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Game of the Week -- Northern Valley deals with injury

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

The Almena-Northern Valley High School football team closed within one score in the third quarter against undefeated Beloit/St. John's-Tipton, ranked No. 5 in Eight-Man Division II, last Friday night. The Bluejays ran a running play, and there was a big pileup. Husky senior lineman Ian Vincent, a four-year starter, suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the mixup. After that, Northern Valley lost 54-28.

"We kind of fell apart after that," coach Chuck Fessenden said. "Kids kind of lost their focus."

The injury is one of several significant problems and events that Fessenden called "weird plays" that has led to a 2-3 start for the Huskies.

Northern Valley finished 7-2 last season and expected to contend for a playoff berth this fall. Instead, the Huskies are 0-1 in district play and will play host to Natoma (4-1, 1-1 district) for Homecoming on Friday night.

The problems started in a season-opening 38-28 loss to Alma. Neb. Northern Valley outgained Alma 395-306 and took a 6-0 lead into the second quarter. Late in the second quarter, Alma scored three times. After the first score, Alma hit a big screen play for the second TD. With eight seconds left, Northern Valley had a punt blocked. The ball flew to the other side of the field where Alma's tailback caught the ball and ran it all the way back for a score.

As well, Alma had another big return and Northern Valley senior running back Jordan Baird slipped at the end of the half and hurt his knee. Baird has a bruised bone and slight hairline fracture and can play, but isn't fully healthy. Alma finished with a 179-10 edge in special teams return yards.

"Right at the end of the half, we fall apart," Fessenden said.

After the loss, Northern Valley beat Triplains-Brewster and Hill City each 56-22. However, the Huskies continued to allow big yards on the ground. Because of Northern Valley's lack of depth, the Husky defense has allowed 296 rushing yards a game, 6.7 yards a carry and 22 rushing TDs.

In Week 4, Northern Valley lost to Logan-Palco, 66-40. It marked the first time the Huskies lost to Logan -- their archrival -- since 2007. During the contest, Northern Valley tied the game and then delivered a perfect kickoff.

"It bit like a golf ball, and it was just kind of laying there," Fessenden said. "Their guy picked it up, and we should have had him tackled. We overran it, and then they run it back down and clear deep into our end, and then they end up scoring."

Next, Logan-Palco onside kicked. The ball took a huge hop and flew over the Husky front line. In the scramble, somebody kicked the ball toward the Husky end. Logan-Palco eventually got the ball deep in Northern Valley territory and scored again.

Now down two scores, Northern Valley completed a pass to junior Brant Cox, who made it down to the Logan-Palco 20-yard line. Fessenden said Cox had both knees down.

"They ripped the ball away from him and they got the ball back," Fessenden said. "Then, they scored again and then they onside kicked again and the same thing happened, it took a huge bounce and bounced clear over our line, and they scored again and scored right at the end of the game."

Against Logan-Palco, Fessenden moved Vincent from linebacker to nose guard to help on the inside runs.

However, St. John's-Tipton effectively ran sweeps. Northern Valley held nearly an 11-minute advantage in time of possession, but the Bluejays had a 443-283 yardage edge.

The Bluejays led by 14 points entering the fourth quarter, but then outscored the Huskies 20-8 as Northern Valley played without Vincent.