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Prep football: Northwestern needs balance in matchup with Aquinas

Playing disciplined defense will be key to keeping the defending Wisconsin Division 5 champions in check, according to Tigers coach Jovin Kroll.

Northwestern’s Tanner Kaufman (6) knocks down Stanley-Boyd’s Landen Hoel (3) with a stiff arm during a run in the first quarter
Northwestern’s Tanner Kaufman (6) knocks down Stanley-Boyd’s Landen Hoel (3) with a stiff-arm during a run in the first quarter of the Level 1 playoff game in Maple on Friday evening, Oct. 21, 2022. Kaufman has 16 rushing touchdowns and four receiving touchdowns this season.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram
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MAPLE — Northwestern romped through its undefeated regular season and first round of the playoffs with just one opponent staying within 10 points, but its next opponent is a bit of a different animal.

In Level 2 of the playoffs, the Tigers will face their biggest challenge to date in defending Division 5 champion Aquinas at 7 p.m. Friday in Maple in perhaps the most difficult bracket in the entire tournament.

“It’s a pretty rare day to get a defending state champion at home in the playoffs,” Northwestern head coach Jovin Kroll said. “We’re thankful that we’re at our place. Our bracket is a tougher bracket than I’ve been a part of…Whoever comes out of this bracket — if they’re still in one piece — will have a great shot at moving forward and make it to Madison.”

For the first time in eight years, the Tigers don't have a soccer-style kicker.

In Aquinas, the Tigers are up against 6 foot, 5 inch, 225-pound quarterback Jackson Flottmeyer. In nine regular season games, Flottmeyer threw for more than 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. The senior was even better in 2021 when he passed for nearly 3,000 yards and 34 touchdowns to only four interceptions, but Kroll knows Northwestern must play disciplined defense to have a chance.

“We can’t have breakdowns or they are going to put up points in a hurry,” Kroll said.

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The Tigers faced a similar challenge when they faced Ellsworth last season in their 54-13 loss in Level 3 of the playoffs. Panthers running back Max Grand, now a freshman playing for the Minnesota Gophers, ran for 209 yards and two touchdowns in that game.

Northwestern’s Wyatt Dumonson (32) scampers through the Barron defense
Northwestern’s Wyatt Dumonson (32) scampers through the Barron defense in the first quarter of the game in Maple on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022. Dumonson and the Tigers face defending state champion Aquinas Friday in Maple.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

“The other thing that will matter on Friday is if we can tackle these guys in space,” Kroll said. “If you look at that Ellsworth game last year with Max Grand at tailback, we couldn’t tackle they’re speedsters in space. (Aquinas) has some burners as well, but maybe this year instead of tackling in space, though, it’s going to be more about covering in space.”

Offensively, the Tigers are going to look to control the ball and keep it away from the high-powered Blugold attack. Senior Tanner Kaufman has rushed for 1,140 yards and 16 touchdowns this year, while two other players have at least seven rushing scores.

Northwestern quarterback Luke Sedin (4) gets out of the grasp of St. Croix Falls’ Porter Boche (66)
Northwestern quarterback Luke Sedin (4) gets out of the grasp of St. Croix Falls’ Porter Boche (66) in the first quarter of the game in Maple on Friday evening, Sept. 9, 2022. Sedin has passed for nearly 1,200 yards and 17 touchdowns this season.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

Kroll said he would love to “pound the football” against Aquinas, but he thinks the Tigers will need to move the ball through the air, something they have shown the ability to do.

“We’re going to have to be very balanced and the team we have this season probably has the ability to be balanced — more so than the majority of Northwestern teams in the past,” Kroll said.

Quarterback Luke Sedin has passed for almost 1,200 yards and 17 touchdowns. What’s more, three Tigers have at least four receiving touchdowns, including Kaufman. Sedin said the Northwestern offensive line has given him plenty of time to go through his progressions before making a throw this season.

“We are going to have to pound the ball,” Sedin said. “But we’ll have to be able to do play action, catch them off guard and hit the right guy to open up the field. If we just keep grounding and pounding, they’re going to stack the box and we’ll have to hit them up over the top with the air attack.

Northwestern certainly has its work cut out for it, but If the Tigers can keep Flottmeyer in check defensively and control the time of possession, they could be the ones to make it out of the bracket and into the state playoffs in Madison.

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Aquinas at Northwestern

What: Wisconsin Division 5, Level 2 playoff football game
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Northwestern High School, Maple
Records: Aquinas 9-1, Northwestern 10-0
Maple forecast: clear and 52 with a 9 mph wind at game time 
Internet: https://www.ifan.tv/page/show/7311026-northwestern
Radio: WNXR 107.3 FM

More from Jamey Malcomb
The Tigers’ all-time leading scorer has already started giving back to the program by coaching the seventh-grade travel team.

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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