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Southwood defense smothers Norse in victory

Southwood's Carson Rich (left) catches a pass while being defended by a Northfield defender during Friday's game.

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

While it’s often said records can be thrown out in rivalry games, Friday night’s gridiron showdown between Northfield and Southwood played out in a way most expected.

The Class A No. 7 Knights, entering not only unbeaten on the season but winners of 17 straight regular season games, came in riding high while the Norse entered winless and on the heels of one of its worst losses in years.

The result was a dominant effort from the hosts Southwood as Northfield managed just 36 first-half yards as the Knights cruised relatively unscathed to a 20-6 win.

“I thought for the three periods we were pretty good,” Southwood head coach Dave Snyder said. “That was a tremendous drive they put together (to score). We know they going to not go away. We were just too inconsistent offensively for whatever reason. I think if you get a win on Friday, you just take it and move on. So, we’re not complaining, we’re not making excuses.

“This was just typical Southwood-Northfield. Neither team’s going to quit and it’s going to be a fight of a game.”

Change was the calling card on the night for both sides. For Northfield, a new backfield saw Clayton Tomlinson line up under center for the first time this season with Jarret Shafer starting behind him at running back. While Tomlinson would eventually move back to wide receiver in the second half, Northfield head coach Brandon Baker saw some positives from his side on a night where the Norse largely struggled.

“I was much happier with our effort this week and that was our main focus because we haven’t played hard in the first three games,” he said. “So our effort was much, much better. Now we need to get the execution where it needs to be. Defensively, I thought we played well. They got a couple big plays on passes where their kids made a play and we didn’t. We were in position, we just didn’t make a play. I thought we defended the run really well. We just have to execute on offense, that’s all it is. The effort was much better, we just have to execute.”

Southwood also saw a change at quarterback as Alex Farr, who entered the year as the starter before going out with a concussion the opening drive of the season, returned to his spot under center this week. The junior finished with 169 total yards and two touchdowns with an interception on the day.

“He’s a little rusty,” Snyder said of Farr’s performance. “But he also threw some good balls in there tonight. I have to watch the film to really determine his reads. We felt there were a couple times he should have kept it and he gave it and a couple times he should have gave it and kept it. We really need more running (from him). He’ll be better.”

The Norse looked prime for a perfect start, blocking a punt on the first Southwood drive of the game and recovering it at the Knight 40-yard line. But the first play of the ensuing drive saw a botched handoff between Tomlinson and Shafer lead to a fumble the Knights recovered.

Again, though, the Northfield defense responded, picking off Farr in the endzone to regain possession. Back-to-back penalties cost the Norse 20 yards on the next drive and forced a punt. Southwood again drove right at the Norse, reaching the five-yard line after Farr hit Carson Heath for 11 yards on fourth down.

The Norse bent but didn’t break, holding firm and stonewalling the Knights to take over after a fourth-down stop. The offense would continue to sputter as another three-and-out followed by a solid punt return from Mason Yentes set up the Knights in Norse territory.

Farr did his damage through the air, connecting with Gabe Lloyd, Ty Roser and Carson Rich on three consecutive attempts to reach the goal line before Lloyd plunged in from a yard out.

Northfield’s offensive woes only continued in the half and Southwood eventually tacked on a second score late in the half. After a 33-yard scramble from Farr took Southwood into Norse territory, Dawson Filip would make the play of the night for the second score, corraling a ball batted by the Northfield defenders for a 27-yard touchdown pass with 41 seconds remaining.

In the first half, Northfield finished with more penalty yards (41) than total yards of offense (36). Coming out of the locker room, Baker turned back to quarterback Levi Fulkerson to man the ship as an injury to Tomlinson limited his impact.

“Clayton wouldn’t run the ball,” Baker said. “His shoulder was a little hurt and I think he was scared to run the ball. When Levi came in is when we started running the ball. And that’s what we need out of a quarterback is somebody that’s a running option. And Clayton did a great job as a receiver. He blocked well and made some big plays. He’s going to be on the field one way or another whether it’s quarterback, halfback, receiver, something.”

While the Northfield offense was livelier in the second half, Southwood struck first as Farr and Rich hooked up for a 22-yard pass-and-catch to give the hosts a 20-0 advantage.

The Norse would move the ball into Knight territory each of the next two drives before turning it over on downs in both instances but continued to hold firm defensively. The lone scoring drive for Northfield started on its own 33-yard line and lasted 10 plays with most of the damage coming in the air.

An 18-yard pass to Tomlinson and a 17-yard pass to Alex Haupert put the Norse on the edge of the red zone and a 16-yard hookup with Tomlinson again took the guests to the goalline where Fulkerson scored from four yards out to close the gap to 20-6.

By then, though, just 3:36 remained in the contest. Northfield’s ensuing onside kick would be unsuccessful and while Southwood turned the ball over on downs late, Fulkerson would be picked off by Conner Rich to ice the game.

“We played pretty well,” Snyder said of his defense. “They did hit us with the fullback off and on and we made some adjustments off and on to get that taken care of. And we may have blitzed ourselves out of it there at the end...but you have to put so much man pressure on them.”

Northfield finished with 191 yards of offense with 155 of those coming in the second half. Neither the passing game (93 yards) nor the rushing game (98 yards) broke the century mark on the night, though.

Fulkerson did manage 99 yards of offense with all of it coming in the second half, going 7-of-14 for 75 yards through the air with an interception while also carrying the ball six times for 24 yards and a score.

At 0-4 on the season now, Baker and the Norse’s focus moving forward will be about continued growth heading toward the postseason.

“We just have to continue to raise the bar effort-wise,” he said. “You can never work hard enough. We got better in that aspect but now it’s just executing. Up front, for whatever reason, we are not getting the job done up front. I really thought, coming into this year, that was going to be the strength of our team and we have not got it done. I don’t know if it’s that they aren’t confident in what they’re supposed to do but I know they’re a lot better than what they’re showing up front.

“If they get that cleaned up and we get on the perimeter with our blocking, we’re going to be able to run the football and that’ll be huge. We haven’t been able to do that hardly at all this year. We just need better execution.”

For Southwood, Gabe Lloyd rushed 20 times for 89 yards and a touchdown while Filip caught three passes for 54 yards and a score. Of the Knights’ 291 yards of offense on the night, 213 of those came in the opening half.

Southwood moves to 4-0 on the season and extends its regular-season winning streak to 18 games. A trip to Wabash will be next in store for the Knights while Northfield travels to Manchester next week.