Northwood and Gibsonburg are two teams that started the season heading in opposite directions.
The Rangers won their first three games convincingly, outscoring opponents by a combined 147-39. Benefitting from having had a system in place for years, 28th-year coach Ken James has led his Rangers to eight Toledo Area Athletic Conference titles in the last 11 seasons and Northwood is a favorite to win another.
Meanwhile, the Golden Bears have struggled, falling to Elmwood (32-0), Lakota (27-0) and Fremont St. Joseph Central Catholic (48-6). Coach Steve Reser, in his third season, is still working to implement the spread offense as his program's staple.
|Northwood junior halfback Anthony Prothero cuts through
Lake's defense in the Ranger's 70-26 rout. (Press photo by
“Steve's doing a really good job and he's trying to get a program in place,” James said. “Sometimes it takes a while to get a system installed with the youth program.”
The Rangers, who employ the wishbone attack on offense, have defeated Ayersville (42-6), Lake (70-26) and Hopewell-Loudon (35-7). Quarterback Nick Russell and running backs Jordan Schell and Danny Prothero have had success running the football and, when the situation calls for it, Russell has made defenses pay for stacking the box by throwing it over the top.
The Gibsonburg defense, which returns just three starters, will have its work cut out for itself. The Bears, who are entering their second season in the TAAC, will likely employ a 5-5 defense to keep Northwood's ground attack in check. On top of that, they'll have to deal with an offense that likes to speed things up in an effort to wear down the opposition.
“We're speeding the game up and we're running it at a fast tempo,” James said. “We have a fast-paced tempo at practice. If you're not used to playing at that pace, you're not going to feel too good doing it. We go right back to the line of scrimmage — all of the kids on offense are responsible for knowing the signals on offense. We get the signal, we line up and we go. We're trying to snap the ball four to five seconds after the referee blows the whistle.”
The Bears’ spread formation features four- and five-wide receiver sets. Sophomore quarterback Matt Tille, who showed promise last year as a freshman, will look to get the ball to a variety of receivers, including Derek Angelone and Isaiah Arriaga.
For Northwood’s defense, led by linebacker Nick Whitmore, the 2011 TAAC Defensive Player of the Year, the key to stopping Gibsonburg's attack will come down to making tackles out in space.
“Their offense presents problems – they can run and pass. Matt Tille is a heck of a runner. He's similar to (Lake sophomore quarterback) Jared Rettig. They spread you out and put you in matchups on the perimeter. You're covering guys in space and then the quarterback takes off and runs for 20 yards. We're going to have to be fundamentally sound. (Tille) has as strong an arm as anybody we've seen. We'll have our work cut out for us. Part of that equation will be controlling the ball on offense. We need to get first downs on offense.”
Gibsonburg has started slow before and recovered. Last season, the Bears started 1-4 before going on a 4-1 run to finish 5-5. It was a vast improvement from the season before when Gibsonburg went 0-10 in Reser's first season. This season, however, they went into the season inexperienced at the varsity level and are working to replace a number of key seniors, among them wide receiver Logan Jones, linebacker Curt Davies and running back/linebacker Jon Angelone.
The Bears achieved a moral victory when they scored their first points of the season on a one-yard touchdown run by Tille in their loss to the St. Joe Crimson Streaks. Reser says perhaps that's what the team needed after opening with a difficult non-conference schedule.
For now, Reser says he will focus on working to improve his squad little by little.
“Our young men have played hard, but, obviously, we have things we need to do,” Reser said. “We'll try to learn from our films, play hard and just take it day by day.”