|Northwood faces TAAC showdown (10-17-13)|
|Written by THOMAS SCHMELTZ Sentinel Sports Writer|
|Thursday, 17 October 2013 08:45|
NORTHWOOD - After a slow start, Northwood's football team has put itself back into a familiar position.
The Rangers, at 5-2 overall and 4-0 in the Toledo Area Athletic Conference, are vying for a third consecutive conference title.
The quest to complete that task becomes more difficult Friday when Northwood hosts Toledo Christian (5-2, 4-0). Kickoff is 7 p.m.
"We've had at least a couple games that were perceived to be big games ... and we played well and competed hard," Northwood head coach Ken James said, referring to wins over Edon and Gibsonburg. "So I don't worry about that too much at this stage."
The Rangers enter Friday's contest having won 15 straight TAAC games. Their last conference loss? A 20-16 decision to the Eagles in 2010.
"I don't think anybody is going to win the league title in week eight. Whoever wins this one is in the driver's seat," James said."It's not the end of anybody's season on Friday. We want to look at it logically."
To do that, the Rangers will rely on their game preparation and they will continue to utilize the strengths of their young team.
Northwood, most notably, replaced quarterback Nick Russell with sophomore Michael Vallejo. The Rangers also had to replace key parts of the offensive and defensive lines after graduation losses. The 2012 senior class went 19-3 through the 2011-12 seasons.
"What we try to focus on is the preparation phase of what we're doing," James said. "We have a saying, 'To win. you have to know what's important now.' On Monday, you don't worry about what's going to happen on Friday. ... If you get wound up early in the week, usually you're worn out by Friday. In a game like that, we try to build up to Friday.
"The older I get, the more acutely I'm aware that games come down to blocking and tackling," James added. "... If you're jumping up and down and yelling and screaming and you get knocked on your butt, you still don't win."
After falling 42-34 to Ayersville and 56-20 to Lake, Northwood began the season 0-2. Since then, the Rangers' closest game was a 40-27 win over Edon.
Over the first seven weeks, Northwood is scoring 39.1 points per game and allowing 21.1 ppg.
"Defensively, we've switched personnel around quite a bit, and we're pretty close to having the right mix now. With guys in new positions, we weren't quite sure how they were going to fit," James said.
"We've built a lot more depth now by this time in the season," he continued. "We've got some younger guys who are playing, and at the beginning of the year they probably weren't ready."
Vallejo has also grown more comfortable in his role at quarterback - a role that demands many adjustments in an offense that sees portions of the Wing-T and triple option combined.
"What typically happens with a sophomore, the game has started to slow down for him," James said of Vallejo. "He's starting to see more things, and he's starting to see when he needs to check plays more.
"The hard part is, and most people don't understand this, our offense is pretty complicated to people who are fairly new," he said. "There's a lot of nuance to it where we have to check plays and change plays on different fronts."
The Rangers' newly-found depth was evident last week in a 48-19 win over Danbury. Northwood relied on many new contributors as it had about five starters on offense and defense missing due to miscellaneous reasons, according to James.
With the game against TC likely being the most difficult game the rest of the year, James knows the Rangers cannot be overzealous on Friday night.
"We don't want to get wrapped up in the emotion all week because then that takes away from the preparation and understanding the game plan," James said. "It's a big deal, but it's something that some people get a little too tense. We sink most of our efforts into preparation and then we'll go out, and let the game play out as it does."
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