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Published: Thursday, 11/3/2005

Sidelines: Wildcats in the hunt

BY DONALD EMMONS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Key defensive players for Northview include, from left, defensive end Matt Meridieth, cornerback Sam Myers, nose guard Andy Mutchler and cornerback Matt Page. The Wildcats (8-2) play at Findlay (9-1) Saturday in the Division I playoffs.
Key defensive players for Northview include, from left, defensive end Matt Meridieth, cornerback Sam Myers, nose guard Andy Mutchler and cornerback Matt Page. The Wildcats (8-2) play at Findlay (9-1) Saturday in the Division I playoffs.
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The Northview football program broke new ground in a major way this season.

The Wildcats celebrated winning at least a share of the Northern Lakes League championship for the first time in school history.

Earning a playoff berth was also a first after posting an 8-2 regular-season record, which equals the school s single-season best showing.

And it s pretty clear where this group should rank when it comes to all-time Wildcats teams, according to Northview coach Eric Keller.

I guess this was the best team because they are the first team to win a league championship and are going to the playoffs, Keller said. They ve lived up to the goals that were set. Our first goal was to win the league championship. The second goal was to play into November and they really bought into that and we re very pleased.

Northview participates in its first playoff game on Saturday when it plays at Findlay against the host Trojans (9-1) in a Division I playoff opener. The emotions and confidence figure to run pretty high for the Wildcats.

If we play our A-game I believe we ll be perfectly fine going up against anyone, said Andy Mutchler, a senior defensive lineman.

Losses to Rogers (12-0) and Southview (17-16) were the Wildcats only setbacks. They bounced back from each loss.

They believed in the system and they believed in themselves and they believed in each other, Keller said. We don t seem to have many unhappy campers. Our kids are putting us first and me and myself second.

While an offense led by sophomore running back Casey Meridieth and senior quarterback Mike Schneider have received most of the attention, the Wildcats have also prospered from the play of an aggressive defensive unit.

The defense, which posted two shutouts, held opponents to an average of 12 points per game while the Wildcats outscoredopponents 269-128.

It may be our best defense ever, said Keller, who is in his 10th year of coaching at Northview.

The Wildcats defense, in spite of five first-year starters, thrived on keeping opponents out of the end zone.

Brian Hehl, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound sophomore, has made his presence felt throughout the year. He registered a team-leading 110 tackles. Matt Page, a 5-5, 153-pound junior, recorded a team-record eight interceptions.

Branden Stansley, who held the team s single-season record for interceptions with seven a year ago as a junior, is among the six returning defensive starters who have made moving the football against the Wildcats difficult.

Matt Meridieth, a senior defensive end, is also one of the returning lettermen who went into the season believing the team could achieve something special.

It just took a lot of hard work, Matt Meridieth said. It feels good to make history here at Northview. We re glad to know the hard work in the offseason and in season has paid off for us.

We re all humble players and we just came out every day and worked hard. We worked together well with our offense. If thedefense has had a bad day ouroffense has picked it up for us.

Mutchler, a returning defensive starting nose guard, credits the team for coming together and playing as a cohesive group to make this a fantasy season.

I haven t seen this much of a family atmosphere with a team in my entire life, Mutchler said. We get a lot of pats on the back from our friends at school. I love being on this defense and wouldn t want to be with anyone else.

Page also thinks the team s camaraderie has played a role in a season to remember.

It s a new thing for us and it feels really good, he said. I m just glad to be part of this team.

The Wildcats face Findlay, which has won nine straight games after opening the year with a loss. Whatever takes place will not change Keller s thoughts about this team.

I ll remember them for their accomplishments, winning a league championship and becoming the first playoff team, and their desire to succeed, Keller said. They couldn t wait for Friday nights. They felt they could beat anybody.

Contact Donald Emmons at:demmons@theblade.com or 419-724-6302.



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