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Wisconsin prep football playoffs: Schlies runs wild as Tigers bulldoze Panthers in Level 2 playoff game

Senior’s career performance helps Northwestern advance to a home showdown next week against Ellsworth.

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Northwestern’s Austin Schlies (34) stiff arms West Salem’s Jack Hehli (83) in the first quarter of the playoff game in Maple on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

MAPLE — Northwestern football coach Jovin Kroll and the rest of the Tigers’ coaching staff saw something on film that they liked and decided to dial back the playbook in their WIAA Division 4 playoff matchup with West Salem, back to a time when men were men and the game wasn’t so pass-happy.

But instead of the old three yards and a cloud of dust, this one turned out to be more 'eat my dust' as senior running back Austin Schlies ran over, around and past the Panthers defense.

Schlies had career highs of 30 carries for 281 yards and matched his career high with four touchdowns in leading the Tigers to a 42-20 victory over West Salem Friday, Oct. 29, 2021, in their Level 2 matchup.

“We knew if there was one place where we had an advantage over West Salem it was up front, so our plan was to control the ball,” Kroll said.

If that was the game plan, Kroll turned to the right guy in Schlies, who continues to carry the load while his teammate Greg Ohman, himself a bulldozer, recovers from an injury suffered two weeks ago against Cumberland.

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Northwestern (11-0) is hopeful Ohman will be back soon as the Tigers advance to a Level 3 home showdown — the equivalent of the state quarterfinals — next week with unbeaten Ellsworth (10-0), a 46-21 winner Friday over Osceola.

“Our line did a great job up front, so I just had to stay patient,” Schlies said. “When I saw an opening, it was just boom! I used a burst of speed to get through it and take it to the outside.”

While Schlies was clearly the player of the game, it wasn’t without some friendly ribbing from teammates.

“Why didn’t you break 300?!” senior Kole Paulsen yelled as the Tigers walked off the field to the adoring celebration just beyond the gate.

Schlies has rushed for 200 yards multiple times but he topped his career high by more than 50 yards.

Schlies wasn’t complaining that the one career high he didn’t break was four touchdowns, which he matched.

“I’ll take four touchdowns any day of the week,” he said.

Schlies’ teammate Tanner Kaufman added eight carries for 111 yards as Northwestern amassed 475 yards on the ground.

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Schlies and Co. were so effective running the ball that quarterback Luke Sedin, who has been prolific at times this season, only threw the ball three times, connecting on all three for 11 yards and a touchdown.

“I’m sure it was a boring game for our receivers,” Kroll said with a grin.

Quarterback Brett McConkey was 14-for-23 passing for 219 yards to lead West Salem (8-2). He passed for two touchdowns, with one interception, and also ran for a score.

“I’m proud of our 12 seniors,” West Salem coach Justin Jehn said. “This group went through an 0-and-9 season as sophomores and changed the trajectory of our program with their performance, and we’re going to miss them. It’s a good group of guys. They instilled what it means to play Panthers football.”

“Northwestern has a great team. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see them in Madison.”

If Schlies keeps carrying the load, who knows?

“I’m sore. I’m tired,” Schlies said, understandably so. “But I’ll ice up all weekend, just like I always do, and be ready to go next week.”

West Salem 0-7-6-7—20

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Northwestern 7-14-7-14—42

NW — Jase Nelson 5 pass from Luke Sedin (Dawson Kriske kick)

NW — Austin Schlies 5 run (Kriske kick)

WS — Brett McConkey 1 run (Noah LaFleur kick)

NW — Wyatt Dumonson 1 run (Kriske kick)

NW — Schlies 13 run (Kriske kick)

WS — Brennan Kennedy 62 pass from McConkey (kick failed)

NW — Schlies 3 run (Kriske kick)

WS — Kennedy 3 pass from McConkey (LaFleur kick)

NW — Schlies 47 run (Kriske kick)

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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