Coach: D.J. Hough (4th season, 21-13)
2013 overall record: 9-3
2013 region record: 6-1 (co-champion)
2013 playoff results: Defeated Grove City 28-7 in the District 10 Class AA quarterfinals before losing to Hickory 52-14 in the semifinals.
Top players lost: Brandon Reiser, Brayden Wojtecki, Logan Stearns, Bailey Geisbrecht
Top returning players: Kyle Panko, Nate Tewell, Austin Miczo, Nate Camp, Christian Linn
Assistant coaches: Dave Randall, Ron Glus, Pat Camp
Outlook: Northwestern will need to rebuild its offense in camp this fall after losing most of its offensive line and Region 4 player of the year Brandon Reiser in the backfield. Reiser ran for 1,673 yards and 28 touchdowns, while the Wildcats graduated all-region linemen Brayden Wojtecki, Logan Stearns and Bailey Geisbrecht. Northwestern also lost quarterback Jay Clinger and playmaker Nate Noe to graduation, leaving some big holes to fill. The Wildcats will get their first chance to showcase junior quarterback Nate Tewell, who won the national Punt, Pass & Kick competition in the offseason. Tewell was the backup quarterback last season and was a big contributor on defense. Austin Miczo provides experience in the backfield after rushing for 388 yard and six touchdowns on 72 carries last fall. Kyle Panko is an all-region selection tight end, but he is moving into the backfield to complement Miczo this season. Panko had 12 catches for 156 yards and three touchdowns as a junior, but the change to running back gives the Wildcats an impressive set of backs for the Wing-T offense. Nate Camp and Christian Linn return on the offensive line, but Northwestern will need a surge from the lower levels to fill in some gaps and open up holes for the running backs.
The Wildcats will be young on defense with most of its starting lineup gutted by graduation. Wojtecki, Stearns and Geisbrecht were all-region selections on the defensive line, but all three are gone. Linn returns to lead an inexperienced defensive line, and Panko is back as an all-region linebacker. Tewell is an all-region safety and the three will be counted on to lead a brand-new defense. Panko led Northwestern with more than 100 tackles as a junior, but the next nine leading tacklers for the Wildcats are gone to graduation. Tewell had 35 tackles and Linn added 19, while Panko and Matt Cherry each had one sack. Tewell finished with four interceptions and Jarrett Bird had one as the Northwestern defense will need to grow up quickly this fall. Having inexperience in certain aspects can be OK for a defense, but with almost a whole new lineup, the Wildcats will need to amp up the competition in camp for playing time. One of Northwestern’s biggest strengths last year was its defense after allowing only 7.6 points per game in the regular season. The Wildcats held traditional power Grove City to seven points in the District 10 Class AA quarterfinals before Hickory erupted for 52 points in the semifinals.
Northwestern has built up its program over the past few years, steadily improving each season since D.J. Hough took over. The Wildcats are 21-13 since 2011 with three playoff appearances and a growing confidence in the system. Northwestern has a playoff nemesis in Hickory, but the Wildcats’ program seems to keep reloading each fall. Northwestern will need a big effort from new players to get back to the postseason for the fourth straight year. Tewell could turn out to be one of the top quarterbacks in the area, while the backfield combination of Panko and Miczo should create excitement in Albion this fall. A big key for the Wildcats will be to rebuild the offensive and defensive lines as well as the secondary. Northwestern opens the season with three games at home against Conneaut, Girard and Mercyhurst Prep before road games at North East and Seneca. The Wildcats also get Fairview at home before ending the regular season at Fort LeBoeuf and Cambridge Springs. Northwestern is young and inexperienced, but the Wildcats could be an exciting team to watch this fall. The Wildcats have confidence in the system, which could translate into another big season in Region 4.
29 Conneaut 7
5 Girard* 7
12 Mercyhurst Prep* 7
19 at North East* 7
26 at Seneca* 7
3 Harbor Creek* 7
10 at Sharon 7
17 Fairview* 7
24 at Fort LeBoeuf* 7
31 at Cambridge Springs 7
*Region 4 game
Up next: Oil City