’s really his passion, and he’s such a kindhearted young man. That’s what I feel worst about.”

The Tigers need a new game plan with Pearson out for the playoffs. In Northwestern’s run-heavy offense, Pearson accounted for 57 percent of the team’s yards on the ground.

Goetsch is Northwestern’s second-leading running back with 553 yards rushing.

“We’ll do everything we can to get ready,” Scherz said. “We’ve got some young guys - Jared Anttila and Carter Spangenberg - we brought them up a couple of weeks ago because they have talent, and now we’re going to ask more out of them.”

Spangenberg scored three touchdowns in Northwestern’s season finale and has 121 yards rushing in four games. Anttila, at quarterback, is averaging 11.2 yards per carry with 101 yards rushing in four games. Both players are sophomores.

Starting quarterback Matt Lindsay had 221 yards passing in the regular season with four touchdowns and one interception. Nick Johnson is Lindsay’s favorite target with seven catches for 156 yards.

“We’ll get out there and fight,” Scherz said. “Sometimes injuries like that to key players can make everyone better.”

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Ellsworth, 5-3 overall and 4-3 in the Middle Border Conference, qualified for the playoffs with a 13-7 win over Prescott Friday. The Panthers earned the No. 4 seed, while the Tigers (5-4, 4-3) earned the No. 5 seed.

Leading Ellsworth is quarterback Emery Whalen. He has thrown for 1,096 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. His main targets are Nick Taranto (555 yards, seven touchdowns) and Eric McGregor (210 yards, three TDs).

On the ground, Jordan Close leads the Panthers with 431 yards, followed by Jacob Sigler with 321 yards rushing.

Ellsworth averaged 25.3 points per game and gave up 16.9 points per game during the regular season. Northwestern averaged 29.7 points per game and allowed 16.8 points per game.

The Tigers’ offense, however, is likely to have a very different look today.

Goetsch said Pearson will be missed on the field, but the junior is still very much a part of the team.

“We won’t forget him; that’s just not us,” Goetsch said. “We’re a big family, and this is for Nate from here on out.”

NOTES: Northwestern has now qualified for the playoffs in five of the past six years. The Tigers have 21 playoff appearances dating back to 1987 and hold a 30-19 overall playoff record.

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“Our main goal is always to make the playoffs,” Scherz said. “We have our big board in front of the stands as you come into the stadium, and we always challenge our seniors to get their year on that board. And now the class of 2015 will have their year on the board. That’s just a big tradition here at Northwestern. You can go through the years and you see there aren’t very many missing ones. There aren’t many schools in the state that can say that.”

Ellsworth is returning to the playoffs after falling to Somerset 14-7 in last year’s Level 3 game. The Panthers are making their tenth playoff appearance dating back to 1982 and hold an overall playoff record of 9-8. Ellsworth won the Division 3 state title in 1990.

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