The drought is over for Northwood.
Despite posting 8-2 and 9-1 records in 2007 and 2008, respectively, and winning the Toledo Area Athletic Conference title both years, the Rangers were shut out of postseason play.
This season, the Rangers finished 7-3 and garnered enough computer points to qualify for the state playoffs for the first time since 2004. Their reward? A first-round road game against the top-ranked Division V team in the state.
Northwood, which won its third straight TAAC title, played at Northwest Ohio Athletic League champion Patrick Henry (10-0) Friday. The winner will play either Ashland Crestview (9-1) or Jeromesville Hillsdale (8-2) on Nov. 13.
"We knew even mid-year that if we had a chance to get in, we would get in as a number seven or eight seed and we knew we would draw somebody at the top of the region or at the top of the state (poll)," Northwood coach Ken James said. "If we want to get where we want to go as a program, we're going to have to play teams like this. We're going to have to play at this level and compete against them.
"No matter who we draw, we know it's going to be a tough one. There are no cupcakes here."
Northwood, the eighth seed in the Region 18 computer ratings, made the Division VI playoffs from 2001-04, and have a 1-4 all-time playoff mark. The Rangers were just three boys over the state cutoff in football from competing in Division VI this season.
Reaching the postseason didn't seem to be a possibility for the Rangers at the midway point of the season. Northwood had a 2-3 record and had suffered blowout losses to Lakota (26-0), Hopewell-Loudon (41-22) and Genoa (48-6). Hopewell-Loudon (D-VI) and fourth-ranked Genoa (D-IV) both made the playoffs.
James, in his 24th year at Northwood, said his team didn't talk about making the playoffs after its 2-3 start.
"It didn't look too promising," he said. "We knew one more loss would knock us out. With the situation we had been in before, at 9-1 we couldn't get in so we thought 7-3 would be a long shot. But, some teams ahead of us got knocked off and gave us that opportunity.
"When we were 2-3, we knew we had played some tough teams but we were also aware that we had not played our best game yet. We had played hard, but we had not been efficient and sound in what we had done."
The Rangers finished the season with 19 turnovers, with 14 of those coming in the first five games. They also created 20 turnovers, but only seven of those came in the first five weeks.
"Through Week 5 we were not protecting the ball enough," James said. "That's something we had to get better at. It was a week-to-week process for us, shifting guys around. We made practices more physical and that helped us a bunch. Every Tuesday was competition Tuesday and it made guys compete for jobs. Guys practiced awfully hard and that helped us get better."
The Patriots, who are making their 12th appearance in the playoffs, have been to the playoffs eight straight years. Their 2005 team finished 15-0 and defeated unbeaten Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy 42-30 in the Division V state title game.
Northwood has outscored its opposition 369-241 this season, while Patrick Henry, which finished 10-0 for the second straight year, outscored its opposition 419-102, with two shutouts.
Northwood distributes the ball to a handful of running backs led by leading rusher Zach Bermejo, who also starts at outside linebacker. Bermejo has rushed for 810 yards and 13 touchdowns on 102 carries; he is also the Rangers' leading receiver, with 12 catches for 173 yards and three TDs.
"He could easily have run for 1,600 yards if we gave him the ball enough," James said.
Junior quarterback Erik Russell is 35-for-65 passing for 405 yards and five TDs, with three interceptions. Junior outside linebacker Mike Prothero is Northwood's top tackler, with 82, and junior safety Jake Pressley has four interceptions.