Rangers league champs; playoffs are on the horizon

J. Patrick Eaken

At Northwood, they don’t rebuild their football program anymore, they reload. 

That’s become a football cliché, but after graduating a ton of seniors last year, the 5-0 Rangers had already clinched a Toledo Area Athletic Conference co-championship heading into their Big Apple Deli Trophy rivalry with Cardinal Stritch (3-2) Friday.

The Rangers outscored their first five opponents, 243-56, and are averaging 331.4 yards rushing and 106.6 yards passing per game.

Just because Northwood does not have as many seniors doesn’t mean the current senior crop is not talented. It’s talented, alright.

Senior Jay Moten, a 6-foot-2 175 pound quarterback, has run for 747 yards on 44 carries — that’s 17 yards per attempt, and he has completed 19 of 34 passes for 533 yards, including eight touchdown passes and just two interceptions. 

His half-brother, 5-9, 168 pound senior Demond Marks, has run for 327 yards on 16 carries — that is over 20 yards per carry, plus Marks has caught eight passes for 227 yards, scoring on five of those. He is averaging 28.4 yards per catch.

Northwood coach Ken James says they are getting looks from college programs, but they are still in the process of sending game-action “tapes” because “we’re still trying to figure out what they want to major in and match them up with the right schools and that type of thing.”

However, there are other seniors on this squad who help open holes for Northwood’s playmakers, and even more who contribute to a defense that is allowing just 175.2 total yards per game and forced two shutouts.

“We’ve got a good (senior) crew — it’s a little bit smaller than last year’s crew was but we’ve got several guys on there,” coach Ken James said. “A.J. Rable (5-11, 225-pound offensive tackle/linebacker) and Cam Noel (6-1, 191) have been playing a fair amount of varsity since they were freshmen along with Demond and Jay. Those two have been either starting or playing a bunch since they were youngsters and been all-league guys for us. Those are two important guys.

“Rable and Noel have been playing a bunch since their sophomore year, and now (lineman) Alex Yarad (5-11, 329) is out with an injury but we hope to get him back in a couple weeks. Brennen Matney (5-6, 214) has been a career starter for us, so we’ve got quite a few good dudes there, but not 14 of them like we did last year. We have a little bit smaller numbers this year but they are really good football players, so we’re still doing OK,” James said.

Matney has a team-leading 32 tackles, Rable has 30 tackles, and that includes 26 initial hits for each of them. Another two-way senior lineman, 6-0, 294-pound Dravyn Luna, has 14 tackles, including eight initial hits.

“We’ve had to play guys two ways a little more, we’ve had to develop some depth with the younger guys, and then we had to move Brennen Matney, who had been playing linebacker and was the back-up fullback, to guard this year and he has done a real good job for us,” James said. 

“Alex Yarad got hurt in the preseason and has been out a few weeks and we had to move Brennen there to get some more help on the O-line. Those seniors have been a big part of why we’re scoring 40-some points per game and been able to get out ahead of people pretty easily.”


Waite transfers are playmakers

Bring in two senior transfers from Waite — 6-0, 181-pound senior running back Kyeon Neal and 5-11, 170-pound split end Brayden Fulkert. James said both were unsure if Waite would have a football season, so they transferred to Northwood.

“Brayden Fulkert has had a handful of touchdown catches (six catches, 230 yards, five touchdowns) and has been a big-play receiver for us also because we moved Demond into a slot back. So we’re handing the ball to Demond, so we’re kind of using him as a hybrid. He gets the ball thrown to him some, and he’s used as a running back some, so Demond actually has more rushing yards than he has receiving yards right now,” James said.

Fulkert’s receiving numbers are similar to Marks’, although Fulkert has scored touchdowns on five of his six catches, averaging 38.3 yards per reception and accumulating 230 yards. Neal has 272 yards rushing on 25 attempts (10.9 per carry) and two touchdowns.

“Kyeon has a had a big year for us on both sides of the ball. He’s playing outside linebacker and running back. He’s another senior who is having a big year for us and he’s our third leading rusher and plays really hard and fits in really well with us. Just like Fulkert, he’s a good kid and we’re lucky to have him. They fit in well with some of our seniors. They knew some of our guys anyways.”

So, almost all these guys put on pounds last year, including Moten, opening up his college possibilities. 

“We’ve got a pretty heavy duty weight program so they are physically pretty strong. Some of our other guys are in the same boat,” James said. “You think every year you’re going to graduate a bunch of big, strong seniors and we’re not going to be very strong next year and then the underclassmen come through and the winter program and spring and stuff and do a real good job. During the pandemic, our guys took weights home. 

“We sent loose weights to their houses so they could lift. We did some weird stuff like that — we delivered weights to a bunch of different households and gave them workouts all during the pandemics, so that helped us out. That’s paying off, and right now I don’t think we are that far off from where we were (before the pandemic).”

James feels a bit fortunate to see his team start 5-0, because he believes that 42-22 season opening win over Gibsonburg could have been quite different. Under first-year coach Joe Wyant, the Golden Bears started 0-3, but since have won two straight, beating Margaretta 54-7 and Fremont St. Joseph, 48-0.

“Gibsonburg, I know they struggled a little bit early in the season and had some issues. They lost in overtime to Calvert (31-28) and lost a close one to Hopewell (27-13) and are 2-3 but they are starting to turn it around. They are like us where they graduated a bunch of dudes last year, which happens sometimes at small schools and you have to retool a little bit,” James said.

“We had two tough games to close the season, too. Stritch (3-2) has a good football team. Edon (3-2) was undefeated in the league and we had to go out there (62-20 Northwood win). They’ve got Bob Owen coaching them, so we knew they were going to throw it a lot. Stritch lost to Edon by two (36-34), so that was a close one, and if we get through those, and then we’ll go from there.”

In the Division regional computer rankings, Northwood was ranked third out of 26 teams and was expecting to get a home game in the first round. The Rangers were seeded sixth and will host the winner of Van Buren (3-2) and Paulding (1-4) on Saturday, Oct. 17.

“We’ll go play anywhere. We’re happy to get the chance to play. We’re excited about that opportunity,” said James after his team went 10-0 last year but did not qualify for the playoffs.

















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