- By Michael Cooper Contributing Writer
The Northwestern High School football team may be 2-0 for the second straight season, but it is far from playing its best football. Just ask second-year coach Shane Carter.
“We have to put four quarters of football together,” Carter said. “We have to get our guys playing hard in all three phases. I’m happy with where we are, but I’m not content. There’s two games where we could’ve done better.”
With a win in Week 3, the Warriors can go 3-0 for the first time since 2013. Northwestern hosts Milton-Union — which beat Northwestern 29-13 last season — at 7 p.m. Friday.
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The district will also unveil its new $3.4 million athletic facility to the community this week. The 16,000-square-foot building includes public restrooms, concession stands, a large multipurpose room that will fit a wrestling mat, batting cages, a weight room, storage area, a community room, locker rooms, a training room and coaches offices.
“I feel really fortunate to be a part of it and I’m glad the kids have this type of facility,” Carter said.
The facility is a huge boost to a district that has had limited athletic success in recent years.
“We’re starting to change that culture here,” senior running back Eli Berner said.
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The Warriors went 4-6 last season, its first under Carter, which included a key defeat of rival Shawnee.
The football team hasn’t won a league title since 1967. The Darby Valley League championship trophy was seen making its way into the new athletic facility on Monday morning after practice.
“That was the goal in Year 1 and we didn’t get there,” Carter said. “That’s the goal in Year 2 and it will remain the goal until we get there. … If we stay healthy and become a four-quarters football team, I think we can do it.”
The Warriors’ high-powered offense is averaging more than 45 points in victories over Clark County rivals Southeastern and Northeastern. They’re led by senior quarterback Chris Hart and Berner, who are leading the Central Buckeye Conference in passing and rushing yards, respectively.
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Hart is 31-for-51 passing for 485 yards and eight touchdowns. Berner has rushed for 334 yards on 20 carries, an average of 16.7 yards per rush.
“They both worked really hard in the weight room to change their bodies,” Carter said.
While Berner and Hart have put up big numbers, they were quick to credit the team’s receivers and offensive line. Senior wide receiver Landon Burns (10 catches, 196 yards), junior Gavin Thomas (10 catches, 80 yards) and sophomore Ben VanNoord (183 yards) are currently leading the CBC in receiving yards.
“We have so many weapons and we can spread the ball out so well,” Berner said. “The line is looking stellar.”
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Berner and Hart understand what it takes have a winning football program. The Northwestern senior class was part of the Warriors’ last winning season in 2015. Berner saw action at running back that season, rushing for nearly 200 yards as a freshman.
“Those seniors (in 2015) were like brothers to me,” he said. “They took me in and taught me how everything should be.”
Last year, the team had several sophomores and juniors getting their first taste of Friday night football, Hart said. They’re a year older and wiser, he said.
“We all have a lot more time put in,” Hart said.
Northwestern enters Week 3 as the last remaining unbeaten CBC team. Milton-Union (1-1) lost to Miami East 47-10 in Week 1. The Bulldogs beat Oakwood 14-6 last Friday. Senior running back Robbie Grove has rushed for 226 yards on 28 carries, an average of 8.1 yards per carry.
“We’ve got to be physical, we’ve got to tackle well and we’ve got to be to establish a running game,” said Carter.