Senior linebacker Nick Whitmore and his Northwood teammates are thinking big.
Yes, the Rangers want to win the school’s ninth Toledo Area Athletic Conference football title in the last 12 years. That, however, won’t be enough to satisfy this year’s squad, particularly the seniors.
“We definitely wanted to go undefeated this year,” Whitmore said. “We were close last year (9-1). We knew if we did well this season we’d be the winningest (senior) class at Northwood, but we’ve lost three playoff games in our career. That’s a big thing for us. We want to win a playoff game more than anything. We’ve been working toward that all year.”
|Nick Whitmore (Press photo by Don
The Rangers have made seven state playoff appearances and are 1-7 in the postseason. Northwood had a first-round home game last year and got whacked by Patrick Henry, 49-28.
This year’s squad (8-0, 5-0 TAAC), which is ranked sixth in the Division V state poll, can clinch at last a share of the conference title on Friday with a win over visiting Ottawa Hills (6-2, 5-0). The Rangers close out the regular season against rival Cardinal Stritch (1-7, 0-5).
Northwood has rolled through the regular season so far, outscoring its first eight opponents by a 406-74 margin. Coach Ken James’ squad has given up seven points or less in five games and could set the school’s all-time single season record for points allowed. The 2002 team allowed 84 points in 10 games.
James figures his first-team defense has only allowed 46 points this season and said Northwood’s ability to stop the run and the emergence of the secondary have been huge.
“We graduated most of our secondary last year but we had most of our defensive front coming back,” James said. “We knew we should be good at stopping the run in the front seven. We’re pretty big. We have a bunch of guys back and we’ve been getting some contributions from guys like (sophomore linebacker Miles) Habel. That part of our defense has been pretty good.
“Our ‘ones’ haven’t given up 100 yards rushing, and that’s important. Everybody throws the ball a lot these days, but it’s still important to stop the run. The allows you to put pressure on the passer and you have less to defend. That’s been crucial. The question mark coming in was our secondary, and they’ve played very well.”
The 6-foot, 235-pound Whitmore, a four-year starter, said he isn’t surprised the defense has been so stingy.
“We have a lot people who have played,” he said. “Our front seven is pretty strong. One junior is playing defensive back and the rest are seniors, so I’m not very surprised we’re playing at the level we are. A big contributing factor is our defensive coaching staff. They get us ready for everything. They put a lot of time in everything and we go through a lot of reps every day so we know what’s going on.”
In eight games, Northwood has allowed an average of 188 yards a game (68 rushing) and has 64 tackles for loss. Whitmore leads the team with 88 tackles, including 13 for loss.
“He’s big and strong and runs well,” James said. “He’s physical and he’s smart. He calls our fronts and we have other guys call the coverages. Right now he’s playing like we expect a senior linebacker to play. He understands what the opponent’s doing. He’s a big reason for our run defense, and the guys up front do a good job keeping linemen off him. It’s a good combination for us.”
Six players rotate on the defensive line: seniors Justin Rohrs (6-2, 259), Mike Tonti (6-0, 221), Trey Odenweller (6-2, 294) John Segura (6-1, 245) and Louie Woyame (5-11, 171), and junior Kyle Corbitt (6-1, 201). Rohrs, Segura and senior linebacker David Bogart (6-4, 234) are all three-year starters.
“In the 4-3, the line is real key,” Whitmore said. “They make my job much easiser. They eat up the blocks, and the linebackers scrape and make tackles. Everyone does their job and we all bathe in the glory together. The linebackers know how important the defensive line is.”
Senior linebacker Tyler Shepard is second on the team with 65 tackles, including seven tackles for loss, while Habel has 43 tackles. Sophomore strong safety Dominik Bermejo has a team-high six of Northwood’s 14 interceptions.
The rest of the secondary consists of cornerbacks Jake Davenport, Steven Fuller and Brandon Kretz, and safeties Nick Russell, Dustin Fullenlove and Evan Perkins.
“The secondary has jelled and played really well,” James said. “That has been a huge bonus for us.”
The Rangers should have a good shot of hosting another first-round playoff game this season if they win out. Whitmore said they have just the squad to get the job done.
“I would definitely say this is the best team I’ve ever played on,” he said. “Athletically we were really good when I was younger, but we never put it all together. This year we have a lot of seniors who have played together for a while, and that’s a pretty big deal.”