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Published: Saturday, 10/24/2009

Northwood Rangers secure share of TAAC title TAAC

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

It rained before Toledo Christian's game against Northwood at Perrysburg Friday night.

Then during the game, a combination of turnovers and injuries rained on the Eagles.

When it was over, Northwood had claimed a 38-11 victory to earn at least a share of the Toledo Area Athletic Conference title.

“We had to come out and play error-free, or as close to it as we could,” Toledo Christian coach John Miller said. “Obviously we didn't do that. We gave them momentum, and they rolled with it.”

And “rolled” is the perfect term for the Ranger offense, which rolled up 488 of its 509 yards of total offense on the ground. Quarterback Erik Russell ran for 101 yards and four touchdowns, while Zach Bermejo finished with a game-high 140 yards on 20 carries.

Northwood improved to 6-3 overall and 5-0 in the TAAC, while Toledo Christian dropped to 6-3 and 4-1.

On the game's second play Nick Rightnowar threw a pass that rolled off the hands of Ryan Huffman; the officials ruled the ball was a fumble, and the Rangers' Nick Russell picked up the loose ball and returned it to Toledo Christian's 36.

Six plays later Erik Russell snuck the ball into the end zone from a yard out.

That was the first of four Eagle turnovers in the first half, and the last was the most painful.

Midway through the second period Toledo Christian put together its best drive of the half, moving from its own 26 to the Northwood eight on just four plays. But Rightnowar threw a pass that the Rangers' Tyler Mack intercepted in the end zone.

Northwood took the ball on its 20 and Erik Russell rambled 53 yards to set up a score that came with just 22 seconds left in the half. Russell scored from a yard out.

“We got a little momentum from that interception,” Northwood coach Ken James said. “When we were able to score just before the half, we got a little more momentum.

“When it changed from possibly being 12-7 to 18-3, that was a big swing at halftime. Then we got the ball in the second half, were able to take the ball down and score to take away their emotion.”

Northwood took the second-half kickoff and drove 68 yards on eight plays, with Russell covering the final 14 yards for a touchdown that made the score 26-3.

To make matters worse for TC, Graham Miller was injured just before halftime and did not return. His brother, linebacker J.C. Miller, was injured in the second half. The injuries, and the Rangers' constant pressure with its running plays, wore down the Eagles to open up big holes for the Northwood ground attack.

“They packed a lot of guys inside, and that took away our inside veer and inside trap,” James said. “But we were able to run the outside veer and run outside the tackle.

“Then when they started to close in on those plays, we were able to pitch the ball outside. And as the game wore on, we were able to run more inside.”

Erik Russell capped a 10-play drive with a 1-yard scoring plunge late in the third quarter, and the Northwood reserves put together a short drive that ended with a 9-yard TD run by Nick Whitmore early in the fourth.

“After the first few possessions, we figured out what defense they were in and our coaches made some great calls against that defense,” Erik Russell said. “As we kept playing, we became more successful.”

It helped that Northwood limited the Eagles' high-flying offense to just 318 yards, including just 181 yards passing. But the five turnovers the Rangers forced made Toledo Christian's lone touchdown, which came with less than five minutes to play on a 10-yard pass by Rightnowar to Zach Brumbaugh, anticlimactic.

“Turnovers win ballgames,” Erik Russell said. “Those are our goals each week: to create turnovers on defense and hang onto the ball on offense. Hopefully we can take care of business next week and win [the TAAC outright].”

Contact John Wagner at:jwagner@theblade.com or 419-724-6481.



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