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Prep football: Tigers eager to begin postseason

Tigers (9-0) host Mauston (6-3) in first-round playoff game Friday night.

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Northwestern quarterback Luke Sedin (4) gets a block from Ben Benes (74) while he throws a pass during the second quarter of the Tigers game with Cumberland on Friday night, Oct. 15, 2021 in Maple. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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Regular season celebrations are often as brief as they are boisterous.

They start on the field, are shared with fans and family in the stands and then finally culminate in the locker room.

By the next morning, however, squads heading into the playoffs quickly turn their attention to their next foe.

So it was with the Northwestern football team Friday, Oct. 15, at Tiger Stadium in Maple, celebrating a 9-0 regular season, a 56-30 victory over Cumberland and a Heart O' North Conference title.

When they woke up on Saturday, they found out who their first-round playoff opponent would be and the countdown to the next Friday night fight began.

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PREVIOUSLY: Prep football: Schlies leads Tigers past Beavers to conference crown The Tigers completed an undefeated season and won the Heart O' North conference with the win.

"They definitely enjoyed how last week ended up," said Northwestern coach Jovin Kroll following practice Tuesday, Oct. 19. "That was a game we were looking forward to for a long time, but this starts a new season for all of them. They understand what's at stake every Friday. This group really enjoys being around each other; they work well together. They are a lot of fun and those are usually the best teams."

The Tigers landed the No. 1 seed in their Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association bracket and host No. 8 seed Mauston (6-3) at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22. Mauston completed its regular season last week with a 40-32 loss to Wisconsin Dells (9-0).

Kroll said to expect the visiting Golden Eagles to throw early and often.

"They put the ball in the air a lot," Kroll said. "In many ways, they are similar to Cumberland and some of their schemes, so it's almost like a repeat with a lot of our preparation."

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Northwestern’s Tanner Kaufman (6) finds the end zone in the second quarter of the Tigers game with Cumberland on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 in Maple. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

This season, Mauston scored 19 TDs through the air and 13 on the ground, with quarterback Spenser Lehman completing 134 of his 209 passes for 1,730 yards (64.1%). He threw seven interceptions. When the Golden Eagles do run, Antonio Najera leads the way with 113 carries for 667 yards and six touchdowns.

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The Golden Eagles' dynamic play-calling extends to their defense.

"(They're) not afraid to challenge us with their defense," said Kroll, whose offense has been preparing to face pressure from Mauston's defensive backs and blitz packages.

"It's definitely a night where we will have to communicate well on the offensive side to score points and have success," Kroll said.

That communication will funnel through Tiger quarterback Luke Sedin, who has 17 TD passes of his own on 49-for-67 passing (73.1%) for 1,148 yards and two interceptions.

"We're looking good; we're looking quick," Sedin said of early week practices. "I don't think we'll do much different (offensively against Mauston), but we might throw something in there that they haven't seen on film, just to get them off guard."

Of course, the Tigers will continue their patented ground assault, led by running backs Austin Schlies (96 carries, 893 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Greg Ohman (95-642-10).

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Northwestern’s Austin Schlies (34) hands out a strong stiff arm to Cumberland’s Vaughn Johnson (17) on a touchdown run on the Tigers’ first play from scrimmage Friday night, Oct. 15, 2021 in Maple. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

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While the final score in last week's regular season finale, 56-30, may indicate a wire-to-wire blowout, after a quick start, the Tigers saw Cumberland creep back into the game and within a TD of the lead in the second half.

But that momentum swing was short-lived, as the Tigers regained control and pulled away in the game that featured a playoff-like atmosphere of two undefeated teams battling.

"We didn't see it coming, but we were ready to fight back," said Ben Benes, who has 41 tackles this year, including 11 for loss of yards. "We've always been that way. ... at the end we're always fighting with every cylinder we've got. I thought it actually showed us who we really can be. Now we know how the playoffs are going to be and how we can play in the playoffs."

Sedin agreed.

"It was intense. When we took the lead right in the beginning, it felt great. The crowd was loud," he said. "When they came back, we got back right into it and in the second half we pulled away. It was a great feeling."

Kroll and the Tigers hope to keep the Friday night celebrations going.

"We tried to enjoy what everybody accomplished there on Friday," he said. "An undefeated regular season, we can hang our hat on that at some point, but right now it's 0-0. We haven't won a game yet. It's a new season and the goal every week is to go 1-0.

"As good as last week felt, every week is a threat to end our season. With the potential of having three (playoff) games here, that's a nice feeling, but we can't feel too comfortable."

Related Topics: FOOTBALLPREP SPORTS
Rick Lubbers has been in his role since 2014 and at the News Tribune since 2005. Previous stops include the Superior Telegram (1999-2005) and Budgeteer News (1997-1999). Prior to that, he worked at the St. Cloud Times and Annandale Advocate in Minnesota, and the Greenville Daily News and Grand Rapids Press in Michigan. He received his journalism degree at Central Michigan University.
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