During practice this past week, Northwood’s defensive coaches were “grumpy,” according to head coach Ken James after their players gave up several big plays in a close win over Delphos Jefferson.
“They took it upon themselves to prepare well this week, and I think it showed,” James said.
It sure did. The Rangers forced six turnovers, and more importantly, didn’t allow a point in a 20-0 win at home over Lake on Friday night.
Spearheading the improved defensive effort was senior cornerback Tyler Mack, who recorded two interceptions and two forced fumbles after an admittedly poor game last week, and senior safety Ricky Hartley who came up with a big goal line stop in the fourth quarter.
A week ago Mack was feeling bad after getting beat by his receiver for a 99-yard touchdown in a game the Rangers finally put away on a field goal with two seconds left.
“Last year when I had a bad game, I bounced back,” Mack said. “I felt like I needed to do that again.”
Mack intercepted Lake starting quarterback Nathan Pennington on the Flyers’ final two drives of the first half. Of his two forced fumbles, the second one effectively put the game away, as he dislodged the ball from running back Tim Lohmann after a short reception on the Flyers’ final drive.
“We expected him, because of the kind of young man he is, to have a great game this week,” James said.
Perhaps the offense will have some work to do this upcoming week. The Rangers struggled to control the line of scrimmage, and did not score until 3:41 to go in the first half — and on a fluky play at that. Dustin Fullenlove fumbled at Lake’s 10, but teammate Matt Jeffries was nearby and scooped up the ball as if he was on the receiving end of a baton handoff, and ran the remainder of the way.
A week ago Lake was on the good side of a shut out, hammering Swanton 46-0. But none of the Flyers’ three quarterbacks were able to lead a scoring drive this time around, which, along with other things, upset coach Bob Abbey.
“This is not the level we expect from our kids,” Abbey said. “We better get things turned around quick, or it’s going to be a long season.”
It’s not as if the Flyers were overmatched, as the difference between them scoring two touchdowns and scoring none was razor thin. After reaching Northwood’s 3-yard line early in the second quarter, Lohmann lost a fumble.
Down 14-0, Lake was poised to make it a one possession game after sophomore Jayce Vancena — its third quarterback of the evening — hooked up with Todd Walters on a slant for 42 yards to advance inside Northwood’s 10. Lohmann got the call on fourth-and-goal from the 1 but ran into a blocker in the backfield before bouncing outside. Waiting for him was Hartley, who made the tackle to put an exclamation point on a stellar defensive performance for the Rangers.
“When you make that many mistakes against a good football team, you don’t have many opportunities to win,” Abbey said. “We lost our opportunities.”
Sparked by that goal line stop, Northwood managed to claw its way out of a precarious situation with a 40-yard run on third down by — who else? — Mack. Nick Whitmore followed with a 36-yard scamper, and quarterback Nick Russell eventually ended the drive with a 3-yard TD run on a bootleg.
“I think our tempo at the end probably wore them down,” James said. “We were no huddling, and we kind of condition our guys to play that way.”
Given Friday night’s temperatures, which were still hovering in the low 90s in the second half, fatigue and cramping were a given. Abbey said several of his players suffered injuries, including Pennington, but did not say whether any were related to the heat.
James said some of his players suffered the effects — mostly linemen.
“They sweat walking through the door of an air conditioned lockerroom,” he said.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: email@example.com or 419-724-6160 Follow him on Twitter at RyanAutullo.