Every player on the Northwood roster was in an unfamiliar situation when the final whistle blew Sept. 6 following the Rangers’ 56-20 loss to Lake.
Not only was it Northwood’s first loss to the Flyers in seven years, it marked the program’s first 0-2 start since the 2005 season, when coach Ken James’ squad lost to Evergreen and Lake. Northwood suffered a 42-34 season-opening loss at Ayersville on Aug. 30.
James said the mood of the players and coaches was “not really good,” after the loss to Lake.
quarterback Mike Vallejo>
(Press photo by Don
|Northwood back Johnny Wheeler carriers in win
over Gibsonburg. (Press photo by Don
“We were all pretty grumpy, which was a good thing,” James said. “Ayersville’s a good football team. They’re 4-1 right now and Lake is 5-0. We knew Lake was going to be good because they’ve been playing guys for a few years and they have a lot of experience. We’ve been either really good in certain areas or really bad. There hasn’t been a whole lot of in-between.”
James’ 2013 squad returns just three starters on offense and four on defense, and it starts a 155-pound sophomore (Mike Vallejo) at quarterback.
“One of the big differences between us this year and last year, we’re a little thinner and we have some guys who aren’t quite ready yet,” James said. “Last year, especially with linemen, we had so many of them we were running in 7-8 defensive linemen throughout the course of the game. This year we’re playing a lot of those guys two ways.”
James added that his coaching staff knew turning things around was not going to be an easy fix. It wasn’t just one person making an error or missing an assignment, the Rangers were making multiple errors on offense and defense.
“We were trying to find our way from a coaching standpoint, trying to find who fit where at certain positions,” the coach said. “We were still jockeying the lineup around, up until last week, in terms of who’s playing where.”
Northwood’s staff, for instance, moved last year’s leading receiver, senior Jacob Davenport, from wideout into the backfield. Davenport, the team’s fastest player, has rushed for 404 yards and five touchdowns on just 39 carries (10.4 average).
“That has worked out well,” James said. “We do rotate Jake out to wideout to keep him in the game. We want to get him the ball more. Instead of 5-7 times a game like last year, maybe 12-15.”
Junior halfback Dominik Bermejo has been another bright spot, rushing 82 times for 792 yards (9.6 average) and 10 touchdowns.
“He plays a lot bigger than he appears,” James said. “He is slippery and he cuts well. He’s really core strong. He’s physical and he knows when to make the right cut and go vertical or run it to the sideline. He was really good running back last year, but we had a ton of them. He got a decent amount of carries, then he had a good offseason and got a lot faster over the winter. He’s able to turn a lot of 10-yard runs into 50-yard runs, and he’ll get you four yards when you need it.”
Vallejo, who is replacing two-year starter Nick Russell, has completed 14 of 33 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns, with five interceptions. He’s also rushed 39 times for 179 yards and two scores, and James said the staff is getting more comfortable with him under center.
“The thing I like most about Mike is that he’s tough,” James said. “He did a good job on jayvee last year and we’re trying to feed him more as we go. Last year with Nick Russell there wasn’t anything we couldn’t call. He could manage all that. We’ve been a little more simplistic with Mike because he isn’t that experienced yet. He does a good job distributing the ball and pitching the ball on the option, and he’s getting better at reading coverage.”
After the slow start, Northwood reeled off wins over Woodward (49-26) and Edon (40-27) and got a big Toledo Area Athletic Conference win last Friday against Gibsonburg (28-0). The Rangers, who have never lost to this week’s opponent, Hilltop, control their own destiny in the TAAC, which they’ve won five out of the last six years.
“I think winning energizes you a little bit,” James said. “You come back to practice on Monday and work hard after a win, and maybe you’re in a better mood. The biggest thing we’ve been fighting for is consistency in everything. Preparation, from lifting before practice to watching film and preparing for the fundamental part of the game, as a team that’s where we’re starting to mature.
“We’re not going to win the league with two wins,” James added, “and we’ve cautioned them about getting too happy with what’s going on. We’re only 2-0 in the league, but right now we’re in good position.”