Northwood quarterback Nick Russell (11) runs the ball against Ottawa Hills.
Tied at halftime with their usually potent offense slowed to a near halt, the Northwood Rangers needed a big play to kick-start their ride to a Toledo Area Athletic Conference football title Friday night against visiting Ottawa Hills.
The Rangers (9-0, 6-0), ranked sixth in the latest Division V state poll, got that big play from a big player, senior fourth-year starter Nick Whitmore.
The 6-foot, 243-pound fullback broke through the line of scrimmage and then went rumbling, bumbling, and stumbling onward to a game-changing 62-yard touchdown run 3:38 into the third quarter to help the Rangers win 26-6.
“Our offensive line is amazing,” Whitmore said. “We were just bouncing it outside, and I just kept going and kept my feet moving.
“This championship is nice. Now we’re going to try to finish out 10-0, go into the playoffs with a high seed, and try to win some playoff games.”
Whitmore’s big run was the first of the Rangers’ three third-quarter touchdowns, and the Northwood defense — led by Nick Russell at linebacker — did the rest in a win that clinched a TAAC title share.
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“Ultimately our goal was to win the league title,” Northwood coach Ken James said. “The kids are excited about that. Now we want to keep moving on.
“It wasn’t a pretty win, but give credit to Ottawa Hills — they made it difficult for us.”
Whitmore who led Northwood with 94 rushing yards on only five carries, added a 16-yard TD run on the second play after the game’s other pivotal moment.
That came when the Green Bears (6-3, 5-1) were facing a fourth-and-15 situation from their 42 with 2:36 left in the third quarter. Ottawa Hills coach Chris Hardman, sensing Northwood gaining firm control on the game, opted to gamble and have punter Michael Geiger fake the kick and run.
Geiger was stopped for a seven-yard loss, and Northwood had prime field position just 35 yards from the end zone.
Northview’s Russell, the team’s quarterback, carried for 19 yards on the next play, setting up Whitmore’s 16-yarder, and a two-point conversion run by Dominik Bermejo made it 20-6 with 2:10 left in the third.
Northwood added its final score later in the quarter on the first play after a Geiger punt.
Russell found Bermejo over the middle, and Bermejo did the rest on the 45-yard TD hook-up with 8.4 seconds left in the period.
Northwood more than doubled up (362-154) Ottawa Hills in total offense, with Bermejo adding 70 yards on 16 rushes.
Will Longthorne led the Green Bears with 70 yards on 14 rushes.
“We had a great effort from our kids,” Hardman said.
Ottawa Hills took the favored Rangers to halftime tied at 6 on the strength of two Geiger field goals sandwiched around the lone touchdown of the half by Bermejo.
On its first possession of the game, the Green Bears took over at midfield and moved to the Northwood 21 before being penalized lining up for a fourth-and-1 play.
That infraction led Hardman to opt for a 42-yard field-goal try from Geiger, a Boston College kicking recruit, who converted for a 3-0 lead 5:01 into the game.
Held scoreless in the first quarter, the Rangers took advantage of a short field to score their first points. They drove 42 yards on six plays, with Bermejo ramming in from three yards out for the score 1:02 into the second quarter.
Ottawa Hills blocked the extra point, and would knot the score on Geiger’s 30-yard field goal with 4:01 left in the half. That three-pointer, like the first one, came after the Bears began a drive at midfield.
“I was surprised at halftime,” Whitmore said. “We didn’t underestimate them, but they came out and popped us big-time in the first half.
“We made some adjustments, and that [26-6 final score] was the end result.”
“We had to take a couple chances,” Hardman said. “We could either sit back and let it happen, or go out and try to win the game. We ran a fake punt that they covered very well and, two plays later, it started to get out of range [on Northwood TD].
“The better team won the football game. We did some good things, but Northwood deserved to beat us.”
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter @JungaBlade.