Northwood, Stritch chasing Big Apple Deli Trophy
Northwood controls its own destiny as far as winning its third straight Toledo Area Athletic Conference title.
Cardinal Stritch, under first-year coach Joe Gutilla, is merely looking to end the 2009 season on a positive note to build momentum for next season.
A win over the Rangers to end the season, which would give Stritch the Big Apple Deli Trophy for the first time since 2006, would give the Cardinals just the boost they need heading into next year.
"Northwood has been the class of the conference for quite a few years," Gutilla said. "If you're going to win a conference championship, you have to go through Northwood to do it. The fact that they are our rival, it makes the game even that much more intense."
The winner of the annual showdown between Stritch and Northwood earns the Big Apple Deli Trophy. The two teams meet on Oct. 30 at Northwood, but first the two teams had to get past Hilltop and Toledo Christian, respectively, this weekend.
A win over Toledo Christian (6-2, 4-0) would give Northwood (5-3, 4-0) a share of the TAAC title. Stritch (1-7, 1-3) played a Hilltop (5-3, 2-2) team that still had slim hopes of winning its first conference title.
The Cardinals, who last won a TAAC title in 2006, have won just two of their last 16 games, but Northwood coach Ken James said it is clear that Gutilla is turning things around at Stritch.
"We've seen them on TV a little bit, and Joe is doing an excellent job," said James, whose team beat the Cardinals 54-6 last season. "He doesn't have a lot of players, right around 30, but as a coach you can tell he's been coaching a while. He's putting players in spots to make them successful. He is getting (Kyle) Gladieux the ball in a bunch of positions where he can help the team. They're running the ball and trying to control the clock. As long as he can stay there a while, he will build a good, competitive program."
The Cardinals' top offensive threat, Gladieux, is a senior tailback who has rushed for 957 yards and 10 touchdowns on 166 attempts.
The Rangers counter with a balanced rushing attack led by Zach Bermejo, who leads the team with 568 yards and 11 touchdowns on 67 carries. Mike Prothero has 62 carries for 352 yards and two
Northwood 5-11, 178
pound junior running
back Mike Prothero has
very little difficulty
getting past Scott
Bulldog defenders in the
2009 Shoe Bowl. (Photo
courtesy of Scott W. Grau/NWO
TDs, and Jake Pressley has 32 carries for 326 yards and four TDs.
The Rangers, who are averaging 268 rushing yards per game, ran for 478 yards last Friday in a 64-24 home rout of Ottawa Hills.
Pressley had 128 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries and also scored on an 88-yard kickoff return. Bermejo ran four times for 117 yards and two scores.
"We're still a young team and we're maturing as a team," James said. "Last week we weren't jumping up and down, but we were ready to play. We had a good feel for our game plan and what they're supposed to do. We're getting better and more physical in practice. The tone of our practice is a physical one up front, and that's helped us."
The Rangers will have a size advantage on Cardinal Stritch, which averages about 170 pounds on the offensive line and 180-185 pounds on the defensive line. Stritch last beat Northwood in 2006, by an 18-0 margin.
Gutilla said the Cardinals have made big strides in the attitude department this season.
"We are certainly more competitive," he said. "What wins and losses never show, they show the final score but not how the game was played. Our kids have been in every game this year except one or two. Our competitive attitude has really improved week to week. Our kids give me everything they have."
Gutilla added that the No. 1 goal for the program is to get stronger during the offseason.
"We need to get into the weight room for a year," he said. "I have all of my linemen returning and I think you'll see some big differences next year. We don't maintain that physicality on every single play, and that has everything to do with strength and speed. Once we spend a good, solid year in the weight room with these kids, you'll see a big difference."
Gutilla will get his first taste of the Stritch-Northwood rivalry next week, and he said the Cardinals will show up ready to play.
"We may have one win at this point, and we play two of the best teams in the conference at the end," Gutilla said. "We're going to have to play our best football to play with either one of those teams. Our kids will be ready to play, no question. They'll give everything they have. Northwood won't just show up and throw their helmets on the field because they're playing a team with one win."