So far, it's been smooth sailing for Coach Ken James' undefeated and state ranked Northwood football team.
After going 9-2, winning a Toledo Area Athletic Conference title and advancing to the postseason in 2011, Northwood started the 2012 season on a mission.
First, the Rangers defeated Ayersville, 42-6, in the opener before disposing of Lake (70-26) and Hopewell-Loudon (35-7). The conference season has seen the Rangers dominate as well as they've outscored TAAC opponents by a combined 218-25. Northwood, 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the conference, played Toledo Christian last Friday and hosts Ottawa Hills in what could be its most difficult test of the season.
This will be the 50th meeting between the Rangers and Green Bears, meaning that upon completion of Friday’s game they will put a half century of football behind them. They have played every year since 1963, except for 1986. The series, which includes when both teams were in the Lakeshore Conference (1967-72, 1981-85) and Michigan-Ohio Border Conference (1973-80) is led by Northwood, 28-21.
Under Coach Norm Niedermeier, who coached Ottawa Hills from 1957-96, the Green Bears dominated early in the series. The Rangers have dominated lately, winning the last six meetings by a combined 268-82. Northwood coach Ken James, now in his 27th season, enjoys competing against the rival Bears, who are now led by Chris Hardman, who is in his 15th season. Despite the fact that Northwood leads the series by only seven games, they have dominated during James' tenure, going 19-6.
“We've had some good games over the years,” James said. “Chris is doing a good job with his program and they are doing well this season after losing their first two games. It's always fun to go up against them.”
The Rangers, barring a collapse, are in line for a postseason. They entered the contest with TC ranked second in the Division V, Region 18 computer standings with 11.04 points and are ranked sixth statewide in Division V by the Associated Press.
“We're a little over two-thirds of the way through the season,” said James, “and we've gotten a little better as the season has gone along. We've been practicing well (and) taking things day by day is a good way to approach things. We've done a great thing of protecting the football. Right now, we're pleased with our progress.”
|Northwood senior halfback Jordan
Schell scores. (Press photo by Don
Northwood features the wishbone offense, a system predicated upon utilizing three running backs at once. But it's actually the quarterback, senior Nick Russell, who is leading the team in rushing, followed closely by fullback Anthony Prothero. Running backs Dominic Bermejo, Stephen Fuller and Jordan Schell have also contributed to the rushing attack.
Russell, meanwhile, has done well passing the ball. In the Rangers' victory over neighborhood rival Lake, Russell completed 8-of-11 passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns, an indication of what he can do if given the opportunity to air it out.
On the flip side, while Ottawa Hills hasn't been nearly as dominate, the Green Bears were 5-2 overall and 4-0 in the TAAC entering last Friday’s contest. After losing their first two games, Ottawa Hills battled back to win five straight, outscoring its opponents 210-50 along the way.
The Green Bears, who run the spread offense, have a quarterback in Jonathan Rodriguez who is capable of making big plays, and several playmakers, among them Will Longthorn and brothers Judah and Jack Wollenburg. In OH’s 38-21 defeat of Gibsonburg, Rodriguez connected on 11-of-18 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns.
The key for linebacker Northwood linebacker Nick Whitmore, the 2011 TAAC Defensive Player of the Year, and the rest of the Ranger defense is to hold Rodriguez and company in check, limiting big plays and forcing them to drive the length of the field. The Rangers have not allowed an opponent to rush for more than 100 yards since the opener against Ayersville, but the Green Bears playmakers are threats rushing, passing, and receiving.
“Rodriguez is a good quarterback,” James said. “Their tight ends and wide receivers can catch and have speed. If we have the ball, that's a great defense for us. We're going to try and play possession football as best we can. If we can avoid negative plays, that will be good.
“We have to be assignment-sound,” he continued. “We've got to be sound in what we're doing. We've got to be good at what we're doing in terms of running and pass blocking. We're going to have to be fundamentally good at taking on blockers (and) shedding blockers. Our secondary has to be supportive out on the perimeter. We don't want to give them any big plays.”